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Combatting Climate Chaos: A Crucial Turning Point in BC’s Sustainable Journey

Ever pondered the resilience of British Columbia’s wine industry in the face of climate chaos? Amidst the glitz and glamour of the Vancouver International Wine Festival, a groundbreaking sustainable certification was revealed, shaking up the conversation around BC’s vineyards. Led by esteemed moderators Ross Wise MW and Kelcie Jones, the panel featured visionary winemakers and viticulturalists, offering a glimpse into the challenges and triumphs of sustainable wine production. Oh, and did I forget to mention that we got to sample some excellent wines??

 

Moderator:

Kelcie Jones & Ross Wise MW

Panelists:

Michael Alexander, Summerhill Pyramid Winery; Jean-Marc Enixon, Culmina Family Estate Winery; Patrick Blandin, Cannon Estate Winery; Felix Egerer, Unsworth Vineyards; Alex Nel, Fort Berens Winery; Michael Kullmann, Osoyoos Larose Estate Winery

In recent memory, BC’s winegrowers have confronted unprecedented adversities. From scorching ‘heat domes’ to relentless wildfires and catastrophic cold snaps,  the urgency for sustainable practices has never been clearer. As Kelcie Jones aptly stated, “We are speaking to you at what is a watershed historical moment for our province.” 

Yet, sustainability’s meaning is as varied amongst its producers as it is across BC’s diverse terroirs. Here’s whats shaping the strategies adopted by vineyards.


 

Too Little Water or Too Much;
Change in Location Underscores the Delicate Balance for Optimal Fruit

Take Felix Berger’s journey from Tantalus Vineyards in the Okanagan Valley to Unsworth Vineyards on Vancouver Island. In Kelowna, Felix relied on city water; he simply turned the tap on and off. Yet on Vancouver Island, the water is scarcer. Prompting Unsworth Vineyards to innovate with the construction of a 2.5 acre pond to capture winter runoff for irrigation purposes.

On the other hand, Patrick Blandin, winemaker and viticulturalist at Cannon Estate Winery in Abbotsford, deals with the opposite problem; he struggles with too much water. In this way, it rains a lot in January in the Fraser Valley. However, at the same time the temperatures can drop measurably causing a reduction in the fruit.

Therefore, understanding nature’s rhythms is crucial for wine quality. As articulated by Patrick, “If it’s too wet, I can’t move the tractor! And if I could, it would compact the soil. It’s better to do a proper job and do everything at the right moment.” 

Adaptation is paramount for BC wine growers

 

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The Argument for Organic and Biodynamic Practices to Combat Climate Chaos

Pioneers like Summerhill Pyramid Winery have long championed organic and biodynamic farming to deal with the adverse affects of a changing environment. Through time, they’ve witnessed first hand the self-sustaining nature of vines under such practices. 

Hence, winemaker Michael Kullman stated with authority, “I’ve noticed that when we farm organically, and more importantly biodynamically, the vines tend to take care of themselves.”

What does he mean?

VIneyards at Summerhill require minimal green harvesting. Green harvesting is a laborious practice involving the removal of green grape bunches to enhance crop quality by reducing yields. Instead, vines at Summerhill consistently yield ripe grapes every year on their own. Michael argues that this further eliminates the need to prolong harvest time – thereby avoiding frost damage. Never has he needed to expedite fruit picking to evade inclement weather; the grapes ripen naturally and effortlessly on their own.

 

Barriers to Sustainability
While Combatting Climate Chaos

Despite progress, barriers persist. And according to Michael, nothing hinders sustainability efforts like bureaucracy.

That’s why Patrick says, “‘I’m more of an advocate of analyzing the grapes and water – rather than what we do with the paper trail in traditional certifications”.

As an example, technological advancements mean we can now analyze the herbicides that were used in the last 3 years of a vineyard’s life.

The conversation then shifted to one of regenerative farming. Ross Wise MW asked, “Is regenerative farming the new buzzword for sustainability?” – prompting more reflections on the evolving landscape of environmental stewardship.

Still others argue that innovative approaches like certifications offer promise for the future.

For Felix, the best certifications are outcomes-based and in his mind, this is the strength of the new Sustainable Wine Growing BC certification. 
 

The Path to Sustainability is Multifaceted

Truly, there is ‘no one size fits all’ approach to sustainability.
 
Ultimately, the path is multifaceted, requiring ongoing adaptation and understanding of local ecosystems. And in this, the panelists all agreed; it’s a journey of learning and innovation, where each vineyard’s unique challenges pave the way for resilient solutions thus ensuring a sustainable future for the BC wine industry.
 
Which is just what Jean-Marc Enixon from Culmina Family Estate Winery did when he found his grapes lacked the necessary nitrogen to complete fermentation. At first, he had to add a product he really doesn’t like. Yet, through experience, he figured out how to ensure the grapes naturally gained enough of their own nitrogen to finish fermentation without it.

