Sunday, September 30, 2007

Cool Climate Viticulture in Practice

On the last day of September of vintage 2007 the weather is slate, charcoal and death shroud grey but not yet raining. Today we intend to harvest a tiny bit of Merlot, the first red of the Township 7 vintage, from our own property. Some challenged third year vines that, despite nets, are big favourites with the robins and some smaller birds.

We had a deer kill in the vineyard the other night. Probably coyotes but with only half (front) of a carcass left by dawn there was considerable speculation about bears, cougars and wolves. Not every wine region has this range of fauna to contend with. I recall a conversation I had in New Zealand about the differences in our two regions and one of the Kiwis wondered, with the vast expanse of land in Canada, why we didn't have more sheep? I told them that the roaming carnivores would have a field day. He responded by asking, "Do you mean these animals are just running around loose?".

But I digress . . .

Growing grapes for wine north of 49 degrees will always have it's obstacles to quality. Most of the time it's going to be the short growing season. This is turning into a year where the short season is going to play a little larger than it has in the past few years when we've been treated to warmer, longer growing seasons. This is the year when things like greed (too many tons per acre) are going to turn and bite you in the ass. This is a year when heads-up, intelligent grape growing is going to win out over lassiez-faire vineyard behaviour.

Good management from the start of the season will produce exceptional wines this year. If you're waiting for Merlot to ripen at 6 tons or better then you might have some difficulty.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Weather Tanks, Grapes Arrive Anyhow

The weather tanked a few days ago an we're now experiencing some cooler than norms type days with little or no ripening temps to speak of. We've had a little light rain periodically which delays the pick but hasn't really affected the fruit.

Township 7 had tapped into a new source of Merlot. It's a nice organic vineyard in the Oliver area.
We expect to pick this around the end of September - beginning of October.

Friday, September 14, 2007

It's the CLIMATE, baby

One of the reasons the Okanagan is one of the best places to grow grapes for wine is the climate.

Since August the 1st we've had 5 mm of precip. That pretty well eliminates dry farming. The hottest it ever got during that period (Penticton weather station) was 34.2 C and the coolest daytime temp was 20.7. The mean for a 24 hour day was usually around 20.

Today we'll hit 27 later in the afternoon.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Sweet Sexy Summer Hangs On

Since I last updated the vintage about two weeks ago we've enjoyed some very solid weather with temperatures regularily approaching the 30 C mark from Osoyoos to Summerland.
Overnights have been as low as 5 C and this big swing is prolonging the ripening process to the advantage of the winemaker.

We're getting some great readings from our vineyard samples and we should be close to harvesting our whites very soon.

It's the kind of late summer we've been hoping for: dry, warm and consistent.


We're starting with a small block of Chard on Sunday followed by 17 tons on Monday and Tuesday of the same.

Game on!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Winery Owner Exercise: Grow Some Tomatoes

The public asks a lot of questions about the vineyards. Some of the simplest queries have answers that are potentially the most profound.

"Why do you grow the vines like that?"

One of the answers is : "Because the last guy did it like that".

Truth is that a number of cultural practices are in play to achieve a common goal: control. This precept is applicable to the greater farming community and the wine business as well.

Left to their own devices, the average grape vine would simply sprawl across the ground in a haphazard way. Occasionally it would train up a tree trunk or other fixed vertical support but for the most part the vine is content to simply spread to the area of least resistance.

For somebody who needs to harvest high quality grapes this kind of vine behaviour would be a chaotic disaster. Planting a lot of vines and then being unable to tend them would result in wildly varied bunch quality and an almost impossible harvest routine.

Good vineyard management is an analogy for a good winery business. It's about good planning, research, decision making and follow through. There's no point in creating a mountain of grapes if the processing or sales contracts haven't been planned. At some point there's going to be trouble if the planning is not in place.

Let's digress and talk about tomatoes. My family and I love vine-ripened tomatoes. We also love the unusual varieties. So my son and I planned to grow a plot of tomatoes this year. We decided to begin with greenhouse starters. On our trip to the nursery I had 20 separate plants before I started to ponder the number of tomatoes that would potentially yield.

Who was going to look after these tomatoes (farmer)? Who is going to eat these tomatoes (market)? Which tomatoes will be more popular (PR)?

After some sober thought, I planted only eight different plants and we're getting just about what we want. We can manage the tomatoes we have without running around and giving them away (developing new markets) or processing them into sauce (new products) at the spur of the moment. Frankly, my time is worth more than either of those activities so the end result would be $$ out and a questionable return. Best of all, a high percentage of our tomatoes are going to be consumed fresh and not left to rot (productivity?).

Currently, there are a number of winery operations in BC experiencing growth difficulties that could probably been overcome with good planning. There is a market for quality BC-made wine but it doesn't sell itself. Failure to perform at every key stage will result in downstream problems that will either require substantial effort ($$) to correct or ultimately decide the fate of the operation.

So when you plant that vine, know what you expect, understand the steps to get there, control the growth. Try it with tomatoes in your backyard if you'd like.