Island wineries dodge catastrophic crop failure plaguing most of the province

Island wineries dodge catastrophic crop failure plaguing most of the province

In an industry where science meets faith, Xavier Bonilla is thankful for a little help from above.

“We’ve been very fortunate,” says Bonilla, standing among rows of vines in the 35 acres that make up Cherry Point Estate Winery.

It’s pruning season, and vines have been cut back to soon be mulched into the soil as part of the growing season that’s gone largely uninterrupted for wine and grape producers on Vancouver Island.

“We were lucky here,” says Bonilla. “We only had one cold day. Minus 17 degrees at night and only for a few hours.”

Winter provided few casualties for farmers on Vancouver Island. Zac Brown, president of Wine Islands Growers Association says only a handful of members reported damage due to frost.

“Volumes are up and quality’s good so we’re pretty positive,” he says.

There is little optimism among Okanagan wineries though, who are experiencing catastrophic crop loss as a result of a January cold snap that saw extended stretches of temperatures as low as -25° Celsius. A report from the Wines of British Columbia, a non-profit organization which represents the interests of wineries in the province, projects 97 to 99 per cent crop loss in grape and wine production across BC.

While that could mean increased business for Island growers, Brown says there is solidarity with farmers in the Okanagan and he’s unclear as to how the effects will roll out.

“It’ll be by-and-large good for us that there’ll be increased market, but there’s also the specter that imports may flood in and take up that shelf space that our Okanagan friends were occupying,” he says.

Bonilla and other growers in B.C. are hoping for relief from the federal and provincial governments, and a loosening of restrictions around importing grapes from other areas. He says while grape orders are pouring in, it’s not time to capitalize.

“You never take advantage of that,” he says. “You have to be fair, maintain market prices and don’t take advantage of a situation.”

There are plants to prune and ground to mulch, and Bonilla’s already got an eye on next year.

“There’s no such thing as a pessimist farmer,” he says with a smile.

It’s an optimism that’s easy to bottle, while he hopes for some more help from above, he knows how fleeting crop success can be.

“For all your hard work, Mother Nature can take it away in two seconds,” Bonilla said.

Jordan CunninghamJordan Cunningham

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