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The Okanagan wine region is likely to see less wine produced in the coming season due to bud damage caused by the cold temperatures in December 2022.
Grapevines typically don’t survive in temperatures lower than -20°C, but vineyards from Kelowna to Osoyoos faced temperatures near -25°C.
With assistance from growers in the Valley, Summerland Research and Development Centre did a scan of bud survival rate in multiple vineyards.
Ben-Min Chang, a research scientist who has been studying stress physiology of grapevines since 2008, says many vineyards saw 0% primary bud survival.
“There should be certain impact on the yield in the coming season,” he explains, adding that the expected yield is lower than usual.
Primary buds are responsible for carrying the inflorescences, so if a primary bud dies during the winter, the vine will be unable to bear fruits properly.
Miles Prodan, the president and CEO of Wine Growers BC, says this is not the first year the Okanagan grapevines have been damaged by cold temperatures.
In December of 2021, there was a significant freezing event that caused concern for the 2022 vintage.
“In the end, it wasn’t as bad as we thought,” Prodan says, adding that the recent cold snap is causing more concern due to even lower temperatures that lasted for a longer period of time.
“That’s two consecutive years of that kind of effect, and that is very tough on vines,” he explains.
Over the last nine years, there has been a 30% decline in the number of grapes harvested compared to what has been planted.
“When we did the analysis, it was very clear that climate change and its effect on those grapes is ultimately taking its toll on the amount of grapes we can harvest,” Prodan says.
“We need to be proactive.”
Wines of BC is in the process of developing a program with the government to help replace vines that are susceptible to disease or aren’t suitable for climate change.
“It’s about upgrading what we have planted and making sure that it is as resilient as possible,” Prodan explains.
Cold temperatures can also damage the trunks of grapevines where water and nutrients is transported from the root to the canopy, which Chang says, in severe cases, requires growers to renew or replant their vines.
Ultimately, Prodan says the cold temperatures are causing a quantity issue, not a quality issue.
“The lack of supply means that you just don’t have the wine,” he explains. “Without the grapes, you just can’t sustain your business model, and you can’t import grapes because BC VQA wine has to be 100% BC.”
BC Vintners Quality Alliance is the appellation of origin and quality standard for BC wine.
Prodan also shares that wineries in BC are reluctant to increase prices, despite the rise in costs with excise tax, bottling and shipping.
“We need to make sure that we’re not passing those costs on to consumers because they’ve been very supportive of us over the years, and we need to make sure that we don’t price ourselves out of the market,” he says.
“People in BC love to support BC wine and we want to be able to provide the product.”