Few of us have forgotten the extraordinary summer of 2015. Even in the more temperate reaches of Vancouver, it was hot and dry with smoke from forest fires reaching the city. The interior, where most of our wine hails from, experienced all of this in greater magnitude. Climate change is clearly at play here. And while the realities are sobering, the effect on BC’s growing season has generated much enthusiasm especially around the 2015 vintage.
Spring and summer temperatures have been trending upward in BC’s wine region for the last few years. In particular, it’s warmer earlier. Precocious weather patterns encourage everything to happen sooner, from bud break and flowering, to veraison and ripeness. The 2015 harvest was the earliest on record, two to three weeks earlier than normal. Winegrowers started picking late August and most of the grapes were off the vine by October.
“The whole season seems to have shifted back a month” explains Grant Stanley, winemaker at 50th Parallel Estate in Lake Country. “I was hopeful that we would have an extended, longer season as the result of these warmer springs,” he admits, joking that he had to cut his vacation short to make it back for harvest.
Overall, vines like the warmth, but there are limits. It’s about how hot, when it’s hot and for how long. When temperatures start climbing above 35 C, vines shut down and essentially the grapes stop ripening. (Just think about how less productive you are in the scorching heat.)
Both 2014 and 2015 were hot with approximately the same number of days over 35 C. However, Mike Clark, managing director and winemaker at Clos du Soleil in the Similkameen Valley recounts that despite 2015 being a very hot vintage, 2014 was more challenging.
“Because of heat spikes there was more uneven development that year,” he recalls.
Michael Bartier who is the consulting winemaker at Harper’s Trail in Thomson River concurs.
“In 2015 we saw more ripeness and more in advance because the vines shut down less.”
This didn’t mean that 2015 was any easier. British Columbia is defined as a cool climate. More descriptively, it’s a short hot season where everything is compressed. Hot days give fruit intensity while cold nights provide lots of acid. The challenge for our winemakers is always about finding balance in the extremes. It’s an exercise in waiting for the acidity to drop to palatable levels, coaxing ripeness of flavour and ensuring sugar doesn’t creep too high. But with the rising temperatures, vineyard practises need to be adapted. In 2015 it was crucial to keep on top of irrigation to avoid water stress, manage crop levels to control potential alcohol and keep grapes (especially white varieties) shaded to avoid cooked flavours.
After all that work leading up, “it’s really September and October that make or break vintage,” declares Master of Wine Marcus Ansems, winemaker and owner of Daydreamer Wines. While 2015 was hotter overall from April to August, September and October were cooler than normal. Grapes that were still hanging on the vine continued to develop ripeness and flavour and those lower temperature helped retain acidity.
“That is what saved the vintage as it were,” Stanley asserts.
Tasting through the whites and rosé that are now being released, I find the standouts to be ripe yet crisp, fresh and pure with alcohol and sugar levels kept in check. In particular, there are plenty of delicious Rieslings. Ansems describes the wines as having an abundance of everything: “Lots of intensity, lots of fruit and high acidity, volume and mouthfeel.”
Enjoy conducting your own research over the (hopefully) warmer months ahead. Wines below can be purchased directly online.
2015 Township 7, Rock Pocket Vineyard, Muscat • $17.97 (Club 7 members only)
Orange blossom and ginger on a succulent bed of peach and nectarine. Great balance of sugar, alcohol and flavour achieved.
2015 SpierHead Riesling • Okanagan Valley BC VQA • $20.00
Inviting aromas of apple sorbet and lime flowers. Steely and citrusy in the mouth where a judicious touch of sugar balances out snappy acidity.
2015 Clos du Soleil, Grower’s Series Middle Bench Vineyard, Pinot Blanc • Similkameen Valley BC VQA • $19.90
Fresh pear with cinnamon apple strudel notes and a hint of wild flowers makes for an intriguing mouthful. Pretty with a kiss of sweetness.
2015 Daydreamer, Riesling, Single Vineyard • Naramata Bench • $20
Intense tropical guava aromas command attention immediately. Equally assertive and precise on the palate where penetrating lime and stone notes chime in. A truly dry and taut Riesling.
2015 La Stella, Vivace Pinot Grigio • BC VQA • $21.99
Vivice translates as lively and indeed this is a vivacious little number. Concentrated lemon peel and ripe crisp apple offer lots of refreshment.
2015 Culmina, Saignée • Okanagan Valley BC VQA • $22
I am a sucker for pale pick rosé, and this blend of Merlot, Cab Sauv, Cab Franc and Malbec delivers. Don’t let the light colour fool you though; there is plenty of flavour here like rhubarb, red currant and mint. Weightier but still thirst quenching.
2015 Le Vieux Pin, Sauvignon Blanc • $29.99
A restrained and elegant Sauv Blanc demonstrating lovely texture. Slightly floral nuances mingle with juicy grapefruit and gooseberry.
Prices exclusive of taxes.