A clearer picture is emerging of the damage to vineyards and wineries and the associated economic cost following the extreme cold weather event that hit the province in December.
A new report by Cascadia Partners for Wine Growers BC indicates that 98% of the 38 growers surveyed reported damage to at least 10% of their vines. (Respondents represented 59% of total industry production.) However, the impact on this year’s vintage is likely to be severe, with a reduction of up to 54% in grape and wine production.
According to the BC Wine Grape Council’s annual crop report, vineyards in BC (excluding the Gulf Islands and Vancouver Island) produced 43,825 tons last year, a welcome increase after several years of low yields.
However, vine damage means this year’s harvest could be closer to 20,000 tons depending how the numbers are cut (the latest five-year average was 34,230 tons.)
The majority of production is in the Oliver and Osoyoos areas, with 64% of tonnage and a crop loss this year estimated in the range of 60%.
But the damages go well beyond the current year. While the province has 12,682 acres of vineyard, nearly three-quarters were impacted.
“It is estimated that 45% of the industry’s total planted acreage will suffer long-term damages and 29% will need to be replaced entirely,” the report says. “The latter will require significant financial investment by businesses and take at least three years to reach maturity.”
Besides rehabilitation and replanting costs, the report estimates that industry and government will be short $341 million in revenue as a result of vine damage, a 43% reduction. The direct hit to vineyards and wineries will be $133 million decrease in the total revenues, resulting in 381 lost jobs, or 20% of sector employment.
The hardest hit areas identified by the survey include Lillooet, where this year’s vintage was wiped out, followed by the Similkameen Valley with an 88% reduction (some wineries in the Kootenays have already advised customers to expect no wine this year).
Lillooet produced 160 tons of grapes last year while the Similkameen produced 2,426 tons.
Kootenay vineyards ranked third, with losses estimated at 73%, putting it on track for a harvest of 151 tons this year.
To help industry recover, Wine Growers BC is working with government to ensure support programs are in place a dedicated AgriRecovery support program tops the wish list, with 87% of growers supporting the initiative.
A similar measure has been approved for Ontario following volatile weather in the 2021-2022 winter.