Let the Wine Season Begin
Spring leaves are in full bloom, song birds are chirping and as summer kicks in, so does the wine touring season. Thousands of visitors will immerse themselves in wine tasting at BC’s multitude of wineries and scenic vineyards. Sipping wines in tasting rooms is as much a part of the great experience, as are guided tours of wine cellars and beautiful vineyards.
I am writing this while overlooking our vineyard on the south facing slope of Shuswap Lake. Below me are several acres of vines showing their new shoots of spring. I’m reflecting on the relationship between the grapes and next year’s wine.
Fantastic wine is made in the vineyard as much as it is in the winery. While visitors will find it fun to understand how to taste wine and how the wine is made by the cellar master, of significance are the steps taken by the vineyard crew in the grape growing process, a yearly cycle that begins in February.
To help you make the most of your next visit to a winery here is a brief summary of how berries are grown from season start to finish. Just a reminder, this year’s new wines are fermented from last year’s grape crop, or in many cases the wine has been aged for several years to enhance quality.
February to March is pruning time when the vines are prepped for the growing season. One of the main goals is to ensure there is enough potential vegetative growth to ripen the crop and enough fruitful buds to provide an adequate crop load.
April to May is bud break time and dead looking trunks are waiting to be reborn with new green flesh. Vines come alive and shoots emerge from latent buds. The new growth creates the grapes, develops them over the summer and finishes its work with sugar and perfume. Shoot thinning is undertaken to adjust crop loads and improve light penetration into the canopy later in the season.
June to July is blossom time when small clusters form on young shoots and flower. Grape vines are self pollinating and as such are not dependent on bees. Fruit set follows immediately after blossoming and the fertilized flowers develop grape berries. August is veraison time, signifying the start of ripening when the hard green berries begin to change color, soften and develop sugar and flavor.
September to October is harvest time when grapes reach peak ripeness and, when appropriate brix (sugar) levels are reached grape clusters are picked. Then, after crush, the grapes go through a remarkable transcendent change from grape juice into luscious, aromatic wines. Wine is truly a collaboration of vines and grapes and the meshing of the human ritual of wine making. As it has been done for hundreds of years the cycle of the grape growing season is repeated all over again.
October to November is late harvest time. Grapes are left to hang to maximize sugar levels and when picked are fermented into dessert wines.
November to February is ice wine harvest time. Frozen berries are picked at eight degrees, or colder, below zero, (usually during the darkness of night) crushed while still frozen and the sugary syrup pressed off into our stainless steel fermenting tanks Having lived much of our lives in the Arctic (my wife, Marg, and I lived for several decades in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories) it seems only appropriate that, being the most northern grape winery in North America and being former Arctic hands, we should produce ice wine. This coming winter will provide a late season opportunity to let our grapes shrivel into raisin-like berries to increase sugar content, then to be picked and processed — all under cover of darkness and the cold. Then I will certainly reflect, with either dread or nostalgia, on our many winters spent in minus forty-five below zero in total daily darkness.
Shuswap Wine Journal - A collection of published local and regional newspaper articles written by Jake Ootes in Fall 2014