The final stages of the vineyard’s activities for the season happens in the fall. All the winery’s work for the year culminates in the multitude of decisions that must be made daily at this time of year. When to harvest the Pinot Noir? What are the sugar levels of the Chardonnay? How low are the temperatures at night? What is the weather going to do?
It’s a lot to think about and it only makes me appreciate what vineyard managers and wine makers do every time I take a sip. It has also made me realize just how tough this vintage has been and that maybe we can be a little harsh when we judge wines. The smaller vintners have to really make what they can with the cards that nature has dealt. The more experienced vintners will be more prepared to deal with the extremes that nature can dish out while the less experienced might be caught off guard and be left with wine that might not be up to par with their past efforts.
Among the many harvest reports and predictions out there (Early vintage post from Cherries and Clay, summary from The Wine Knows) and some happy oddities within the harvest itself (check out Wild Goose’s second-ever harvest of totally botrytis-affected wines). And it isn’t just the Okanagan Valley where the vintage was off – The Vine House in the Kootenays reports a similar warm and dry trend at the end of September and the final hard frost was 2 weeks later than normal.
The most odd thing for this vintage was the utter lack of heat in the summer. Unlike 2009, which was a late starter, quick, burning summer, and an early and fast harvest, this year was completely different in every way. The spring was unusually wet (complete with mudslides), and it finally started to dry up at the end of June. At the end of August, the weather was back to chilly temps and wet weather. And then something weird happened. The fall was moderate and dry and in any other year, it would have been a perfect denouement to the season. For this year, it may have saved the vintage completely.
To cap off the fall, the icewine harvest was completed before the end of November and many vineyards were able to harvest in daylight, an uncommon luxury in BC’s wine regions.
There will be some interesting wines from this vintage, which I believe will separate the men from the boys. Newer wineries that haven’t had to face a difficult vintage like this one might stumble a little without proper mentoring from an experienced consultant. Experienced producers will handle this vintage fine although ripeness and concentration will be noticeably different from recent vintages.
Many of the most coveted wine regions in the world are in marginal climates and BC is no exception. It’s the risk that makes it interesting from year to year. For me as a wine consumer, that’s the most interesting thing about wine.
(Of course, we are now fully into winter and the snow is falling with renewed vigor. I’ll have some winter pics as soon as I can.)