Two consecutive winters with temperatures below -20 C takes a toll on Okanagan grape vines

Vines suffering in cold

The last two winters have not been kind to wine producers.

Grape vines in the Okanagan can generally handle temperatures as low as -20 C, but anything colder than that can be deadly to buds. In December 2021 and 2022 the mercury plunged near -25 C in parts of the region.

“We are concerned about the impact on BC wine grapes,” says Miles Prodan, president and CEO of Wine Growers British Columbia. “We can see the trend of what the buds are showing, and it’s not looking good.”

He says the bud damage detected so far ranges from 40 per cent to 80 per cent.

It’s the latest negative impact of climate change.

“We’ve noted, probably over the last several years, a steady decline in the total crush, what we call the total harvest. And it’s just not equating to what we know is planted.

"There’s a variety of reasons for that. We suspected climate change. We did a pretty thorough review of it and looked at it systematically throughout the province. And in fact we found that to be the case. It is about climate change,” says Prodan.

He adds that there are other contributing factors like disease and the age of some of the vines, but weather extremes are the leading cause of die-off.

The industry won’t know the extent of damage until bud break in the spring.

“Hopefully, we don’t encounter a heat dome and the rest of it. It’s very much about farming and we’re tied to the land, physically. We can’t up and move anywhere,” points out Prodan.

While the quantity of grapes might be affected, Prodan says the cold shouldn’t affect the quality.

However, even though demand is high for BC wines, having a short supply doesn’t necessarily mean producers will automatically raise prices.

“We’re very conscious of our pricing and recognize consumers have a lot of choices in the marketplace with a lot of cheap, foreign wine that’s dumped in our market sometimes. So we just can’t keep passing costs on."

“We are very conscious of maintaining good value for our great wines.”

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