Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Ready or Not, It's Harvest Time!

By Julianna Hayes

One morning in mid-September, I awoke to a peculiar sound, a low rumbling I hadn’t heard in months – the furnace.

Though the temperature that day eventually climbed into the comfortable low 20s, summer as we know it in the Okanagan, with its 30 C+ days, is over.

Oh, sure, there may be the odd record-making blip, a day or two for which we’re hanging onto the shorts and t-shirts before packing them away for winter’s long respite. But we’re just as likely now to get frost in our gardens and snow in the higher elevations.

Though I mourn the end of long balmy days, refreshing dips in the lake and frosty beverages on the patio, I won’t miss summer’s more frantic pace, the jam of traffic and the throng of tourists. I love the fall and its promise of a more relaxed pace.

Ironically, it is – without a doubt – the most feverish time in the industry I love so much.

Up and down the valley, vintners are elbow deep in grapes. The harvest of 2008 started last weekend for most wineries with vineyards in the South Okanagan. Tinhorn Creek reported that it started Sunday, September 21, hand-picking 17 tonnes of Gewurztraminer grapes. As of Tuesday, at total of 37 tonnes of Gewurz, Chardonnay and Semillon had been collected.

Though everyone is about one- to two-weeks behind normal, growers are happy with what they see so far. The cooler season meant a great deal of crop thinning was required, but the addition of new vineyards in recent years means the total yield will be up 10 per cent from last year.

Vintners will be working pretty steadily until the end of October when the last of the reds should be pulled off the vine. It means long hours outdoors, on the crush pads and in the cellars – the grapes wait for no one.

And if that isn’t enough, harvest always coincides with the industry’s largest tourist draw – the Okanagan Fall Wine Festival, which kicks off October 2. It is not unusual to attend a winemaker’s dinner during the 10-day celebration to see the guest of honour greeting people with hands stained deep red.

I have frequently questioned the timing of the festival. I know that when the public retires after a day or night of revelry, winemakers and their staff often go back to work into the wee hours. It’s a relief for them when the final wine is poured and the party’s over.

On the flipside, I can appreciate why organizers are reticent to change the dates. It’s a stunning time in the Okanagan, and the excitement of harvest is palatable, which is probably why the celebration continues break records for attendance year after year.

This is why I encourage visitors to take advantage of this time and use it as an opportunity to educate themselves about what it takes to go from grape to glass.
Several wineries from north to south have recognized that programs such as these would appeal to fledgling enthusiasts who want to better appreciate the effort that goes into wine. They have organized unique events that celebrate the harvest and teach wanna-be connoisseurs a little about viticulture.

Hunting Hawk Winery in Armstrong is offering a day-long opportunity October 3-4 called So You Want to Be a Winemaker? Participants will “job shadow” the winemaking team, helping to pick, crush, press and start the fermentation of the 2008 vintage. But the experience doesn’t end there. Sometime later, the wanna-be winemakers will receive delivery of a bottle of the wine they helped to make. The cost is $50 per person and includes lunch and wine tasting. Call 250-546-2164 for more information.

Quails’ Gate Estate Winery in Kelowna is offering a two-hour program daily October 6-10 called the Vineyard Exploration & Tasting, where participants will get to inspect newly planted Pinot Noir vines and well established Marechal Foch plants and learn about the annual cycle of the grapevine. The cost is $25 and includes a sit-down wine tasting. Call 250-769-4451

Further to the south in Okanagan Falls, there’s an event called Harvest & Lunch at Noble Ridge on October 9. Depending on what stage the harvest is in on that day, guests will find themselves touring and assessing grape readiness, picking grapes, touring the crush pad and/or tasting freshly fermented juice. They’ll conclude their tour with lunch and wine. The cost is $44. Call 250-497-7945.

In Oliver, Inniskillin Okanagan is offering tours of its Dark Horse Vineyard with winemaker Sandor Mayer on October 4. Dubbed the Annual Discovery Series Vineyard Event, visitors will hear about the challenges of working with the more unusual varieties planted there, including Malbec, Zinfandel, Marsanne Roussanne and Pinotage. Guests will also get a chance to taste wines made from these grapes, paired with various foods. The cost is $45. Phone 800-498-6211 for more information.

Also in Oliver, Tinhorn Creek has an event called the Vineyard and Habitat Walking Tour and Lunch, October 6-8. Owner Kenn Oldfield will lead guests on a hike through the winery’s Golden Mile area vineyards and discuss its viticulture and conservation projects. The cost is $25 and includes lunch and wine samples. Phone 888-484-6467 for info.

Many other facilities do allow their guests to conduct self-guided walking tours of their vineyards and some have demonstration areas where grapes are grown for educational purposes. Visitors are often welcome to pick and taste (within reason) the grapes and compare varieties.

Since crush pads are typically out-of-doors, tourists are often able to view vineyard workers process the grapes brought in. Tinhorn Creek, for example, has a balcony overlooking the pad, where visitors can perch themselves and view the process safely.

Keep in mind, that these places are working wineries, so be mindful to stay out of the way and dress suitably.

For more information on the 28th Annual Okanagan Fall Wine Festival, click on the festival guide link at the right or visit http://www.owfs.com

Wine Notes

Fork in the Road 2006 Oliver Block 249 Red
Appearance: Deep inky magenta colour
Aromas: Blackberry, cocoa, pepper, menthol, resiny, earth, leather
Flavours: Robust but fresh black fruit, pepper, mocha, earthy, herbal
Body and Finish: Nice weighty mouthfeel, silky tannins, smooth finish with decent length
Overall Impression: A nice blend of Merlot, Syrah and Cab Franc, it’s a pleasure to drink, if a little pricey for quaffing
Cellaring Potential: Drink now through 2012
Would I Buy It?: Occasionally
Score: 87
Price: $23
Availability: VQA shops, BC LDB, private retailers

Tinhorn Creek 2005 Merlot
Appearance: Black cherry hue with ruby tones
Aromas: Smoky oak, licorice, dill, black cherry, leather, smoked meat, leafy
Flavours: Smoky oak, dill, sour cherry, dark vanilla, meaty, pepper
Body and Finish: Quite a lot of power on the entry, moderate tannins with a dry, extended finish
Overall Impression: An earthy rather than fruity wine, still nice and fresh and good value
Cellaring Potential: I’d let it cellar another year or two
Would I Buy It?: Occasionally
Score: 86
Price: $19
Availability: VQA shops, BC LDB, private retailers

Soaring Eagle 2007 Merlot Rose
Appearance: Brilliant pink hueAromas: Strawberry extract, cranberry, candied cherries, citrus peel, spice
Flavours: Fresh strawberry, cranberry, citrus, spice, Bing cherry
Body and Finish: Very fresh and lively on the palate with some residual sweetness.
Overall Impression: Bright, fresh and lovely rose made from a variety not often seen in this style Cellaring Potential: Drink now
Would I Buy It?: Occasionally
Score: 86
Price: $19
Availability: VQA shops, private retailers

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