2021 Industry Year in Review
The year 2021 was a period when extreme weather events prompted new terminology.
In British Columbia, blistering temperatures in late June and early July were the result of a phenomenom described as a “heat dome” that enveloped the province. Much of BC recorded highs in the upper 40s Celsius. The province baked for 11 straight days claiming hundreds of lives and sparking forest fires, one of which obliterated the village of Lytton in a matter of minutes.
Lytton is well documented to have some of the hottest temperatures in the country due to its dry climate and low elevation. But on the day before the devastating wildfire, the tiny community of 250 experienced what Environment Canada described as a “Death Valley moment” when the mercury reached 49.6 C – the world’s high temperature ever recorded north of the 45th parallel.
It was one of the worst wildfire seasons on record, with 1,610 separate blazes that burned in excess of 86,000 square kilometres across the province.
Capping out the extreme weather systems of 2021 was something called an “atmospheric river.” In mid-November, a powerful band of moisture rolled over southwestern BC, delivering as much as 200-300 millimetres of rain in just over two days. The hardest hit were Merritt, Princeton and much of the Fraser Valley. The storm triggered mud and landslides that walloped key arteries leading in out of the Lower Mainland, cutting it off from the rest of the province. The infrastructure was quickly rebuilt and traffic now flows again with ease.
While the year was one to test the mettle of BC residents, how did local wine producers fair?
The heat, drought and wildfires did present undeniable challenges, but vintners have become accustomed to Mother Nature throwing everything she’s got at them. And they are better prepared for it.
The result, they say, is to expect great wine from the 2021 vintage, just a lot less of it.
The reason for that is when the temperatures climbed into the high 40s, the vines simply shut down as they are unable to pull water and nutrients from the ground. Because this occurred just as the plants were entering the grape formation stage, the stress led to weakened fruit set which resulted in smaller berries and lower yields.
Total production is down 15 to 30 per cent, according to Wine Growers British Columbia. But depending on their location, some producers are reporting yield reductions of as much as 50 per cent.
The good news is the smaller clusters have resulted in greater concentration of flavours in the grapes. Consumers can expect fruit-forward, complex and well-structured wines.
Smoke and ash is always a cause for concern in vintages marked by excessive wildfires. Of particular note was the Thomas Creek fire at the peak of the growing season near Skaha Lake in Okanagan Falls. Wineries in the area reported heavy smoke blanketing their vineyards in July and August while the more than 10,000 hectare blaze raged out of control. At least one winery has opted not to bottle any of its 2021 vintage due to smoke taint.
The floods that occurred in the Fraser Valley, one of BC’s key wine growing geographical indications, won’t have any bearing on the 2021 vintage. But any future concerns for vineyards in that area are largely unwarranted. With the exception of one, all grape growers were relatively unscathed.
by Julianna Hayes
Photo Credit: Wines of British Columbia