The Vineyard

this section is a sort of annual look at some of the things that happened in the vineyard. Aside from a short, experimental row of Pinot Noir , our vineyard consists entirely of Riesling clone 21 vines imported from Germany. We hand-farm the individual vines which allows adaptive farming techniques for optimal quality, and our vision is to find a balance between quality, responsibility and sustainability as well as to provide ourselves with a unique retirement experience.

Initially planning the vineyard, we had a difficult time deciding what varietals we were going to plant and we thought of Merlot, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir or a combination of these. Our first real decision was to plant only one type as a larger crop would make marketing a little easier.


Pinot Gris is already abundant in the Okanagan Valley, so we started seriously considering Viogner which grows well here, but is initially a little temperamental. It is also a “trendy” type of grape which is currently very popular but we were concerned that demand may not be sustainable. We finally chose Riesling as being versatile and hardy, and with consistent and growing demand.

Riesling is a white grape variety which originated in the Rhine region of Germany. It is an aromatic grape variety displaying flowery, almost perfumed, aromas as well as high acidity. It is used to make dry, semi-sweet, sweet and sparkling white wines. Riesling wines are usually varietally pure and are seldom oaked. As of 2004, it was estimated to be the world’s 20th most grown variety at 48,700 hectares (120,000 acres) (with an increasing trend), but in terms of importance for quality wines, it is usually included in the “top three” white wine varieties together with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Riesling is a variety which is highly “terroir-expressive”, meaning that the character of Riesling wines is clearly influenced by the wine’s place of origin.


The 2015 crop

2015 marked our 5th crop from the vineyard although it is probably an exaggeration to claim 2011 was really a crop. It was also our second organic crop. Despite the heavy snowfall in early January we were able to prune early and by bud-break things looked quite good. We didn’t expect it to last, but the long, dry, hot summer proved us wrong. It was kind of a perfect storm of growing conditions in the valley although that is a bit of an oxymoron.

By the end of July, the grapes were at least 2 weeks ahead of any previous year, and without anything else to worry about, we started to worry about whether harvest would actually fall on, or around, Mike & Alana’s wedding day (September 19). However, the Eastern (short) rows lagged somewhat so we were able to harvest the West rows on Labour Day and defer harvesting the west rows until after the wedding. The yield was great (just shy of 7 tons) and the quality very good, so now we wait impatiently to try the finished wine in a month or two.

The 2014 crop

2014 was the year we decided to “go organic” and we talk about this in the “Our Story” section.

After a winter that alternated between mild and really cold as well as the sour-rot traumas of 2013, we were convinced that we had now seen it all. Initially bud-break loo2014 cropked normal with little winter damage to report. Inexplicably though, many of the shoots started faltering at about 2-3 “ high. There is not much you can do about this as the main trunks of the vines looked quite healthy and pretty much everyone in the area suffered some level of winter damage. Our estimate was that we would lose at least 10% of the crop from this.

Then the rains came in July and we were treated to our very own little micro-climate at the south end of the Bench. The heavy rains quickly turned to hail and pelted the grapes and decimated leaf canopy. At first the damage did not look too severe but it quickly became apparent that the fruit had suffered some bruising which rapidly spread. Together with the winter damage, we estimated that we had lost 25-30% of the crop, predictably just below the threshold for claiming under our crop insurance policy. There were some mitigating factors though. The reduced crop meant less work tending to the vines, and we were spared having to “drop” fruit to ensure orderly veraison. There was also some natural increase in yield from the unaffected vines as they reached maturity. Thankfully the crop was otherwise of high quality so all in all, it could have been much worse.


The 2013 crop

2013 was the year of the sour-rot. Noble-rot (also known as botrytis) is a benign type of rot which only adds to the flavours of the wine by concentrating the sugars, but sour-rot is devastating to wine. Approaching harvest time we were aware of the difference, but distinguishing the good from the bad required a particular expertise that we did not have. This did not particularly concern us because sour- rot was not particularly common in the valley so it was a surprise to us when Alan arrived one afternoon and advised us to harvest the following morning.

