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B.C. winery focuses on Fraser Valley grapes post-cold snap

A Fraser Valley winery expects to source fewer grapes from Okanagan growers who were hardest hit by January's cold snap.

A Fraser Valley winemaker is shifting where he acquires grapes from following B.C.'s January cold snap. 

Jacob Medeiros, the winemaker and vineyard manager at Cannon Estate Winery in Abbotsford, explains how the damage that occurred in the Okanagan is heartbreaking. 

“It is a devastating blow to the industry... There are people out there who are very much struggling,” he says. 

Between Jan. 11 and 15, temperatures plunged well below the -20 C threshold in the Okanagan and was below that devastating mark for 50 cumulative hours in the North Okanagan. Severe damage was done to 32 grape varieties in nine Interior regions.

Cannon Estate Winery has 24 acres of planted vines; in 2023, around 100 tonnes of grapes were crushed. 

“We have 14 varietals on the property,” he says. “Typically, northern varietals that are cooler, climate adaptable."

Two-thirds of their grapes come from their Fraser Valley property and one-third comes from external sources such as the Okanagan Valley, Similkameen Valley and Keremeos area. 

Medeiros tells Glacier Media two of their growers in Kelowna are very optimistic they will have a "reduced" crop. However, their growers south of the Okanagan near Osoyoos are "unfortunately expecting a significant reduction to potentially no crop.”

“We will be sourcing less or fewer crops from them,” he says. 

A report conducted by the wine industry and a leading B.C. management consulting firm determined the cold snap means production of B.C. grapes and wine is projected to be 97-99% lower than usual in 2024. 

The report says the financial damage for wineries and vineyards could be $346 million and as much as $445 million when you include industry suppliers, logistics providers and distributors. 

Medeiros says the Fraser Valley did have a cold period of -17 C at the same time. 

“That lasted for about two to three days,” he says. “Fortunately, we didn't receive any significant damage to our vines or the buds.”

The health of their buds is "remarkable" and they are a week and a half ahead of schedule in terms of bud break. Medeiros is crossing his fingers for a very successful crop this year.

"We're very excited about the products that are gonna be coming out of that vintage," he says. "Cannon Estate Winery is happy, healthy and doing our best to make an excellent vintage for 2024."

In the meantime, Medeiros is working to secure long-term contracts to help others with their livelihoods, with a focus on the Fraser Valley. 

“We are definitely interested in acquiring more leased properties and vineyard properties in the Fraser Valley, given that we didn't see any damage and that we can project that we'll be able to grow a successful crop year after year.” 

Over the next few years, he questions if there will be a shift in where grapes are purchased. 

“It has been a one-way street, where all of the wineries that are not in the Okanagan are purchasing grapes from the Okanagan and vinifying on their property,” he says. "Whereas it might actually have to go in reverse, maybe for the first time.”

The temperate rainforests allows them to be mostly in the clear of wildfire smoke impacts and their location on Mount Lehman presents no flood risk. 

Medeiros adds the Fraser Valley will become a better location for growing grapes year after year.