Making Wine

Harvest 2017

This year was a year of weather extremes. Not only did we have an exceptionally cold, snowy, and long winter, but also a summer that was exceptionally dry, with practically no rain throughout the months of June, July, and August. We also had a number of ‘hazy’ days, with forest fire smoke from all the wildfires burning across BC’s interior and Washington State drifting into the Fraser Valley to blanket our skies for days here and there.

With no irrigation and very little rain, we resorted to ‘hand-watering’ our vines, particularly our newly planted vines in our main vineyard and those in the rocky sections of our more established River Stone vineyard. While this dry summer did result in some water stress for about a quarter of our vines, we still ended up with a record breaking yield!

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Epicure (Photo by: Sharalee Prang Photography)

We believe our incredibly bountiful harvest is due to a number of differing factors.  In winter, we went back to cane pruning for all our varieties, rather than spur. We also had the soil analyzed and provided some organic fertilizers. Also, during bud break, we had beautifully dry sunny weather, which meant that flowering occurred in optimal conditions, allowing our fruit to develop and set perfectly. Taken together, these factors resulted in us almost tripling our yield from previous years! I think we are finally narrowing down what works, and what doesn’t, in our vineyards.

Our first harvest of 2017 happened three week later than 2016, occurring on September 24th, due to the late spring we had. For this celebratory (yet, very long and hard-working) day, we had the amazing opportunity to work with Sharalee Prang (a lovely fellow Yarrow-ite), who shared her photographic talents with us and capture harvest day. Below is a selection of photographs by Sharalee of our day… and you will see many of these photos again on our ‘soon to come’ official website, which we will have launched by Christmas this year!

As a tradition, our first day of harvest was done completely by family members and friends. And for us, many of whom are young families, this meant it was truly a family affair! So, on September 24th, we dedicated our efforts to harvesting our Epicure and Seyval Blanc varieties, which will produce our sparkling wines.

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We celebrated (and thanked all who helped) with a harvest lunch, which included three kilograms of fresh homemade tagliatelle pasta and of course some wine!

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On this harvest day, we picked three tons of grapes with the perfect brix/acidity/ph to make an excellent sparkling wine! We cannot thank everyone enough for all their help, and all the love, they put into harvesting our grapes. It is days like these that will become memories to treasure (and make this crazy adventure all seem worthwhile). And also, thank you again to Sharalee for capturing this day so perfectly for us.

Our L’Acadie was harvested the following weekend and will go into, what appears to be, an amazing still that we will release next spring. Finally, our Pinot Gris was harvest the weekend after that. For the Pinot Gris, Laurent wanted to try something a little different: A rosé wine. So, we separated the Pinot Gris into two tanks, one that we left on the skins for 24 hours and the other that we pressed right away. We will see how these two compare in the coming months – but, very exciting! The blush will likely be released next spring as a still wine as well, and the other just might go into a sparkling… we will have to see how it develops!

Taken together, we picked enough grapes to produce almost 6000 bottles of wine! A dramatic increase from last year. With this amount, we’ll finally be able to begin sharing our wines with the public, selling in local VQA stores and on-site from our winery. Step by step, we are getting closer to turning this dream into a reality.


First (real!) Harvest

Last month we received our Manufacturing License, which means that this year is our first REAL harvest where we are able to keep all of our grapes for us and us alone, in order to create a beautiful wine to bottle and begin selling next summer. It has been a huge learning curve, especially for Laurent, figuring out how to use all our new equipment, but we (HE) did it!

So, on August 27th, we had our very first harvest. With the help of family, some of whom traveled quite the distance to be here with us (like Laurent’s parents who came from Belgium and my Aunt Wendy from California) and friends, we harvested two varieties to make our sparkling wines. With the Epicure, we intend to make an off-dry sparkling and then with the L’Acadie, we will blend with some of our Seyval to make a brut sparkling.

Duane Storey, a local friend and mutual travel-lover, brought his photographic talents to capture this day for us. Here is a selection of his pictures for your viewing pleasure!



We celebrated with a lunch and some wine out on our outdoor crush pad, where my grandpa (John Giesbrecht) joined in on the festivities.


and then after some more work…


we ended with champagne, a BBQ, and more wine once all was done.

