Okanagan winemakers observe smaller crop, richer quality

OLIVER — It’s been an unusual growing season for winemakers across the valley. An early spring and summer meant prolonged sunshine, creating an early harvest.

“Everything is ripe at the same time and you need to get this all done, but you just rise to the occasion and go with it,” says Walter Gehringer, a winemaker and co-owner at Gehringer Brothers.

His upbeat attitude carried him throughout an eventful season: the Testalinden Creek Wildfire put his winery on evacuation alert and the smoke that blanked the area threatened the quality of his vintage.

But now that crush is nearly over, and his grapes have had time to ferment in tanks, he’s relieved that there’s no sign of smoke taint.

“It would be really wild, considering how everything is tasting so well in the tank right now, to have something come out of the woodwork. I’m thinking that’s going to be the case,” he says.

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Meanwhile at Noble Ridge in Okanagan Falls, winemaker Bennoit Gauthier is thrilled about this year’s vintage, despite his initial concerns with the extra sun.

“Too much heat is not so good for the whites because they could lose their acidity and be a little off balance. But, actually, I [was] pretty amazed this year when the fruit came in,” he says.

Gauthier is calling this year’s vintage exceptional. The clusters have smaller berries, meaning less product, he explains this could translate into higher quality wines.

“When the berry size is a bit smaller, there’s more skin to flesh ratio, so you get a bit more concentration of flavours and colour, making a richer wine.”

Gehringer expects the same for his wines.

But not all the grapes are off the vines just yet. He’s saving some to produce ice wine, but he’s unsure if the weather will cooperate.

“With the sugar content I have right here in the vineyard, we need more than -8, we need -12. So even though it will be a milder winter, we are actually requiring (colder weather),” says Gehringer.

This is a risk he’s willing to take. His backup plan is to create a late harvest wine instead.

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Once the wineries release their 2015 vintage, they suspect customers will be impressed.

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