We pulled together a team at short notice (and great expense) and decided to pick in two teams. Team “A” consisting of the inexperienced pickers, including Ann and myself, and team “B” were the experienced team of Alan family, and local consultant Erich Jaster. Team “A” was to pick all the “clean” bunches and leave anything that showed any sign of rot. Team “B” was to go through the rest, sniffing each bunch, and discarding any with signs of sour-rot. What was left of Team “A” after that was assigned the t
ask of picking up the infected bunches and getting them off the property. We ended up with over a ton of unusable grapes, a ton of botrytis affected grapes and 4.5 tons of “cle
an” grapes. Alan decided to make separate wines form the botrytis and clean batches, a decision that paid off for him with a silver medal at the national wine awards:


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The 2012 crop

We contracted to sell our 2012 crop to Synchromesh Wines under an evergreen contract which automatically renews every year unless cancelled by either party with at least 12 months notice. The contract gives Synchromesh significant input into our crop management which we find both constructive and informative.

Growing conditions during 2012 were ideal and while initial crop estimates were approximately 3-4 tonnes, the final total was 4.88 tonnes of good quality grapes. This was despite “dropping” at least 25% of the bunches to promote growth and ripening.   We had also stripped much of the leaf growth around the grapes early in the season to assist this process and to reduce the possible impact of poor weather conditions as well as the development of  Botrytis (Bunch Rot). Some of the clusters showed some shriveling of the berries which could either be sunburn from stripping off the foliage or possibly from a condition called “coulier” which happens when you get early rains followed by ideal weather and if your soil is good. Under these conditions the grapes grow too fast and crowd out other grapes around them. This was not really been a significant issue as most of the affected bunches were selected for dropping anyway.

              2012 Crop

We finished putting up our bird nets on September 16 and stopped irrigating at the suggestion of our Synchromesh. From this point on, all we could really monitor is the sugar content which is measured in units called Brix using a refractometer.  The final Brix readings taken just before harvest on 15th October with only slight variations in the different sections of the vineyard. During veraison (ripening) the Brix will increase about 1 unit per week assuming fairly normal weather conditions.who estimates we will be harvesting somewhere around mid-October, probably two weeks earlier than last year. The precise timing is up to the purchaser/winemaker who decides when the balance between sugar and acids is optimal for making good wine.




The 2011 crop

Testing for Bunch Rot

Originally we did not expect to produce a crop for 2011 because the vines were young and we did not want to stress them by making them produce fruit. However a number of people convinced us that a very limited crop on the more robust vines was actually quite a good thing. so on about 20% of the stronger vines we left a few producing canes and allowed each to produce one bunch. In total we left about 1650 bunches to mature and “dropped” the remainder. The growing season in 2011 was unusually wet and cold and not ideal, but the grapes seemed to do quite well nevertheless. Riesling is a late maturing variety but young vines tend to mature slightly earlier than more mature vines so we thought this would help given the conditions.


As we approached normal harvesting time, the sugar content of the grapes remained stubbornly low, and we stripped many of the leaves around the fruit to allow more direct access to sunlight. This may not have helped that much because the grapes need the nitrogen from the leaves to ripen, and we had trimmed (“hedged”) much of the upper canopy as well. All in all, the ripening process was slow, but it gradually happened. The next problem was that about 20% of the bunches developed Botrytis (more commonly known as “bunch rot”).

We assumed this was not a good thing and dropped a fair bit of this fruit as well. As it turns out, there is good bunch rot (noble rot) which is more common in Riesling, and is quite acceptable to winemakers because it concentrates the sugars. Sour bunch rot is not welcomed. After multiple tastings we found no sour rot, but by now had dropped quite a bit of fruit. The birds didn’t seem to mind either way and we also had to resort to netting the vines to keep them out. The process    of putting up and taking down nets is an unpopular one as it is quite exhausting.

Nevertheless, by the time harvesting came around in early November we had about half a ton of grapes which Ann and I picked ourselves in a day.