Nothing to wine about

While the thunderstorm warnings keep coming, and a hot summer seems but a dream, the weather is proving fruitful for the B.C. wine industry.

The BC Wine Institute says the early arrival of summer weather in April and May combined with cooler temperatures throughout June and July have recorded the earliest bud break on record and has left B.C. wineries and vineyards on track for another great season.

"The last few weeks have been colder and wetter than normal which has slowed down the ripening of the grapes. We are only three weeks ahead of normal now which is a good thing from a vineyard perspective," notes George Hanson, owner of Seven Stones Winery in the Similkameen Valley.

Winemakers and viticulturists from around the province are excited for this year's vintage, projecting a later harvest than last year, which can be good for allowing longer hang time into September to develop the flavours and retain crisp acidity in the grapes, signature qualities of B.C. wine.

"We think the cooler weather could actually work out to be a benefit, as things were moving too quickly. And slowing down a bit will allow for some great flavours to develop as we cruise towards harvest," says John Pullen, marketing director of Church and State Wines in Victoria.

Although bud break in the Fraser Valley started in the first week of March, four weeks ahead of schedule, Andrew Etsell, general manager and viticulturist at Singletree Winery predicts they will not start harvest until mid-September.

"This will be about two weeks later than 2015, but still earlier than average vintages," he says. "If trends continue, we expect another great vintage in the Fraser Valley."

Optimum growing temperature for grapes is between 10 and 35 C. Once temperatures reach above 35 degrees, the grape vine shuts down and grape development and vegetative growth stops. 

"We haven't had too many days over 35 degrees, which is good," notes Caleb Hanaghan, production manager at Harper's Trail Estate Winery.

"This season has been fairly rainy and this has proven challenging, not only for disease suppression but also for vigor issues (over growth). Also, with rain sometimes comes hail – and unfortunately, this is an issue that we just have to roll with as we have no way to protect against hail."

The season is still early, however, and with hotter weather in the forecast, grape growers across the province are optimistic this will be another great year for B.C. wine. 

The other good news comes on the sales and visitation side.

"From April through to July, we have seen a strong increase in winery visitations, and year over year winery sales continue to grow with the number of visitors coming through cellar doors," says Maggie Anderson, BC Wine Institute marketing director. 

Throughout the months of April and May, B.C. winery sales accounted for more than 20 per cent of all BC VQA wine sales in the province.

BC VQA wine sales are up 12 per cent year on year, which is 6.4 per cent ahead of the total market growth of 5.6 per cent. 

"We are off to a great start this season," notes Scott Locke, general manager of CedarCreek Estate Winery in Kelowna.

"So far in July, we are up by volume 8.8 per cent ahead of last year and 8.4 per cent up on visitor traffic compared to the same period last year with record sales numbers through the first two long weekends of the season. This year will no doubt be a record year here at the winery." 

According to Statistics Canada, U.S. visitor arrivals to B.C. were up 18.8 per cent in April and five per cent in May. 

BC Ferries also saw an increase of four per cent over last year in passenger volume commuting to and from Vancouver, Nanaimo and Victoria throughout the month of May.

The BC Wine Institute adds that more tourists are also venturing beyond the borders of B.C.'s five official wine regions to explore wineries in emerging regions.

"Every day of the week is busy with an abundance of visitors from abroad, our neighbouring provinces, as well as our own city,” says Carrie Neal, wine shop manager at Harper's Trail Estate Winery in Kamloops.

“From the time the gates open to the time we close, people are stopping in for tastings, excited to be experiencing the Kamloops wine region."  

The overall awareness of wine touring as an all-season activity in B.C. is also a driving factor for the increase in visitors.

Of the 320 vineyards in B.C., 275 are now open to wine tourism, extending their winery hours and expanding their experiences to offer more than just wine tastings.

For more information visit WineBC.com.

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