The Okanagan wine region is likely to produce less wine in the coming season due to bud damage caused by cold temperatures in December 2022.
Grapevines generally do not survive temperatures below -20°C, but vineyards from Kelowna to Osoyoos have been exposed to temperatures near -25°C.
With the support of growers in the valley, the Summerland Research and Development Center conducted an analysis of bud survival in several vineyards.
Ben-Min Chang, a researcher who has been studying vine stress physiology since 2008, says many vineyards have experienced 0% primary bud survival.
“There should be an impact on the yield in the coming season,” he explains, adding that the expected yield is lower than normal.
The primary buds are responsible for carrying the inflorescences. Thus, if a primary bud dies in winter, the vine can no longer bear fruit.
Miles Prodan, president and CEO of Wine Growers BC, says this isn’t the first year Okanagan vines have been damaged by cold temperatures.
There was a significant frost event in December 2021 which raised concerns for the 2022 vintage.
“In the end, it wasn’t as bad as we thought,” Prodan says, adding that the recent cold snap is concerning because of lower temperatures lasting even longer.
“It’s been two consecutive years with this kind of effect and it’s very hard for the vines,” he explains.
Over the past nine years, the number of grapes harvested has decreased by 30% compared to the number of grapes planted.
“When we did the analysis, it was very clear that climate change and its impact on these grapes will eventually impact the amount of grapes we can harvest,” says Prodan.
“We have to act”
Wines of BC is developing a program with the government to replace vines prone to disease or unsuitable for climate change.
“It’s about improving what we’ve planted and making sure it’s as resilient as possible,” says Prodan.
Cold temperatures can also damage the trunks of vines, where water and nutrients are transported from the roots to the canopy, which Chang says forces growers to rejuvenate or replant their vines in severe cases.
Ultimately, says Prodan, cold temperatures cause a volume issue, not a quality issue.
“Lack of supply means you just don’t have the wine,” he explains. “Without the grapes you simply cannot sustain your business model and you cannot import grapes because BC VQA wine must be 100% BC.”
BC Vintners Quality Alliance is the designation of origin and quality standard for British Columbia wine.
Prodan also shares that BC wineries are reluctant to raise prices despite rising excise, bottling and shipping costs.
“We have to make sure we don’t pass that cost on to consumers, because they’ve been very supportive of us over the years, and we have to make sure we don’t stand out in the market,” he says.
“British Columbians love supporting BC wine and we want to be able to offer the product.”
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