Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Winemaking in Canada

Canada here I come!

By the time you read this, I will be somewhere between Perth and Vancouver, on my way to a small winery in British Columbia.

To keep newer readers up to date, the purpose of this Canadian adventure is to undertake my second vintage. (I completed my first vintage earlier this year in the Swan Valley and you can read all about it here.) By heading over to Canada, it will be possible for me to gain twice the experience in half the time - all thanks to opposing seasons in the two hemispheres.

Why Canada?
Many people don't even realise that Canada has a wine industry (except perhaps for the famed ice wine!). It is definitely much smaller and less acknowledged than its close neighbours Oregon and California in the United States. 

There were a few reasons that I selected this area to undertake another vintage. The process went something like this:
  • I decided an English-speaking country would be best, as I am still quite inexperienced and the addition of a language barrier could inhibit my technical learning.
  • This really narrowed down my options to Canada or America (New Zealand being in the wrong hemisphere).
  • I applied to wineries in Napa Valley, Oregon and British Columbia to see if anyone would be at all interested in taking on a fairly 'green' candidate who was not studying winemaking or viticulture.
  • After about 40 applications, I managed to get half a dozen interviews , with the outcome of a few job offers to choose from.
  • I eventually selected one in British Columbia, as it was a smaller winery and I felt I would have more opportunities and exposure to a variety of tasks and processes.

Okanagan Valley
Being the largest wine producing region in British Columbia (82% total vineyards), Okanagan Valley has 8,060 acres under vine (Wines of British Columbia). The most planted grapes are Merlot, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with Gewurztraminer also deserving an honourable mention.

The Okanagan Valley is 400km east of Vancouver and is the second largest wine producing region in Canada, behind Niagara Peninsula in the Ontario area.

Vines were first planted in the area in 1859 at Kelowna in order to produce church wine. Unfortunately, prohibition put a grinding halt to the development of the industry right up until the 1970s. The first commercial planting of vitis vinifera  (wine grape species) was undertaken by the Oosoyos Indian Band who have now established Nk'Mip Cellars.

German viticulturist Helmut Becker brought clones of traditional German grape varieties Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer to the area in 1976 from theGeisenheim Grape Breeding Institute. These had been bred to withstand the cold, winter temperatures of the Okanagan. It is these cold temperatures that also make the area conducive to excellent sparkling wine and Riesling.

Interestingly enough, the Okanagan Valley was named the world's second Best Wine Region to Visit by readers of USA Today and travel and lifestyle website 10Best. Only Alentejo in Portugal was rated higher. Further to this, local Vineyard Sun Rock was awarded World's Best Shiraz at the 2006 International Wine & Spirit Competition.

So they must be doing something right! 

Oliver - 'Wine Capital of Canada'

I will be working 7km south of the town of Oliver, which claims to be 'the Wine Capital of Canada'. Fair enough:  this unofficial sub-region contains half of B.C.'s vines.

A typical continental climate is prevalent in the area, with hot days and cool nights. Luckily, Lake Okanagan provides a moderating influence.

There are two distinct vineyard profiles. On the West of the valley down the Golden Mile, the morning sun provides ideal conditions for white wines.

Opposing this, on the Eastern side of the valley, the afternoon sun along the Black Sage Bench encourages the development of powerful structure and depth of flavour in red grape varieties.

From what I have been told, during the busiest periods of vintage, I am likely to be working 12 hour shifts, 6 days a week in the cellar. This should allow me plenty of time to learn some Canadian winemaking 'tricks of the trade'. However, I also hope that there are a few downtime periods during which I can explore the beautiful region that is the Okanagan Valley.

Stay tuned for 10 weeks of vintage adventures...