A combination of winter damage and warm weather has resulted in a record low ice wine harvest this winter.
Just four wineries registered their intention to pick grapes for ice wine with the BC Wine Authority last fall, but by the time temperatures allowed for the harvest, just three proceeded.
A total of 12 tonnes were harvested between January 11 and January 15, the lowest ever reported in the province and well below the 18 tonnes anticipated.
The smallest harvest previously recorded was 2021, when 35 tonnes were picked.
“It is the lowest icewine harvest on record, greatly due to the 2023 vintage already being impacted by climate change-related extreme weather events,” reported Lindsay Kelm, acting communications director with Wine Growers BC.
Growers had already experienced a 54% reduction in the 2023 crop, and persistent mild conditions meant any grapes left on the vine in anticipation of ice wine, and untouched by wildlife, were highly concentrated, dessicated nubs of their autumn selves.
The sudden onset of cold weather due to an Arctic outflow might have allowed producers to make icewine, but it also threatened to worsen the health of vines recovering from the December 2022 extreme cold event that reduced the 2023 vintage.
“We went from unseasonably warm to unseasonably cold in a matter of days and only time will tell what the impact will be on the vines this year, compounded by the fact that many vines had already sustained significant damage last year,” Kelm says.
The cold came in the nick of time for Walter Gehringer of Gehringer Bros. Winery in Oliver, which had scheduled its remaining grapes to be picked for late-harvest wine when the cold came.
But a mild December meant some vines were putting forth buds, so it’s anyone’s guess what further damage the vines will incur this winter.
Gehringer Bros. saw a 55% decline in its 2023 harvest after the 2022 freeze event, but many vines ended up producing more than anyone expected.
“It’s really too hard to judge,” he said. “We’re dealing here in no man’s land so far as these types of weather patterns.”