Brief Vintage Report
We celebrate the fact that we make wine in a region where vintage variations play an important role. Atypical growing seasons are a nightmare for commercial wineries interested in making consistent but boring wines. For us, however, it defines our interest in wine. We actually very much look forward to seeing what Mother Nature gives us to work with each year. It is the effects of each vintage on the finished wine that excites us to start verticals of our favourite wines then follow their evolution and discuss their merits at tastings with friends. Some vintages are all about grace, while others favour power and of course there are ones where they showcase that fine balance of grace and power.
2020: Consistent. Low Yields, concentrated fruit. Red wines of power and structure, and white wines with extra richness and dimension. 1616 growing degree days (slightly above average, yet the heat all came after mid-June).
Until mid-June, 2020 was one of the, if not the single coolest conditions on record. After that though, it was average or slightly above average temperatures.
Flowering/fruit set time met rain and windy conditions which resulted in fewer bunches per vine and smaller more concentrated berries. Yields were 30-40% down than average!
August and September saw one or two small scattered fires for a day or two. Nothing major. Nice Indian summer of hot days and cold nights. Long picking window. Warm October. No real maladies to speak of at harvest time. Small harvest but clean and concentrated fruit. Generally speaking, all the wines can benefit from cellaring, which is rather great news since both 2018 and 2019 made for earlier drinking style wines. While too early to tell, 2020 reds will likely fall in between the 2012 and 2016 styles, which is great news.
2019: Variable. Thinner skinned reds didn’t do as well. Red wines of lighter extracts for early-term drinkability. 1598 growing degree days (almost the same as 2017 and on par with the 10-year average, yet numbers are just that, numbers!) More on this below.
September rains put a damper on fruit concentration and retarding phenolic ripeness. Since the tannins were not perfectly ripe, we opted for a lighter extract as to not get bitterness and green notes. Yields were lower but don’t think this equated to more concentration, since the low yields came partially due to 1) Cold winter did some damage to the buds and naturally lowered yields, 2) mildew and some rot required lots of sorting. Lastly, with an abrupt finish to the season in early October, there was no chance of secondary fruit set to ripen and be used.
Both 2018 and 2019 made for lighter reds; 2018 because of higher yields, while 2019 achieved lighter reds due to gentler extracts.
2018: Consistent. Red wines of Balance and freshness for those who picked early and practiced yield control. White and Rose wines of low alcohol, crisp acidity and balance. Growing degree days: 1675.
2018 is a classic year albeit higher-yielding crop. Not too hot, not too cold. A clean and very low disease pressure year which resulted in a bumper crop. Yet with the perfect conditions of September and October, we were able to wait for perfect phenolic maturity while keeping natural alcohol down and healthy PH up.
2017: Variable. Red wines of structure and concentration. White wines of finesse yet with intensity- Growing degree days: 1598 (2017 is comparable to other classic years like 2012 and 2016 but with more fruit concentration and cooler climate classic structure of acid and tannins)
2017 started rough. Harsh winter damaged some buds and lowered the yields. Bud Break was a full 3 weeks late, prompting us to sucker and shoot thin even more (another decrease in potential yields). Then came a cool and wet flowering season (further reduction of yields) before the arrival of classic hot days with cold desert nights. Mildew was more or less a general problem up and down the valley, so it is important more so than any other year, to buy by producer and small lot wines in 2017. Furthermore, even at the time of harvest, we were still behind 2-3 weeks. Couple this with irregular yields in the vineyard (cutworm and winter damage) and it meant mobilizing the picking crew with only a day notice as opposed to a regularly scheduled pick day. We cannot stress enough the importance of looking for smaller and super meticulous hands-on producers in a year like 2017. Thanks to early picking and diligent work in the vineyard the whites and Rose are brilliant with low alcohol, high acid and perfect PH while carrying intensity fruit and classic profile. The reds were visibly tiny berries resulting in deeper darker colours, rich phenolics and plenty of structure to make wines destined of long aging potential. 2017 is a vin de garde vintage and one that while produced smaller to much smaller volumes, what will be eventually bottled will be of the highest quality.