We are so grateful for all the work everyone put in to this harvest! And especially, Laurent’s parents (Lina & Jean-Marc), who deserve a special thank you for traveling all the way from Belgium to be here for us to help. A big heartfelt merci/thank you to all!!

2nd Harvest – 2015

We had an incredible harvest this year! We were surprised by how many quality grapes our vines produced, especially considering they are only 4 years old! This year, we harvested between September 12-26th and were absolutely amazed with the numbers our grapes reached. All our grapes (except the Seyval, which we lost completely to the birds) reached brix levels of 22-24 and an acidity of 7-8. These were the numbers we dreamed of achieving and this year, we got them!

Pinot Gris

Pinot Gris

As we intend on building our winery over the coming winter months, we are still not equipped to make the amount of wine that our vines produced. So, from September 12-17, we harvested the grapes that we wanted to keep for ourselves and decided to once again sell the rest. We began our harvest with the Epicure, considering they were not netted and most at risk of being eaten by the birds.

Harvesting the Epicure

Harvesting the Epicure

Tyler, my brother, lending a helping hand

Tyler, my brother, lending a helping hand

That week we also harvested some of our Pinot Gris…

Pinot Gris

Pinot Gris

Pressing the Pinot Gris

Pressing the Pinot Gris

Premium juice!

Premium juice!

We ended up with over 500L of wine! This time we are experimenting a little more with a small oak barrel, using different yeasts, and attempting a natural sparkling wine!

The following weekend, we hosted the Langley Fermenters group crush once again. Unfortunately, the weather did not hold up for us and it ended up raining cats and dogs that day. But, spirits were not dampened! We ended up renting some tents and still had a delicious Bar-b-que, which Axel Kroitzsch generously provided for everyone. More than 20 people showed up to help, despite the miserable weather!

Harvesting L'Acadie in the rain

Harvesting L’Acadie in the rain

More Pinot Gris!!

More Pinot Gris!!

Shirley (my mom) helped weigh the grapes for all the club members

Shirley (my mom) helped weigh the grapes for all the club members

At least those who were crushing and destemming were able to stay dry

At least those who were crushing and destemming were able to stay dry

Our very own oenologist (Laurent) in action, carefully measuring the brix

Our very own oenologist (Laurent) in action, carefully measuring the brix levels

And here it ends… The last harvest where we’ll be crushing, destemming and pressing in a driveway and using these small presses and buckets. Also, the last harvest where we will be selling our grapes to others and making our wine for us to keep. Next year, we will be making wine that we intend to sell and the work will take place in our brand new winery – that will be some serious business!!

From the vines came our first wines

This year marks an incredible milestone – We produced and bottled our very first wine!!

Pinot Gris - 2014

Pinot Gris – 2014

Although last fall we sold most of our grapes, we did keep a small amount to make a little of our own wine. The problem was we had nowhere to make it as construction on the winery will not begin until next year. So, we (and by we I mean my Dad, Barry) decided to build a ‘mini’ wine-making room within an old horse stall in the barn.


Barry and Enver in construction mode


Our shiny and new wine-making room!

The final result is absolutely perfect! The room is insulated, temperature controlled, and has all the necessary fixtures and drainage to keep the room clean while making wine.

Our goal with this first batch of wine was to simply assess the raw potential of our grapes, so we decided to keep the wine making process as natural as possible, only adding commercial yeast to ensure fermentation.  We did experiment a little though, for example, we tried a co-fermentation technique using the Epicure, Acadie, and Pinot Gris grapes. Also, for the Acadie, we allowed one carboy to interact and age on the lees a little longer just to see what flavors might develop.

L'Acadie wine - on the left, the carboy where we had just stirred the lees

L’Acadie wine – on the left is the carboy where we had just stirred the lees

In all, we made four wines: Pinot Gris, Acadie, the co-fermentation blend, and Seyval Blanc. We tasted the wines continuously over the winter months – Luca was thrilled to take part!


Laurent and Luca taste-testing

It was fascinating to taste the evolution of the wines over the winter weeks. Each time we tasted we became even more encouraged and excited – the wines really surpassed our expectations!


A festive Christmas taste-testing with Tyler (my brother), Laurent, Shirley, and Luca

In March, the wines were ready to bottle. Because this year we interfered as little as possible with the wine-making process, in the end we did have to finish the wines with a little conditioner in order to balance some of the acidity. Now tasting our grapes potential, we’ll be giving the wines all the finesse they need throughout the wine-making process next year.

