South Okanagan  

Lots of ice but not enough for icewine

The unusually mild temperatures experienced in the Okanagan Valley this winter have led to questions as to the likelihood that your favourite vineyard will produce an icewine this season.

It’s a delicate balancing act that winemakers must follow, which includes strict guidelines set forth by the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA).

The grapes must freeze while still on the vine, and must be harvested and pressed while the temperature is -8 C or colder.

Problems arise when the weather doesn’t cooperate – leaving vineyards with one of two options: they can either wait for a cold snap that will last long enough to complete the task, or choose to pick a late harvest.

That is the case with the Tinhorn Creek Winery in Oliver, where they’ve been growing grapes and making wine since 1993.

“I’m definitely gearing up to make a late harvest,” says President and CEO Sandra Oldfield, who has one acre of grapes still on the vines.

“We always try to make icewine, but if you can’t make it, you make a late harvest. If the grapes are in a really poor condition by the time we go to pick them for late harvest, then that would be the first time we’ve not made either of the two, but I don’t ever rule that out either.”

In the 19 years since the winery has been in existence, they have never failed to make one or the other, so Oldfield expressed little frustration at the balmy temperatures that are affecting vineyards in the Okanagan.

“It’s all weather dependent, so for me there’s no stress when it’s something you can’t control,” she says.

“We’re still hanging, but I don’t see this progressing much longer. Personally, if we’re going to do a late harvest I’d like to get a quick melt here and get the grapes picked. Either that or the weather man tells us we’re getting ready for  -10 or -11 Celsius and we’ll pick it then.”

Oldfield says that she is willing to give Mother Nature until Jan. 15 to produce a cold snap that lasts long enough for the winery to complete their task, but they’ll have to act fast.

“I don’t think (the grapes) are going to make it as long as we’ve let them hang on in previous years until the end of January – I don’t see that happening,” she says.

“We only need a few hours because we only have an acre hanging. If you have a lot hanging you may need many hours or more than one day, but we only have an acre hanging and we can typically pick that in about two hours.”

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