TIM PAWSEY Tim Pawsey is a well-travelled food and wine writer at various publications, including WHERE Vancouver, Quench, SIP, Vitis, The Alchemist and others. Find him at hiredbelly.com and follow him on Twitter and Instagram @hiredbelly and Facebook @TheHiredBelly.
Ask any winemaker what the highlight of their year is and chances are they’ll tell you, “Harvest!”
A sk any winemaker what the highlight of their year is and chances are they’ll tell you, “Harvest!” It’s no wonder. The vine rarely stands still. And as its guardian, from winter dormancy through pruning to bud break, veraison and beyond, the winemaker is there every step of the way. Depending on where you are in BC, harvest time now varies between late August and October. In the south Okanagan it used to occur two to three weeks ahead of the north. Vancouver Island was often the last region to bring in its grapes, and almost everyone played a game of chance, picking the last of the fruit just days before the first frost. Then came climate change. Over the last decade, winegrowers have handled challenges rarely encountered before, like this year’s unseasonably cool spring to heavy rains, or wildfire smoke to the 2021 heat dome. When the temperature hits 37 degrees Celsius, most varieties will shut down in order to survive and the growing season is interrupted. BC winemakers hail from Canada and around the world. It is a gift that we can draw upon so much expertise. Since Fort Berens winemaker Alessandro (Alex) Nel arrived in Lillooet from
South Africa in December 2020, he has learned to work with varieties new to him, such as Riesling and Cabernet Franc. But Nel’s biggest challenge compared to the Cape was the weather, from the heat to frost and wildfires. This year’s cold spring also took him by surprise. “It was looking like an early start like last year. But then it got cold, and everything slowed down and bud break was really delayed. We just hope that we have a long season this year—and no early frost.” As for what excites him most about harvest, “I love the busyness, the multi-tasking…It’s really a lot of fun and it keeps you on your toes!” For Clos du Soleil winemaker Michael Clark, “It’s the culmination of a year’s process. By the time you get to harvest, the potential quality of the wine is largely locked in—because it is my belief that 95 percent of the quality is coming from the grapes. And then the other five percent is how you treat them at the winery.” In the Thompson Valley, Monte Creek’s Galen Barnhardt agrees that timing is everything, but he cautions, while you start with “the best laid plans,” they don’t always pan out. “Sometimes the fruit hits the crush
pad and it’s a little bit different than you thought you were getting. You have to be adaptable—you can’t be a square peg in a round hole…” He adds, “That’s what makes the great wineries great—they’re able to work with all different types of fruit to make the best wine possible.” This year is Mark Beringer’s (Phantom Creek Estates director of winemaking) 37 th vintage—and his second in the Okanagan. Beringer, whose family forged a Napa icon, loves the build-up to harvest, which he describes as a “fully immersive experience, where you keep your head down and keep going.” The Okanagan’s cooler climate and northern latitude means, “The season starts later, and the harvest is more compressed. Once it’s over you’re exhausted and tired,” he adds, “but it’s so rewarding!” “Unquestionably, it’s the most exciting time of the year,” says Mission Hill chief winemaker Corrie Krehbiel. “Every harvest is like a new beginning and a new wine life.” As to when to pick, “It comes down to the flavours that you’re seeing walking through the vineyard. That’s when you’re starting to make those decisions. How do the acids look, and the tannins? As you’re doing
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