Bottling time!

Bottling time!

Last fall, our first winery equipment was also purchased: a small bottling system and hand corker!

Our bottling system

Whispering Horse Winery’s first two bottles being filled!

Laurent using his muscles corking all 90 of our first bottles by hand

Laurent using his man-power, corking all 90  bottles by hand

All the wines (except the Seyval Blanc) turned out amazing! The Seyval Blanc, unfortunately, was incredibly thin and acidic. We’re not sure if it had to do with the grapes, or the vines (which actually came from the greenhouse three years ago infected with a disease), but we will see how they do this year. This is all trial and error and part of the process of determining which varieties will work well for us here in the Fraser Valley. The three other wines, however, were so lush and juicy with elegant floral notes, very surprising coming from our young vines and cooler climate!


Barry, Me, Shirley, and Luca on bottling day

We now have a delicious Pinot Gris, which reminds us of the aromatic wines from Alsace – with a juicy nose of pear and citrus, orange blossoms, and honey. Also, the co-fermentation blend turned out great. But, we are actually most impressed by our Acadie, which is equally aromatic, but with a slight ‘vegetal’ or ‘grassy’ quality, similar to a New Zealand Savignon Blanc. There is so much potential here!! We are now certain that out vineyard has what it takes to produce outstanding wines.

IMG_3101After almost four years of hard work in the vineyard, there is nothing more rewarding then being able to finally sit back and truly enjoy a glass of our very own wine.

Our First Harvest!

This year, the end of summer brought us two  ‘firsts’. One of these ‘firsts’ being the first harvest here on the vineyard!


Pinot Gris

The first week of September we began monitoring the grapes, specifically the brix (sugar) and acidity levels, in order to determine their quality for making wine. Thanks to the beautifully warm and dry summer we had once again this year, we were thrilled to see that our grapes were ripening perfectly! By the second week in September, the brix levels in all our varieties reached the ideal level for making wine – varying from 22-26 degrees. The grapes were ready to harvest.

However, because it isn’t until next year that we plan to be fully equipped for wine making with the construction of our wine making facility, we were left in somewhat of a predicament: We had perfect grapes for making wine, but couldn’t use them all ourselves – and because we had no idea regarding the yield or quality of grapes we’d produce, we were unable to advertise to potential buyers our grapes in advance.

Thankfully, a family acquaintance of ours is an experienced, and national award-winning, amateur winemaker: Axel Kroitzsch. We contacted him to see if he, or anyone he knew, would be interested in buying some of our grapes. It turned out that he was, and so were other members of his amateur wine-making club, the Langley Fermenters. So on September 14th we hosted the Langley Fermenters 2014 Group Crush event, which involved members coming out to our vineyard, harvesting (beginning with the Acadie, which had the highest brix level), and crushing them for their own wine-making – all while enjoying a delicious BBQ and sipping on various members’ wines. Needless to say, we had an amazing time!

Harvesting L'Acadie

Harvesting L’Acadie



The following weekend, we hosted the Langely Fermenters once again to harvest the Pinot Gris and Epicure. In addition, our entire family came out to help with the harvest, as well as harvest some grapes for our own micro batches of wines we planned on making.

Barry (Dad) harvesting the Seyval

Barry (Dad) harvesting the Seyval



My sister, Alanna, with her one little, and one not so little, kids: Kiera and Caiden

My sister, Alanna, with her little, and not so little ones: Kiera and Caiden


My brother Tyler…

And Tyler's wife Deana

and Tyler’s wife Deana


Of course, while the adults worked, the little one’s played

To harvest, we filled the bins that had been placed along the rows…


while Laurent and Tyler collected them.


And after some picking was done…



we all enjoyed a delicious BBQ, generously prepared by Axel…


IMG_2600including our second ‘first’ – who arrived late this summer.  Laurent and I’s first baby, Luca, who was born on August 31st (just in time for harvest!).  This marks the arrival of the next generation – lets hope he also has a passion for wine!

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Laurent, I, and our newest little Luca (only 14 days old!)

The Family!

The Family

After harvesting, the grapes were put into the crusher/destemmer…

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and then into the press to collect the juice.


Lastly, the juice was put into the carboys… now, ready to make some wine!