Record-breaking summer heat and drought-like conditions paying off for island wine producers
This summer we saw record-breaking heat and prolonged drought-like conditions, which made for the perfect combination for growing grapes on Vancouver Island.
Now, wine producers in the Cowichan Valley are reaping the rewards.
"Consumers are appreciating what the island can produce," said Brent Rowland, who is the winemaker at Averill Creek Vineyard.
The Cowichan Valley may never rival the Okanagan Valley in terms of volume, but the product here is unique and building a name for itself.
"What we can do here, that they can’t do, is produce wines with precision, poise, perfume, nuance and tension," said Rowland. "Wines that are a lot more consumable, a lot fresher, a lot more nuanced."
There is science behind that claim, and it all has to do with our cool climate and how grapes mature.
In warm summer climates like what B.C.’s Interior experiences, grapes mature faster, meaning a shorter picking window. Those grapes can have lower acidity and high sugar content, giving it a very rich character.
On the West Coast, however, we have mild falls with longer daylight hours.
"The fruit can sit there and develop flavours without losing acidity – which is freshness – and gaining sugar, which is alcohol," said Rowland.
The result is a refreshing wine that is often used for pairing with food.
This summer’s heat gave the Cowichan Valley’s grapes a great start to the growing season. Then a cooling trend hit towards the end of the summer, allowing those grapes to mature while keeping their acidity and developing their flavour.
"In the Cowichan Valley we’re in the realm of about 13 or 14 producers," said Kali Philp, sales and marketing manager at Averill Creek Vineyard.
There are about 30 producers in the Vancouver Island region, which also includes the Gulf Islands.
"We’re really happy with the quality that came out," said Bailey Williamson, who is the winemaker at Blue Grouse Estate Winery Vineyard.
At Blue Grouse, the growing season was fantastic as well. Unfortunately, with all those heavy rains towards the end of September, picking those perfect grapes quickly became a priority.
"It’s like everything, you know? Molds and mildews is probably our biggest challenge in the rainforest here and when it gets moist, things grow," said Williamson.
A freshly picked vineyard at Blue Grouse Estate Winery near Duncan: (CTV News)
With the ongoing labour shortage hitting every industry, it was all hands on deck, but all 30-tonnes of grapes did get picked.
"You know, that’s 30 Volkswagens," said Williamson.
The fermenting process is now underway, meaning one year from now the white wines will be ready to hit the market. The reds will be ready to go in two years' time.