Cold weather kicks off Okanagan ice wine harvest

As soon as it was obvious the mild fall was over earlier this week and temperatures in Kelowna dropped below -7 Celsius, pickers at the Summerhill Pyramid Winery began preparing for the annual tradition of grape picking in the middle of the night.

Weather cold enough to freeze grapes for ice wine arrived a week later than last year, but Summerhill GM Eric von Krosigk says the harvest hasn’t suffered.

“It’s been a fantastic year,” he says of the unusually mild summer. “We don’t usually see rain in November, the water can get in the stems and starts the rotting process but it looks good so far. A beautiful growing year.”

Last night two teams of around 20 pickers were at Summerhill vineyards in East Kelowna and Lake Country from 11 p.m. until after 5 a.m. The temperature, with windchill, dropped to  -17 C.

“It was bitter,” he says. “I almost had to wear goggles.”

Ice wine is made from grapes that have been allowed to freeze on the vine before they are picked and the juice extracted immediately. The temperature has to stay below – 7 C throughout the process so it’s usually done at night. This year however, von Krosigk says they will likely be able to pick during the day as well, which is good because extreme cold makes pressing take a lot longer.

“The problem is when you go to press, it’s hard to extract anything. If we get down to – 18 C pressing takes a week when it usually takes around six hours,” he says. “You have to get a certain amount out and when after a few minutes all you get is a few drips, we know we’re going to be there a while.

“The beautiful thing about being too cold is we can pick during the day. That’s a really nice thing to do.”

Von Krosigk says it’s still too early to compare quantity to last year but says he expects it to be roughly the same.

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