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Plenty of summer sunshine smiles on region’s grape crops

Grapes plumping up on Vancouver Island vineyards are being harvested earlier than usual this year thanks to summer’s sunny skies.
Lamont Brooks of Symphony Vineyard said hot weather will bring an early harvest.

Grapes plumping up on Vancouver Island vineyards are being harvested earlier than usual this year thanks to summer’s sunny skies.

At Symphony Vineyard on Oldfield Road on the Saanich Peninsula, the grapes are “ahead of every other year we’ve seen,” said Lamont Brooks, co-owner with Pat George.

He tracks weather in Vancouver Island’s wine growing regions, reporting monthly to other growers.

The Saanich area wasn’t as hot as 2009, which was a “smoking year,” he said. What’s different this year was July’s sunshine. “What was anomalous was how few clouds there were, so it was just sunny for the whole month. I suspect that those extra sunshine hours is the explanation for things being so far ahead this year.”

Picking begins this morning of Ortega grapes that Symphony is managing at Starling Lane Winery, Brooks said.

Harvesting usually takes place later on in October, based on weather forecasts such as a solid week of rain, which dilutes grapes. Local growers normally leave grapes on the vine as long as possible because this is a cool climate for viticulture, he said.

“This year, though, we won’t be having to push the limits quite so much. Things will be getting nice and ripe by the first or second week of October in ideal conditions.”

Warm days develop flavour and and cool evenings preserve the acidity. Growing grapes and making wine is about balancing factors such as sweetness and acidity.

On Symphony’s 2.1 acres, the yield looks typical and quality is expected to be “very high,” he said. Symphony’s wines are made of 100 per cent Saanich grapes.

About 80 vineyards grow grapes for more than 40 wineries on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, according to the 2011 Vancouver Island Wine and Culinary Guide.

Wineries in British Columbia play a key role in the Island and province’s agri-tourism sector.

B.C. has close to 220 grape wine wineries, with more than 864 vineyards covering 9,800 acres of land, the B.C. Wine Institute said. More than 80 varietals are produced in this province.

Last year, 27,257 short tons of grapes were harvested, and 17.7 million litres of wine was produced, the institute said.

Wine delivers $2 billion in economic impact in B.C. annually and provides jobs for more than 10,000 workers, the Institute’s 2013 annual report said.

Jane Ellman, co-owner of Muse Winery in North Saanich, is anticipating a “beautiful, fruity wine” from this year’s crops.

In cooler years, grapes are more tart because they do not have as much natural sugar, she said.

“This should be a fantastic vintage. All this sun and lack of rain in July and August was just wonderful.” It was just ideal for grape-growing.”

One variety of German white wine grape, Siegerrebe, has already been picked. Bacchus, a Riesling hybrid, will likely be picked in the coming week, she said. Muse has slightly less than three acres of vines planted.

“Last year, we didn’t pick until at least the second week of October,” for the majority of grapes, Ellman said. “Our Pinot Gris is still a little ways off.”

Weather led to late starts in 2011 and 2012, while this year was more typical, she said.

With this year’s crop, “the flavour is just going to be fantastic because what our challenge is here is to get enough sugar levels in order to pick so that you have a nice fruit-forward wine. This year that is exactly [what happened]. The sugar levels are higher than they’ve ever been since we’ve had the winery in five years.”


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