Summary

The importance of adaptation and sustainable farming for wine industry resilience is paramount to the future of BC wine. Despite hurdles, BC producers are constantly innovating and reacting to climate change and to improving practices in the vineyard and in the winery. In one approach, the new Sustainable Wine Growing BC certification offers hope for the future. Join the conversation on regenerative farming and the path to a sustainable BC wine industry.

 

Tasting notes

* Tasted March 1st, 2024 

My opinions on these wines are all mine—I wasn’t paid for them. But shoutout to the Vancouver International Wine Festival for sponsoring my tickets!

 

Summerhilll Pyramid Winery Cipes Traditional Cuvée 2004 Okanagan Valley, BC 13% abv $130

bottle shot of Summerhilll Pyramid Winery Cipes Traditional Cuvée 2004 Okanagan Valley, BC 13% abv $130 ​
Tasting note

87% Chardonnay, 13% Pinot Noir.  100% Organic! A delicately pale gold coloured wine with inviting scents of lemon peel and an earthiness. The earth is intertwined with notes of lemon custard, toast, and biscuit, indicative of extended lees aging. Hints of chamomile tea and hay add to its complexity.

Delightfully soft bubbles cascade over the palate, complemented by an elevated mouthwatering zing. This mid-weight with 13% abv. Elevated finish carries leaving a satisfying impression.

89 Points and is best enjoyed now.

Culmina Family Estate Winery, Decora Riesling 2020 Golden Mile Bench, Okanagan Valley, BC 14% abv

Bottle shot of Culmina Family Estate Winery, Decora Riesling 2020 Golden Mile Bench, Okanagan Valley, BC 14% abv​, climate chaos
Tasting note

Soft and refreshing notes of lemon, lime, elderflower, honeysuckle, and hints of yogurt. The texture and satisfying mouthfeel hints that there may be some fruit from old vines or some lees ageing. Its balanced alcohol harmonizes well with its high laser-beam acidity that contributes to a clean and vibrant profile. This holds promise for some graceful aging up to 8 years.

94 Points

Cannon Estate Winery, Fleur Bleue 2021 Fraser Valley, BC 13.5% abv

bottle shot of Cannon Estate Winery, Fleur Bleue 2021 Fraser Valley, BC 13.5% abv showcasing climate chaos
Tasting note

Vibrant aromas of ripe cranberry, red plums, intertwined with green stems, violets, and a profusion of purple flowers – lilacs and perhaps a touch of lavender. Wonderfully versatile, this wine captivates my palate; I could happily glug this in all its charms straight from the bottle, just don’t tell anyone!

With a moderate acidity, a mid-weight frame, and light tannins, all balanced by moderate alcohol levels. Medium intensity flavours of ripe red fruits linger pleasantly, culminating in a satisfying medium finish. Excellent wine choice for light Asian fusion dishes.

88 Points

Unsworth Vineyards Saison Vineyard Pinot Noir, Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, BC 2021 12% abv

Unsworth Vineyards Saison Vineyard Pinot Noir, Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, BC 2021 12% abv​
Tasting note

Elevated aromas of earth, cherries, and an enchanting fragrance reminiscent of lilac bushes – all complemented by subtle sandlewood oak undertones.

High acidity provides a refreshing backbone to its medium-minus body. Whilst fine-grained tannins lend a smooth texture. On the palate, crunchy red fruits mingle with green stems, leading to a satisfying finish highlighted by the tanginess of sour cherries and juicy sensations. Long length.

 

91 Points

Fort Berens Estate Winery, Red Gold, Lillooet, BC 2020 13% abv

bottle shot of Fort Berens Estate Winery, Red Gold, Lillooet, BC 2020 13% abv​ showcasing climate choas
Tasting note

With a medium-plus intensity, this wine offers an array of aromas; blackcurrant, blackcurrant leaf, red and black plum, and hints of stems, possibly from Cabernet Franc. It tightrope walks between ripe and tart juicy fruits, with undertones of vanilla and subtle spices adding depth to the bouquet.

Medium acidity provides freshness, while the medium-plus body and balanced alcohol content contribute to a harmonious structure. Youthful, moderately grippy tannins suggest that this wine will benefit from some aging.

Despite the presence of oak and vanilla, it still manages to maintain a juicy finish of an elevated length.

90 Points

Osoyoos Larose Estate Winery Le Grand Vin, Okanagan Valley, BC 2020 14.5% abv

bottle shot of Osoyoos Larose Estate Winery Le Grand Vin, Okanagan Valley, BC 2020 14.5% abv showcasing climate chaos
Tasting note

This wine entices with flavours of blackcurrant, blackberry, Douglas fir, and pencil shavings, offering the perfect blend of savoury and fruity notes. Subtle hints of blackcurrant leaf, nutmeg, and cedar add complexity to its aromatic profile.

With high acidity providing a lively freshness, it boasts a medium-plus body and a warming alcohol content of 14%. Youthful, slightly drying tannins suggest that patience is needed for this wine to fully evolve.

92 Points - will improve with age

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