Monday, December 18, 2006

Vines Face Trouble In Early Okanagan Winter

Cold snaps that started in the last days of October and continue on the run-up to Christmas are a mixed result for Okanagan grape growers.
Wine makers and growers who leave grapes for ice wine have had text book conditions for the delicacy and should have no problem producing a stellar sticky. Sub zero temps (C) through part of November and into December were unseasonable early. This results in bigger, fatter less atrophied clusters and allows the traditionally stingy yields to be little more bountiful.
On the other hand, vines were still not completely shut-down when the cold weather arrived. There could be some damage, especially to young plants, but the truth won't be revealed until spring. In the mean time, viticulturists and experienced growers are advising growers to delay their pruning until vine health can be assessed. Growers may have to go easy on their pruning should the vines have fewer viable buds than in past years.
Killing freezes have been few and far between in recent years. Old timers associated with the wine business recall 1978 and 1985 as the last true killers, with 1996 causing some frigid trouble as well. Since that time the Okanagan Valley has transformed from a grower of labrusca and hybrid varieties to a stable of vinifera thoroughbreds that have never had to face the extreme temperatures of winter over a sustained period. Some doubt the ability of varieties such as Merlot to be as winter hardy as required.
It all started just before Halloween when temperatures plunged to -5 to -7C over at least two nights. Many growers still had late varieties on the vine and others had failed to address irrigation system preventative maintenance issues in a timely fashion; their pipes froze and burst.

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