‘Standout’ year for South Okanagan and Similkameen wineries

Consistency has been key for what is building to be a great year for grape growers.

Shana Miller of the Upper Bench Estate Winery looks over some of the bountiful crops of grapes on the vine at the Upper Bench Road vineyard this week. Excellent growing conditions over the course of the season and especially in the later stages are expected to produce excellent wines in the coming years. For story and photo see Page 23.

Shana Miller of the Upper Bench Estate Winery looks over some of the bountiful crops of grapes on the vine at the Upper Bench Road vineyard this week. Excellent growing conditions over the course of the season and especially in the later stages are expected to produce excellent wines in the coming years. For story and photo see Page 23.

Consistency has been key for what is building to be a great year for grape growers.

“For grape growers it is going to be a standout year,” said Gavin Miller, co-owner at Upper Bench Winery and Creamery. “It’s going to be a really nice fruit that has great flavour.”

Last year at this time fruit producers were hit with a hail storm, but with consistent warm and dry weather this season, fruit is ripening early.

“I think the consistency in weather has made it a great year for grapes. It hasn’t been super hot, although it seems like it, but research actually shows in Penticton and Summerland we are dead on average. The grapes look so much better this year,” said Miller.

So much better that Miller said his merlot grapes are racing ahead of the grapes that produce white wine, which is unusual.

“I’m fastidious and we crop our vines down to three and four ton an acre. I’m not seeing more grapes but very good quality,” he said.

Miller said as a young winery, the perfect conditions have helped with their planning, which they do two years out, and will make for a great 2014 vintage.

“Every vintage tastes different. It’s a reflection of that year it was made, especially for small artisan wineries. When it gets too hot the grapes shut down and have a little siesta to prevent losing too much water. With the Naramata Bench area not getting too hot or having any extreme weather the grapes were working all the time,” said Miller.

Wine connoisseurs will have to be patient as wineries pay constant attention to their barrels once the harvest season is finished at the end of October. Upper Bench’s white wines will not be ready until April or May of next year, while Miller said anything picked now for red wine will not be ready until 2016. The winery is hosting a vine, wine and cheese tour on Oct. 5 during the Okanagan Fall Wine Festival. The co-owners will guide people through the winery and vineyard to learn first-hand about the process of grapes to bottle and how to pair their selections with cheeses.

Conditions are just as strong for wineries in the Similkameen. George Hanson, founder of Seven Stones Winery, said his last two vintages were good but 2014 is setting up to be fantastic.

“This has been a spectacular year, the best I think I have seen,” said Hanson, who started Seven Stones in 2000. “This vintage will be fantastic. The only thing we are missing now are the cool nights.”

Because temperatures have not dropped in the evenings, Seven Stones is still waiting to harvest. He said the potential for a bumper crop for some wineries is there but they have chosen to be quality conscious to make sure their plants aren’t producing too much fruit. The results, he said, will show in their harvest as soon as the cooler temperatures start.

“That temperature drop will create different aromas and flavours after the acids drop out,” he said, adding reds, in particular will be bold for 2014. “It will be a big year for reds. They love this type of weather. All the wineries in our area are excited.”