Not many people think “wine” when they think of the Arrow Lakes valley, but the Arrow Lakes Grape Growers Society is aiming to change that.
The Indian summer sun beamed down on the grapes in Jody Scott’s vineyard at Sunset Ridge Bed and Breakfast, where the Arrow Lakes Grape Growers Society’s open house was about to open some minds to the potential for making high-quality local wine.
Followed by a cluster of grape enthusiasts, growers and drinkers both, Jody Scott wound through his vines and told us their story.
“It gets in your blood,” he revealed as his passion for grapes became clear.
Each of the varietals has a pedigree and a history, and Scott knew them both well. Many vines are grafted on to rootstock that has desired characteristics, such as winter hardiness, so each vine is unique in its own particular way. The real trick is to be able to balance acidity with sugar, something a grower won’t find out until a vine fruits, which takes about eleven years when producing new stock. Experimenters must have patience, and what do you do while you wait for the vines to grow?
“Just sit down and have a glass of wine,” Scott answers.
But the birds and wasps are less choosy, and don’t bother waiting for a good crop, so Scott has had to wrap his red grapes in netting and put up wasp traps at the end of each row. He has noticed that the darker-coloured grapes are the ones the birds are attracted to, while they leave the green ones alone, fortunately.
The other big pest Scott has to chase away, instead of lounging in the sun drinking wine like he should, is mildew. Unlike the semi-arid Okanagan, mildew is an enormous challenge for Kootenay growers, combated by spraying sulphur as far into the vines’ shady reaches as possible.
Jody’s vineyard is the testing ground for the grape varietals represented in the wines featured at the tasting. As well as some traditional Vinifera varietals that are suited to our growing climate, the little-known Blattner varietals are being developed. With names like “Labelle” and the less romantic “49.28.04”, these grapes may not be as well known as cabernet sauvignon, but they may very well be the perfect ones for our zone and our economy. Bred by Valentin Blattner, the grapes have a winter hardiness that is ideal for organic growing. They also have complex flavours that could draw large crowds of oenophiles to our area.
Wines made by Jody from grapes in his vineyard at Sunset Ridge, as well as a selection of wines donated by Salt Spring Island winery were generously poured and sampled. Jody’s own Gewürztraminer and Auxerrois as well as Salt Spring’s Blattner white blend and Cab Libre red were all big hits with visitors.
Mr. Paul Troop from Salt Spring Island winery was on hand to give his expert advice on wine making and grape growing to folks who made it to the open house and tasted the excellent food and drink.
Over 100 people came and enjoyed tours of the vineyard, discussion of the society’s current projects and future goals, and partook in the select wines and delicious appetizers.
But the open house is just one day in the sun in a long year of experimentation and data collection.
The Arrow Lakes Grape Growers Society (ALGGS) is currently conducting a temperature study with 40 data loggers throughout the Arrow Lakes region that will run for the next 3 to 5 years. This hard-working group has been working closely with consultant Paul Troop as well as the Summerland Research Centre for their expert advice throughout this project, and are currently raising funding to install another test plot of a selection of grape varietals that are suited for our growing season.
“You have to live wine to do this,” Scott said, and everyone sipping wine and eating goat cheese in the late summer sun knew: this is the way to live.
Written by Larry Botti, with contributions from Claire Paradis, Arrow Lakes News