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A wine harvest record

While it is a little cold and dreary outside, it’s great weather for a bunch of grape pickers that just got very busy.

This year’s wine harvest has already begun at wineries up and down the Valley with pickers quickly moving from picking fruit trees to picking vines.

In fact, this year’s harvest began on Aug. 17 at Evolve Cellars in Summerland – the earliest harvest-start date on record.

“Last year was the earliest we had ever seen it and this year we are a couple days earlier than last year,” said Christa-Lee McWatters-Bond, director of marketing of Evolve Cellars with the Encore Vineyards Ltd. family.

“We are really excited about the harvest. The vintage is looking great, the grapes are looking fantastic and they are rolling in.”

She said this is her father’s 49th vintage harvest in B.C. and the earliest harvest he has ever seen.

“For some of our fruity-aromatic whites we may actually get them in the bottle before Christmas, which is really early,” said McWatters-Bond.

“We continue to see more people at all the wineries and it has been a great tourist season. The strength of the B.C. wine industry continues to grow and be a strong economic driver in our region.”

British Columbia Wine Institute’s Laura Kittmer said last year’s harvest-start date of Aug. 19 was record breaking, and the grapes have done it once again this year, setting the new Aug. 17 record.

“One of the challenges last year was that a lot of the wineries weren’t ready for that early harvest, so this year wineries were ready,” said Kittmer. “The fruit flavours are there and they are ready to be picked.”

Kittmer said a lot of the early ripening white and red sparkling-wine varietals are being harvested now, with the bolder reds needing a few more weeks on the vine.

“That is throughout the Fraser Valley, Similkameen, Kamloops and the Okanagan,” said Kittmer.

She said the grape season started quick with the earliest bud break on record in April, slowed down with a cooler June and July and finished strong in August.

“In August, we got the hot, dry weather once again that really ripened the flavours, letting the grapes develop those flavour characteristics. You want the heat to ripen the flavours and you want the cooler nights to develop that crisp acidity that B.C. wine is so well known for,” said Kittmer.

“The fruit is clean and ripe and it is looking like an exciting harvest once again.”

Quails’ Gate Winery started to harvest its estate Maréchal Foch varietal on Tuesday from the winery’s property on Boucherie Road in West Kelowna.

Winemaker Nikki Callaway said this year’s harvest is 7-10 days ahead of previous vintages, which has its advantages.

“Cleaner fruit, the earlier you harvest the less chance and risk of frost, rot, too much rain, bad weather,” said Callaway.

“So you’re lucky to have early ripe fruit that has lots of sugar in it and proper phenolic ripeness.”

Quails’ will work this week on harvesting the Maréchal Foch varietal, before moving on.

“These are some of the oldest vines we have, they were planted in 1965,” said Callaway.

“We are picking that today, then we will move on to some of the sauvignon blanc  below and move on to some of the pinots for the rest of the week.”

She agrees with Kittmer and McWatters-Bond that 2016 is looking to be an notable vintage.

“I think it is an exciting vintage,” said Callaway. “It is always a positive when you start off the year with excellent fruit and good quality.”

She added that they do need the weather to behave for a few more weeks for a real success.

“I think it is going to be an excellent harvest, but we just need the rain to hold off and we need a little more sunshine. It can’t start to get cold yet, but there is apparently sun in the future,” said Callaway.

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