2019 was a very difficult vintage. Under typical conditions, we often receive the gift of at least 60 days of cool, slow ripening “hang-time” that makes our wines intensely flavoured while maintaining their bright acidity. Over the past 15 vintages I have branded the signature style of JoieFarm Winery on this natural privilege afforded by a cool climate, lake-moderated desert. In our 16th vintage, however, our normal ripening patterns were interrupted by almost continuous rain, punctuated by an abrupt freeze on Oct 10th that ended all significant ripening.
The vintage began with mild temperatures and little insulating snowpack in January. This made bottling and pruning very pleasant for us, but the unseasonable warmth also caused the soil to warm up, forcing the vines out of dormancy. An extended four-week cold snap in February then froze those awaken vines causing bud damage, cane damage and, in some cases, cracked trunks and straight-up vine death. Many vineyards saw smaller yields in 2019 from this thaw/freeze episode, some in Summerland and Naramata sustaining 70% loss. A lack of snow and rain during that time also meant there was little run-off or soil moisture, making for even lower yields.
The spring started uneventfully with budbreak occurring in the first week of May as usual. By early June, flowering would also occur normally, although some wind and rain interrupted flowering in our Riesling vineyard (which was already affected by spotty budbreak and damage from the cold).
Summer temperatures were cooler than normal with no heat spikes and many cloudy days. As result, veraison was drawn out – taking at least three to four weeks to complete (an abundance of secondary and tertiary shoots may have aided in extending the process). After a short temperature spike the last week of August and first week of September the rains started and never seemed to stop. (Environment Canada would later confirm that the Penticton area received three times more precipitation than average.) This abundance of rain created intense disease pressure and an overt lack of ripening. The rains eventually stopped with a hard frost of -7°C on October 10th, essentially ending the vintage for all intents and purposes.
2019 was a vintage for technical, confident wine makers with the experience to make rapid-fire picking calls and take immediate action in the winery; these needs were non-stop. Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong: profound winter damage, a cool, cloudy summer punctuated by late August heat which brought heavy wasp pressure, September rains bringing powdery mildew, sour rot (caused by the wasps stings creating vectors for disease), incredible wildlife pressure with ravenous bears eating tons of fruit by the day…
For those without the experience to act quickly, the ability to pivot and a willingness to be flexible with house style, 2019 will have been a disappointing and heartbreaking vintage for many, and probably disastrous for some. At JoieFarm we are not afraid to make lighter, fresher styles of wine and use blending to achieve balance. Our combination of technical winemaking skills and grasp of organic chemistry, as well as the fact that we have full control of our viticulture and picking teams allowed us to make the JoieFarm 2019 portfolio full of delicious wines as usual (just with more #maximumeffort and resolve than normally required!). Still, here’s hoping 2020 brings us back to the usual, reliable viticultural magic we’ve come to love about the edge of the 50thparallel.
Here’s a list of techniques we used to be pro-active and non-interventionist during this difficult vintage:
- Minimal skin-contact, whole cluster pressing where appropriate and light pressing with minimal press rotations – damaged and diseased skins were to be avoided at all costs.This meant that we made lighter colour rosé this vintage and sent our Pinot Noir and Gamay to ferment straight away (warming the must and inoculating immediately). 2019 was not a suitable vintage to make skin-contacted whites, long-macerated rosé or extended contact cold-soaked reds (pre or post). Those damaged skins had to go!
- Racking pressed off reds early and twice at cold temperatures to encourage a compact settle, again to rid any damaged or diseased suspended solids.
- Early pH adjustments on one of our Gamay lots, pre-ferment, to prevent unwanted browning and potential bacterial spoilage (the must was shockingly coming out of the press brown, not ruby!)
- Identify laccase and break that potentially disastrous enzyme down! Laccase can cause serious oxidative damage to juice must and finished wine, unwanted colour changes (browning), and extreme pH slides that cause spoilage. We used a small addition of bentonite clay during some of our rosé ferments. We also performed early post-ferment rackings where necessary to rid the wine of this potentially creeper enzyme. This was a new practice for me and I was very pleased with the fermentation kinetics and health of that ferment; it was good learning for future rosé ferments.
- Diligent filtration – crossflow filtration to ensure bacteria and diseases were removed from the finished product, especially early-to-bottle white and rosé wines.
- Mid-winter red racking on Pinot Noir and Gamay lots to rid any further precipitated laccase or suspended solids in the lees.
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