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Okanagan wineries hope warm summer produces bountiful grape harvest

Burrowing Owl Winery in Oliver, B.C.

Gary Mason/The Globe and Mail

Grape growers across B.C.'s Okanagan Valley are expecting a sweet and abundant payoff thanks to a long spell of warm, dry weather that has baked the region for months.

Picking of the earliest-ripening grape varieties could begin within the week and farmers anticipate one of the best harvests ever.

"Reports from all across the Valley indicate people say this crop will be outstanding in terms of its overall quality," said Ed Schiller, a board member of the B.C. Grape Growers Association.

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Schiller, who has a small vineyard in East Kelowna, said the growing conditions this summer have been nearly ideal.

Only six millimetres of rain fell in the Kelowna area in July, and long stretches of hot and dry weather were perfect for the grapes' development.

"The amount of sustained heat we had on the vineyards was something a lot of people had never seen before," Schiller said.

With plenty of warm days still ahead in September, this season could eclipse 1998 as the year with the greatest number of days where temperatures remain above 10 degrees Celsius, but below 30 degrees, a range known as a heat-degree day, perfect for grape growing.

"We're in the running for the hottest one," said Jim Wyse, owner of Burrowing Owl Winery in Oliver.

Kelowna-area forecasts call for daytime high temperatures of 29 C every day this week, or about seven degrees warmer than usual for mid-September, hastening harvesting dates because the fruit will reach its desired sugar content more quickly.

The record temperature for Sept. 11 was 32.9 C, set in 1973. Other record marks for dates this week are all around 32 C as well.

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"I don't think we'll quite see any records this week, because you usually need a bit of wind to mix things up and we're expecting fairly calm conditions," said Environment Canada meteorologist Doug Lundquist.

Overnight lows are expected to be around 14 C, considerably above the normal mark of 6 C for this time of September.

About 27,000 tonnes of wine grapes with a cumulative value of just under $60-million were harvested in B.C. last year, in what was described as an above-average growing season.

Just 23,000 tonnes of wine grapes came in from the fields in 2011, when growing conditions were poorer.

Merlot, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris are the three most widely-planted wine grapes. Vineyards cover about 4,000 hectares of land in B.C., up from about 2,000 hectares a decade ago.

Kelowna Daily Courier

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