The early arrival of summer weather and cooler temperatures throughout June and July means BC wineries and vineyards are on track for another great season.
“From April through to July, we have seen a strong increase in winery visitations, and year over year winery sales continue to grow with the number of visitors coming through cellar doors,” says Maggie Anderson, BC Wine Institute marketing director.
Throughout the months of April and May, BC winery sales accounted for more than 20 per cent of all BC VQA wine sales in the province. BC VQA wine sales are up 12 per cent year on year, which is 6.4 per cent ahead of the total market growth of 5.6 per cent.
“We are off to a great start this season,” notes Scott Locke, general manager of CedarCreek Estate Winery in Kelowna. “So far in July we are up by volume 8.8 per cent ahead of last year and 8.4 per cent up on visitor traffic compared to the same period last year with record sales numbers through the first two long weekends of the season. This year will no doubt be a record year here at the winery.”
John Pullen, marketing director of Church and State Wines in Victoria reports it’s been a great season for wineries on Vancouver Island as well. “A lot of Americans are visiting, as well as many locals who are enjoying the great wineries in their own backyard. Vancouverites are increasingly hopping on the ferry for a quick getaway on the island too.”
According to Statistics Canada, US visitor arrivals to BC were up 18.8 per cent in April and 5 per cent in May. BC Ferries also saw an increase of 4 per cent over last year in passenger volume commuting to and from Vancouver, Nanaimo and Victoria throughout the month of May.
“Travel within BC is at an all-time high,” says Locke who has noticed a large amount of their guests are from across BC and Alberta.
More tourists are also venturing beyond the borders of BC’s five official wine regions to explore wineries in the emerging regions. Carrie Neal, wine whop manager at Harper’s Trail Estate Winery in Kamloops remarks, “Everyday of the week is busy with an abundance of visitors from abroad, our neighbouring provinces, as well as our own city! From the time the gates open to the time we close, people are stopping in for tastings, excited to be experiencing the Kamloops wine region.”
The overall awareness of wine touring as an all-season activity in BC is a driving factor for the increase in visitors. Of the 320 vineyards in BC, 275 are now open to wine tourism, extending their winery hours and expanding their experiences to offer more than just wine tastings.
“We’ve been holding more events at the winery, including a popular concert series, and our sell-out painting parties in the vineyard,” notes Andrew Etsell, general manager and viticulturist at Singletree Winery in Abbottsford. “Up next for us is our first annual Mt. Lehman Social and Potluck on August 20. It’s a great way for the community to come together right here in our vineyard.”
Not only are the number of visitors up at BC wineries, this year’s wine crop is also on track for another successful season. Despite the cooler weather in July, the hot, dry temperatures in April and May led to the earliest bud break on record across the province boosting the overall growth and length of the season.
“The last few weeks have been colder and wetter than normal which has slowed down the ripening of the grapes. We are only three weeks ahead of normal now which is a good thing from a vineyard perspective,” notes George Hanson, owner of Seven Stones Winery in the Similkameen Valley.
Winemakers and viticulturists from around the province are excited for this year’s vintage, projecting a later harvest than last year, which can be good for allowing longer hang time into September to develop the flavors and retain crisp acidity in the grapes – both signature qualities of BC wine.
“We think the cooler weather could actually work out to be a benefit, as things were moving too quickly, and slowing down a bit will allow for some great flavours to develop as we cruise towards harvest,” states Pullen.
Although bud break in the Fraser Valley started in the first week of March, four weeks ahead of schedule, Etsell from Singletree Winery predicts they will not start harvest until mid-September. “This will be about two weeks later than 2015, but still earlier than average vintages,” he says. “If trends continue, we expect another great vintage in the Fraser Valley.”
Optimum growing temperature for grapes is between 10 and 35 degrees. Once temperatures reach above 35 degrees the grape vine shuts down and grape development and vegetative growth stops.
“We haven’t had too many days over 35 degrees which is good,” notes Caleb Hanaghan, production manager at Harper’s Trail Estate Winery. Although, overall pleased with the cooler temperatures, he admits to the challenges. “This season has been fairly rainy and this has proven challenging, not only for disease suppression but also for vigor issues (over growth). Also, with rain sometimes comes hail, and unfortunately this is an issue that we just have to roll with as we have no way to protect against hail.”
The season is still early, and with hotter weather in the forecast grapegrowers across the province are optimistic this will be another great year for BC wine.
The BCWI’s 2016 British Columbia Winery Touring Guide featuring 283 BC wineries, meaderies and cideries, winery restaurants and accommodations, sip tips, wine trails, road maps, festival and events, wine associations, and information on all wine regions including BC’s emerging regions is now available free of cost at all tourism information centres, BC Liquor Stores and BC VQA Wine Stores including grocery. Plan your next trip to BC’s premium wine regions, visit WineBC.com.
*Press Release from British Columbia Wine Institute.