Harvest Review: Happy, hazy harvest for BC’s Valleys
2020 is a year for the history books. The international community is focussed on the pandemic and other global issues, making it very easy to overlook what’s happening in our very own backyard. In our Harvest Review series, Quench writers talk to winemakers across the country to find out how they’re handling this year’s unique challenges. We’ve already looked at Ontario and Nova Scotia. Now Rebecca Hinchcliffe takes us to the west coast, where skies full of smoke pose a unique problem and they’re proving quality really is better than quantity.
Fall brings beautiful colours, crisp mornings and with any luck a bountiful harvest. Grapes are no exception in British Columbia’s wine country, the air infused with anticipation of wines to come. This year there are high hopes for glasses full of colour and flavour as stunning as the beautiful backdrops they are produced in. The Similkameen Valley and Okanagan Valley and are two of BC’s best wine-producing regions. After the highs and lows of 2020, the harvest is a little light on quantity, but big on quality.
The Similkameen Valley is almost 200 km long and considered the Organic Farming Capital of Canada. Home to 14 licensed grape wineries, the region produces many award-winning wines from the vines of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Gamay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Riesling.
The fires ravaging the west coast this year have sent smoke into the valley. Luckily, BC Vintners have experience with smoke, so there was little concern that it would show up in the grapes. It did cover the sun and affect the temperatures, causing this year’s harvest to be a couple of weeks behind. Fortunately, the sun has started coming through. “The UV with the sun wasn’t coming through, we weren’t getting photosynthesis, so we’re lucky it’s cleared up,” states Jacqueline Kemp from Therapy Vineyards. Some say better late than never, and this year the quality is proving to be worth the wait.
The Okanagan Valley was provided little protection from the tribulations of 2020. Changes in weather patterns and challenges with social distancing provided highs and lows for the season. As the harvest winds down and the last grapes leave their vines, there is enthusiasm from winemakers as they put a cork on the 2020 vintage. Tasting rooms are open and have been configured to accommodate the current social protocols.
Mission Hill Family Estate president Darryl Brooker is particularly excited about the quality of this year’s harvest after a stunning August and September.
“Harvest 2020 is the best I have experienced in my 11 harvests in the Okanagan,” Booker stated, “and one of the best harvests I have ever worked, anywhere in the world. There are many highlights for me, however, I would say the standout variety in whites is Chardonnay, from both the North and South end of the valley, due to its pure intensity of flavour and higher levels of natural acidity, a winemaker’s dream. It is even more exciting for reds with Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and Syrah all showing exceptional character and fruit concentration. 2020 will be a vintage that we are all going to enjoy for the next 10-20 years. A true hallmark for the Okanagan. The only downside to the entire harvest is that cropping levels were very low. The quality is exceptional, however, there will be a lower quantity from the 2020 harvest.”
The Okanagan Valley is BC’s largest wine region and boasts four official sub-regions. Golden Mile Bench was the first official sub-region. Located on the west side of the Okanagan Valley, it receives the most sun in the morning. They produce many award-winning wines. Most recently The Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery took home the Gold Medal for Best Unoaked Chardonnay award from the 2020 Cascadia Wine Competition for their 2019 Dry Rock Vineyards Unoaked Chardonnay.
On the east side of Okanagan Lake, between Penticton Creek and Okanagan Mountain Park the Naramata Bench sub-region benefits from late afternoon and evening sun. With 50 wineries, choosing where to start may be hard. We suggest Joiefarm Winery, their 2019 A Noble Blend White Wine was the Best of Class/Gold Medalist at this year’s Cascadia Wine Competition.
For spectacular views and exceptional wine, the Okanagan Falls checks off both boxes. See Ya Later Ranch is one of the highest elevated vineyards in the region and offers a history as rich as its wine. Okanagan Falls stretches from the shores of Skaha Lake to the tip of Vaseux Lake. Here you will find the Okanagan Valley’s most photographed vineyard views.
The smallest sub-region, Skaha Bench, is only 185 acres nestled along the east side of Skaha Lake. The west-facing aspect caters to the Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc varieties. A trip to the Skaha Bench should include a meal or tasting at Play Estate Winery over-looking Skaha Lake, which is claimed to be the best view in Penticton.
Plan your trip and purchases from Okanagan Valley and Similkameen Valley by finding the latest offerings using the hashtags #BCHarvest #ExploreBC.