There’s good news and there’s bad news.
The 10-day cold snap has broken, but another is forecast to begin around the middle of next week.
The cold did permit a near-record-early harvest of a record quantity of frozen grapes with which to make the premium icewine.
But, a couple of storms are tracking through the valley in the next few days, bringing an estimated three to eight centimetres of white stuff to the valley bottom, followed by a further four to five centimetres.
Environment Canada meteorologist Doug Lundquist figures there is a better chance than normal that we will see a white Christmas this year, even though a thaw is forecast Sunday for a few days.
Although the cold weather was a bit longer than normal, Lundquist said neither the late November cold temperatures (which dropped to -11 C Nov. 21), nor the Dec. 3 to 11 plunge in temperatures to -18.3 C, set any new records at the long-term Environment Canada weather station at the airport, although some were close.
However, at the newer station at UBCO, which has 20 years of records now, the Dec. 7 temperature of -17.1 did break the old record of -15.4 C for the coldest temperature for that date, said Lundquist.
The two lengthy cold snaps allowed a record quantity of icewine grapes to be picked this year, with an estimated 1,140 tonnes left hanging on the vine for the dessert wine, reports Steve Berney, general manager of the B.C. Wine Authority. The previous year, he said just 475 tonnes were held back and in 2011, 554 tonnes were held.
By law, grapes for making icewine must be picked and pressed at temperatures of -8 C or lower to ensure the quality of the finished product, which is made with the concentrated, sweet grape juice, while the water is still frozen in the berry and left behind with the skins.
Summerhill Pyramid Winery winemaker Eric von Krosigk said it was a good year for most grape varietals, with a big crop, and some varieties maturing as much as a month earlier than usual.
At harvest, he feels there were more grapes than wineries needed, so many of those leftover grapes, for which growers did not have a contract with a winery, were kept on the vine for the record high quantity of icewine.
Growers must announce their intention to leave grapes for icewine by the beginning of November to the BCWA, with the acreage and estimated tonnage.
This means there are some unusual grape varieties in the fermentation tanks this winter, including Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon and other reds not normally selected.
Riesling and Vidal are traditionally grown for icewine.
Von Krosigk said he has no concerns about the impact a large quantity of icewine could have on market prices.
“It’s nasty work; the least fun of winemaking. It stresses the equipment as well as the people; and presents many challenges,” he commented.
However, he sees it as an opportunity for wineries to diversify their portfolio; offer a new product and an export opportunity.
When the icewine harvest has to be delayed several months as it did with the 2012 crop, which wasn’t picked until mid-January this year, far fewer grapes are remaining.
Summerhill lost 85 per cent of its crop last year. “This year made up for that,” he commented.
Orchardists are not concerned about frost damage to trees because of the cold snap.
Grower services manager Hank Markgraf with the B.C. Tree Fruits Co-operative said they feel trees went into dormancy before the temperatures plunged to their lowest, allowing them to become gradually used to the cold.