B.C. wineries prepare for later grape harvest

Effect of cool spring and hot August on grape yields remains to be seen

michael kullmann - gk
Osoyoos Larose winemaker Michael Kullmann holds some of his wine earlier this year at the Vancouver International Wine Festival | Glen Korstrom

B.C. winery owners are readying for a later than usual grape harvest with many optimistic that the picked fruit will be high quality. 

The spring across B.C. was cooler and wetter than normal, which delayed grape vines from flowering. Weather then got hot July and shifted into being scorching, and drier than normal in August.

"We had a very cold spring and then one of the hottest Augusts on record," Osoyoos Larose Estate Winery winemaker Michael Kullmann told BIV.

"That meant is that we were two weeks behind. In July, we caught up. It got so hot in August that the vines kind of shut down, so we didn't really move forward that much."

About 65 per cent of Osoyoos Larose' 80-acre harvest is Cabarnet Sauvignon grapes, while approximately 20 per cent is Merlot, with the rest including Malbec and Cabarnet Franc grapes.

Kullmann said his southern Okanagan winery is usually one of the first to be picking grapes, but this year harvest will not start for another few weeks. 

"The yield will be light," he said. "As for quality, depending how the autumn weather is, we could have a very good vintage."

In contrast, further north, on the eastern side of Skaha Lake, Painted Rock Estate Winery owner John Skinner is expecting a bumper crop. 

"I don't think the yields are down," he said. "We were considerably behind early on but August and September has been fantastic for us."

Skinner expects that his winery's harvest will be weeks behind what has been the norm in recent years, with Chardonnay grapes starting to be harvested in the first week of October, and red varieties harvested into November. 

Wine Growers British Columbia CEO Miles Prodan told BIV that his read of the industry is that most wineries will have later harvests but the jury is still out on how bountiful the yields will be. 

One good thing for this year's harvest is that forest fires did not burn near Okanagan wineries.

Painted Rock Estate Winery was very close to the Christie Mountain forest fire in 2020, forcing it to close.

Wildfires last year also blazed across B.C. for weeks, destroying the town of Lytton, and prompting residents to flee their homes and fill hotel rooms.

Prodan said climate change makes winemaking a risky business. 

"We didn't have a heat dome this year – yet – but we certainly did last year, and there were freezing events, so that's part of it," he said.  

"We were concerned, especially north of Peachland, and up into the Kelowna area that there had been a freeze event over Christmas last year. and we were concerned about some vine mortality. It looks as though that is was not as bad as we had feared, although we won't really know until the grapes are picked."