Winery owners around the Okanagan are crossing their fingers and hoping temperatures will drop so they can harvest ice wine grapes.
Ezra Cipes, CEO of Summerhill Pyramid Winery, said the winery has been making ice wine since 1991 and only had one year—1993—where ice wine couldn’t be made due to warm temperatures.
But this winter has made it difficult for harvesters.
“Here in Kelowna, it didn’t get to the required -8 C, not on our farm. It got to -7.5 C for four hours,” Cipes said. “We haven’t picked anything, We have 12 acres (of grapes) hanging, a little in Lake Country, a little in Oliver and a little at our home block here in Kelowna, and they are all waiting.”
“We’re adding extra clips and extra nets. There are deer and racoons and other animals that want to come and eat the grapes and we’re doing our best to secure them and keep them in the vineyards,” he said.
If the grapes can’t be harvested for ice wine, they’ll be harvested at the beginning of March to create another wine, Cipes said. While some Okanagan wineries began their harvest in mid-December, freezing temperatures didn’t last long, according to a Wines of British Columbia news release.
Last year saw the earliest start to the ice wine harvest in 10 years.
“Ice wine is really specific. It’s about the purity of the fruit, the essence of the fruit coming out because the water is frozen and in this case, the grape (when it hasn’t been harvested) is dried out and has changed quite a bit, so it’s a different character,” Cipes said.
There’s always a risk for wineries to make ice wine as it’s difficult to produce.
“Ice wine is a ridiculous thing to make, even in a sort of a ‘normal year’… and it’s risky and expensive and you get a very small yield. Part of the prestige of the product is the extremes you have to go through to make it, so missing a harvest and not getting it in a year is part of the appeal and the value is the ice wine. It’s part of the deal, you don’t know if you’re going to get it,” Cipes said.
“The vineyards are the only ones in the Okanagan Valley praying for very cold weather. Everyone else is happy.”
He estimated about 42 tonnes of grapes are waiting to be harvested, but that number was determined at the start of the season. The crop diminishes over the season as it’s eaten by animals, drops off the vines and dries up.
This is historically the end of the time for ice wine grape harvesting.
”(It will be) late ice wine harvest, if we get one, but we know since 1993 it’s possible to not get one,” said Cipes. ” We know this has happened, I don’t want to jinx us, but we might be due to miss a harvest.”
Kelowna’s forecast for the next week is expected to be sunny with periods of snow and a high of 3 C. The lowest temperatures are expected to be reached next Tuesday, with a high of just -2 C.
The winery sells four types of ice wine: Ehrenfelser Icewine, Library Series Merlot Icewine, Merlot Icewine and Zweigelt Icewine. They range in price from just under $100 to $170.
“Unlike other ice wine-producing regions of Canada and the world that experience these cold climatic conditions each year, ice wine harvest in B.C. is a rarity. The Okanagan Valley and Similkameen Valley are the only wine regions to regularly experience these temperatures in B.C., but it is never a guarantee. Producers wait in anticipation each year for temperatures to drop, not knowing if or when they will have a window of opportunity to complete an ice wine harvest that vintage,” BC Wine institute said.