2016: Consistent. Red wines of Balance. White wines of finesse yet with intensity- Growing degree days: 1635 (2016 wines are somewhat comparable to 2013 and 2008 vintage)
After four consecutive hot to very hot vintages, we are back to a classic vintage (albeit the growing degree days alone suggests a warmer than average year). A very mild winter and early arrival of spring meant another early jump-start to bud break. Cool June and July really helped slow down the ripening and the making of a classic year. When we needed the sun and warmth coupled with cold nights (August and September) our wish came true. October stayed sunny but with cool temperatures. As such we were able to pick each block based on optimum ripeness. In 2016 in general it can be said we had the luxury to pick when each block was ready with best balance of sugar/phenolic ripeness and flavors, unlike certain vintages that one’s hand is forced to pick early due to diminishing acidity, alcohol rise or arrival of rot and other maladies.
2016 is a very terroir driven vintage with crystal clear differences of each site being evident in the wines, even at this early stage of their aging. We pulled off what we think will be one of our most balanced vintages to date. Whites and Rosés are chiseled, lifted and have great tension on the finish. Reds are balanced and quite classic. They will be long-lived wines.
2015: Consistent. Valley floor to hillside. Red wines of Power and exuberance- Growing degree-days: 1764 (only marginally behind hottest years on record 1998 and 2003)
Are we witnessing climate change? 2015 started with the earliest bud break in our history, saw very hot (42 °C +) summer days (record high June temperatures) which lead to one of the earliest harvests on record: August 18th! After the initial scare of forest fires and small chance of smoke taint passed, harvest took place under ideal conditions. The fruit was homogeneously ripe with little to no need for sorting (except Sangiovese at LaStella winery). Overall our whites are well balanced, due to early picking to preserve acidity and maintain low alcohol. With a cool September (due to temperature inversion in lieu of forest fired) our reds overall are higher in acidity than 2014. The one exception to this was some of our Merlot blocks, as we had to wait longer for phenolic ripeness to arrive. Our Cabernet and Syrah fared much better.
Overall 2015 can be compared to 2009, 2012 and 2014, but might not be as long-lived, since the tannins are softer, and the PH levels are higher. 2015 should prove to release delicious, ready to drink wines that will charm in their youth, mid-term and mid to long term for select labels. This is perfect since it will allow Okanagan wine lovers to leave their 2011, 2012 and even 2014s in the cellar longer to mature while they enjoy wines of 2013 and 2015.
2014: Consistent. Wines of power – Growing degree-days: 1702
2014 was the 2nd warmest year since 1998 for South Okanagan closely followed by 2009 and 2013. 2014 followed in the same footsteps of 2012 and 2013 with timely bud break, fruit set and veraison. 2014 vintage saw above to way above average summer temperatures. July and October where were way above last year but September was lower than the last 3 years, hence pushing for better phenolic ripeness was not a concern or at risk of gaining high alcohol.
Overall, 2014 vintage will be remembered as a very hot one and it had an impact on the yields: the tonnage we got were lower than the tonnage excepted mostly because of thicker skins and smaller berried. The wines are concentrated, with a very good ripe tannic structure. Alcohol levels are around 14.5 for the merlot and cab sauv but we have low alcohol levels on the sangiovese, cab franc and the whites. The fortissimo blend will likely be around 13.5%.
If the last three years are any indication or something to cautiously generalize from there appears to be a new trend due to weather change around the globe: The cold nights are not that frequent (while certainly cool) during the maturity period and because of the very warm temperature during the day, we tend to see lower acidity and higher pH in the finished wines. A little bit like Tuscany…
2013: Variable. Wines of balance while some show power – Growing degree-days: 1624
2013 is a tale of two vintages in the same year. Dry and warm autumn is almost a sure thing in our region. 2013 was a rare exception. We had an unusual string of rainy days in the middle of harvest in mid September. The characteristic of the wines is as such dependent on if the grapes were picked before or after the rainy period. Wines made from grapes harvested before the rain virtually needed no sorting as they showed clean and robust flavors of a dry growing season with plenty of very hot days. The rain was a double edge sword though and a blessing in disguise if you will. On one hand it provided an opportunity for the vines to continue pushing forward for better sugar/acid balance and greater phenolic maturity but on the other hand it meant the arrival of rot (need for extensive sorting) and flavor dilution in less than ideal sites. Unlike the even and pristine 2011 and 2012 vintage, in 2013 sorting was the key word along with when the fruit was harvested and in which site it was grown. Buyers of Okanagan wines in general are best to shop by producer and well-known sites for their quick draining soil make up. Taste before you buy is our recommendation.
