BC’s icewine harvest kicked off in the wee hours of November 28 as temperatures in the Okanagan dropped below -8 degrees Celsius, the threshold required by law for harvesting and crushing frozen grapes for one of Canada’s signature agricultural products.
Quails’ Gate Estate Winery of West Kelowna was one of 20 wineries that registered with the BC Wine Authority to make icewine this year. Wineries must declare their intention to make the closely guarded product by October 31 each year.
Vineyard manager Jo Breti started a team of about 20 pickers working in one of the winery’s Riesling blocks in southeast Kelowna at 9:30 pm. It was clear by then that temperatures would stay cold long enough to harvest and process the grapes in accordance with industry regulations.
A total of 125 acres with an estimated harvest of 463 tons was registered this year. This is down from previous years, when more than 200 acres have been registered. The peak harvest was in 2013, when 1,000 tons were registered with the BCWA and 960 tons harvested.
The earlier the icewine harvest, the larger the yield. This is because more grapes are usually available, the vines having not been stripped by wildlife or the weather, and the fruit itself is less dessicated.
Yet even then, not all wineries harvest everything they register. The first pick last year took place December 5, but the registered harvest of 707 tons ultimately ended up being just 274 tons.
This works out to less than 10,000 nine-litre cases, making icewine an extremely precious and highly prized product.
With files from Tom Walker