Too warm for ice wine

It’s been a warm winter so far in the Okanagan, causing trouble for wineries around the valley that were counting on freezing temperatures to be able to harvest grapes for ice wine production.

“We’ve sort of had the warmest winter that we’ve had for several years,” said Hillside Winery winemaker Kathy Malone.

She said ice wine grapes need a sustained temperature at -8 C or below for a few days before they can be harvested.

“The coldest we’ve had was just hovering at -8 on Dec. 6,” Malone said. “If it’s not below -8 at the press, the ice crystals don’t form and you don’t get the kind of concentration that creates this beautiful juice that we make ice wine from.”

Seven hundred tonnes of grapes were registered with the B.C. Wine Authority in the Okanagan as ice wine grapes at the start of the season. Only 150 tonnes have been harvested at this time, during a brief cold snap in Oliver.

“If we don’t get a weather event and pick the 550 tonnes, this will be the lowest ice wine harvest since 2002,” Malone said.

Ice wine is sweeter than regular wine, with sugar levels at around 50 per cent. The grapes freeze on the vine and are protected with netting from birds and other wildlife. But the longer the vineyards have to wait to harvest, the harder it is on the plants.

“These sort of freezing and warming events are hard on the vines. What happens is the stems start to break down and you drop a lot of fruit on the ground,” Malone said. “So your yield, as the time goes by, gets lower and lower.”

Unless a significant freeze happens in the next few weeks, the grapes may need to be saved for a late-season harvest wine, rather than an ice wine.

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