Warm winter doesn’t impress icewine fans

Warmer weather than normal has some Okanagan winemakers getting impatient as wildlife decimate the crop as it waits for a hard freeze.

As grape growers and winemakers tap their feet, impatiently waiting for a polar outbreak so they can pick frozen grapes to make icewine, hungry deer and geese have been partying in the vineyards.

So far, it’s been a very mild winter, with temperatures averaging above normal in December, including a new record set for a high temperature for Dec. 1 of 11.9 C, beating out the old record of 10.6 C set in 1972, reports Doug Lundquist, meteorologist with the Environment Canada Mountain Services Weather Office in Kelowna.

Lundquist doesn’t hold out much hope that there’ll be relief soon from this warmer-than-normal weather and a plunge to the -8 C required before pickers may move into the vineyard to pluck the rock-hard pellets of grapes so they can be squeezed to produce the premium dessert wine.

“Long-range, it’s looking mild, with average or above-average temperatures,” is his forecast, which gives wildlife a larger window of time to create havoc in the vineyards, nibbling on the sweet berries and knocking even more off the vines where the geese and other critters can make short work of them.

In December, he said there was no Arctic air impacting the Okanagan’s temperatures, but he expects a front will move down some time in the next couple of months.

Average temperature for the month was -.9 C, warmer by a couple of degrees than the normal average for that month of -2.9 C. The average low was also nearly two degrees warmer, at -4.4 C while the average high was a couple of degrees higher than usual, at 2.5 C.

Precipitation was less too, with 30 centimetres of snow and four millimetres of rain, compared to the normal of 36 cm of snow and nine mm of rain.

Half of the past year was colder than usual and half warmer with overall temperatures averaging right around normal in 2012.

However, it was wetter, with 174 mm more rain than the usual 484 mm and most of that fell in June, when new records for rainfall were set in Kelowna.

Such unpredictable weather is the reason icewine is such an expensive beverage, notes Summerhill Pyramid Winery winemaker Eric von Krosigk, who admits deciding to make the popular dessert wine is a gamble.

But then, he adds, “That’s the nature of agriculture.”

The deer have been horrendous this year, he says, doing the ‘deer polka’ out in the vineyard as they feast on chardonnay grapes. He estimates they lose 25 per cent of the crop for each  month they have to wait for low enough temperatures to pick.

Summerhill kept back five acres of grapes this year, most of it near the winery in the Mission area, but last year 40 acres was used to make icewine, and it was a good year with an early harvest.

Across the lake at Quails’ Gate Estate Winery, winemaker Grant Stanley said they still have four tonnes of riesling grapes hanging in the vineyards waiting for an icy blast, and he’s been kept regularly informed about temperatures around those grapes, with monitors sending data to his iphone from the vineyard.

Despite the fact those vines are fully netted, the geese are still feasting as berries fall to the ground.

“Often only half the crop remains by the time we can pick them,” he admits.

 

jsteeves@kelownacapnews.com

 

 

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