2012: Consistent. Wines of power- Growing degree-days: 1545
After three atypical vintages in a row, the 2012 growing season is a return to a more typical summer growing season in the South Okanagan Valley. After an initial scare of unusually high record rainfall in late spring the remainder of the growing season was an absolute dream come true. Mid July till late fall gave us very hot days combined with typical cold desert nights. Growing degree days for the South Okanagan were above average and certainly much higher than 2010 and 2011. One of the hallmarks of this vintage was uniformly ripe and clean grape with minimal need for sorting (quite the opposite of 2008 and 2010). The resulting wines are more fruit forward with round structure thanks to plenty of sunshine and heat units; the cool nights resulted in excellent, piercing aromatics and bright acidity in the wine.
2011: Consistent. Wines of grace- Growing degree-days: 1384
2011 was a long and cool growing season without the extreme daytime heat the South Okanagan is known for. This resulted in grapes that achieved full phenolic ripeness at record low sugar levels (and thus low alcohol levels). South Okanagan had an amazing fall with mild weather, which gave us the luxury of a seven-week long picking window. The quality of the fruit and ripeness was very even. This along with the lack of any maladies, rot and other unwanteds translated to virtually no need for triage (the triple sorting work we adopt in most vintages). 2011 goes into the history book as an atypically cool, yet a very welcome vintage.
2010: Consistent. Wines of grace and balance- Growing degree-days: 1429
The 2010 growing season was challenging with cool weather and record rainfall during spring and late summer. Fortunately, warm fall weather arrived in mid-September and continued throughout October. This warm fall allowed harvest to take place under excellent conditions. Low yield in the vineyards, starting from the time of bud break, were essential to achieving good physiological ripeness in 2010. Ongoing vineyard management and rigorous sorting were the key words in the vineyard and winery. When executed correctly the result was vibrant and elegant wines. Whites and rosés are particularly aromatic with focused, pure flavors. Red wines are lower in alcohol with higher acidity level and have firm structured tannins. 2010 is a vin de garde vintage.
2009: Consistent. Wines of power- Growing degree-days: 1627
In contrast with 2008, the 2009 vintage was hot from the get go and the sun shone until the early frost in the second week of October. All the heat units combined with very low yields due to damaged buds from the very harsh winter of 08/09 resulted in wines showing riper fruit, rounded acidity, slightly higher alcohol levels and other characteristics associated with a warm vintage.
2008: Variable. Wines of grace while some show great balance. Growing degree-days: 1442
2008 was one of the cooler and more old-world weather years we had in the whole decade. June and July were uneventful. Wet august had many worried but then the weather turned and Indian summer arrived to stay for the duration of the harvest. Picking merlot 3rd week of October in short and t-shirt was certainly a memorable experience.
2007: Variable. Wines of balance and while some show grace – Growing degree-days: 1508
2007 was a refreshing departure coming off two back-to-back warm and dry vintages that favored reds and structured wines over balance and grace. The whites were overall more lean and chiseled while the reds were either balanced or showing great elegance. Mid September rain and cold weather prompted some growers to get out and start picking while others waited it out. The results are as such dependent on when the grapes were picked. Because most whites were picked before or around the time the weather was turning, they show more lean and lithe qualities. Most reds were left on the vine and growers prayed for the best. This in fact materialized and resulted in reds showing great balance between phenolic maturity and sugar/acid.
2006: consistent. Wines of power while some show great balance- Growing degree-days: 1550
2006 was not dissimilar to 2005, but perhaps with better balance and yields. 2006 was considered another easy vintage because of lack of disease and pest pressure as well as the absence of untimely rain. 2006 was a vintage of both quantity and quality. The next one to show both traits was 2011 and 2012 but both of these latter vintages yielded wines of different structure and aromatics.
2005: consistent. Wines of power- Growing degree-days: 1506
2005 was an uneventful year in the vineyard in terms of disease or pest pressure. Combined with warm and dry fall and no sign of frost, many later ripening red varieties were left on the vine for great phenolic maturity until early November. With lower yields and extended hang time, the solid to juice ratio was high and yielded very structured reds and full flavored whites.