Smoky days in late summer hurt Vancouver Island wineries

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WatchThe sun was obscured by forest fire smoke for about ten days in September and October, which had a negative impact on Vancouver Island grapes.

The rush was on to harvest grapes at Vancouver Island wineries over the last few weeks including at 40 Knots Winery near Comox.

And due to imperfect growing weather grape pickers have had to assess each bunch of grapes for mould.

“We’re looking for a maximum 5 per cent mould, so if it has more than 5 per cent mould on it we can’t take it,” said Ashae Samuel who was picking grapes Thursday morning.

The summer growing season started out OK and the industry was hoping for a good year but then it got smoky.

“Then came the smoke,” said Layne Robert Craig of 40 Knots. “We encountered almost 10 days of sun obscuring smoke that absolutely arrested ripening and any changing in the fruit.”

The smoke that shrouded Vancouver Island in mid-September and then again in early October came from wildfires in California Oregon and Washington at a time when the grapes could’ve used some late summer heat.

“The smoke holds in moisture and moisture creates disease and at a biodynamic vineyard or traditional farm, it’s not a nice thing to have happen. When you have to let them hang longer to ripen especially in a cooler climate you risk more disease so we got mould Botrytis.”

The weather never got warm or dry enough afterwards to ripen the complete crop.

Craig says grape production across BC is down 10 to 20 per cent this year which is significant for most wineries in a year when COVID-19 is already making it more expensive to do business.

Sales at 40 Knots Winery were down early in the year and then they lost almost all of their meeting and banquet bookings.

“We also saw a 15 per cent increase in labour to pick the grapes safely and adhere to the rules because we have to separate our pickers and give them their own row,” said Craig.

It’s not all bad news though. Craig says some of the lower quality grapes can be used for popular bubbly wines and he points out that due to COVID-19 visitors from other parts of BC were way up this summer and they love Vancouver Island wines.

Dean StoltzDean Stoltz

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