After what felt like a never ending winter, with a record breaking snowfall, an ice storm, and then a very cold and wet spring, we finally made it to May and now, at long last, summer is approaching. Due to our unusually wet and cold spring, we, along with all our fellow local farmers, experienced a rather delayed start to the season. Bud break on our vines was almost three weeks later than it was last year. Thankfully we are specializing in sparkling wine and don’t have to worry about our grapes reaching high brix (sugar) levels. This shorter season will likely have an impact on that!
On the positive side, the delayed spring left us ample time get all the pruning done. As this is our ‘experimental’ plot, we decided last year to spur prune to see if there was any differences in the vines’ production. What we found was last year, we had exceptionally lower yields. While this may have been attributed to a number of reasons (for example, the fertility in the soil; the heavy rains during flowering, etc.), we decided to go back to cane pruning this year to see if this will help our situation.
We found that in our climate and with these vines, cane pruning seems to work quite well. After the pruning was done, we then tied all the cordons along the fruiting wire so they would be ready to go once the weather finally warmed up.
Once that was done, and the weather did begin to warm up, we began working the land for out new 2.5 acre plot. In this plot, we have decided to plant more Acadie Blanc (as we have fallen in love with this vine and wine) as well as a few rows of Dornfelder. Dornfelder is a German red variety, which we think may grow well in our climate. We intend to use this for our rosé wines, or perhaps a sparkling red (!).
After a couple rounds of tilling, the transit came out and we began measuring and staking each of our future rows.
Then, it was ‘all hands on deck’! We had basically one month to get everything done before the vines arrived.
Once all the stakes were accurately placed, we had a collective sigh of relief, and could then move on and begin to pound the posts in.
But… problems with the post pounding machine began (of course). We were delayed even more. After some time it was finally working and we were able to get the posts into the ground.
After all of this, we basically had one week left to dig approximately 3000 holes before the vines would arrive and need to be planted. While we attempted at first to dig the holes ourselves, we learned rather quickly that we would never get it done in time. So, we hired the machine to do it for us. But… this led to more problems and even more delays. The vines had arrived and needed to go into the ground, but we only have half of the holes dug.
Planting day came and thankfully the machine began to work again and we were able to get all the remaining holes dug and everything planted in that one day! Amazingly, we actually did it!!
And within a few weeks, they have already begun to spring to life. This marks the next phase of this crazy adventure for us….We have just doubled our vineyard (and workload) to 5 acres!
What a winter we have had this year! Living in the pacific northwest, white Christmas’s are a rarity. So when the ground was blanketed in white on Christmas day, everyone was thrilled with the novelty and we cheered “let it snow, let it snow, let it snow”.
We expected the snow to last only few days, before it would melt and we would once again be graced by our more usual winter precipitation: rain, and lots of it. However, the temperatures remained cold and so the snow stuck around. And then by New Years Eve, we received even more snow.
Finally the weather warmed up early January, the snow melted, and we thought that was the end of that. How wrong we were. Winter came back with a vengeance a couple weeks ago and we were hit with two severe storms, back to back.
The snow blew sideways for two days straight. Then on the morning of the third day, we awoke to 70cm of snow! But, that was not the end. Winter has something even better in store for us. For the grand finale (drum roll please…): An ice storm.
On top of all that snow, was now a thick coating of ice. The entire city shut down. We sat inside for an entire day, without power, listening to the loud shattering cracks as huge branches from our trees fell to the ground.
Finally, the weather has warmed and most of the snow is now gone. While the weather has pushed back our winter task of pruning, we can at least continue working in the winery. We have completed the cold stabilization and will do our fining this week; both techniques are used to clarify and stabilize the wine. Of course, we are monitoring and tasting just to be sure everything is clean and on track.
From what I’ve tasted so far, I must say that this summer we will be able to share our best wine yet!
While we did sell most of our grapes last year, we kept a little for us to do a few more ‘test’ batches before the big official harvest this fall. We tried different yeasts and fermentation techniques and while some of our trials were misses, some turned out to be real hits!
For example, our L’Acadie turned out even better than last year! With a little older vines, the wine is more balanced, offering notes of green grass, honeysuckle, green apple, and citrus with an elegant minerality. The best, however, is our L’Acadie that underwent a malolactic fermentation. Malolactic fermentation is when the tart-tasting malic acid, naturally present in grape must, is converted to softer-tasting lactic acid. The end result is a more full, rounded, and creamy textured wine, adding another dimension to enhance its complexity. Here, notes of stone fruit emerged, along with honeysuckle, dried grass, and citrus. This one is definitely a winner and will be repeated again next year for sure!
As we intend to begin selling our wine next year, development of our marketing strategies have begun. One major marketing tool will be our wine label. We are in love with our logo and find it represents perfectly the clean, crisp elegance of our wines. We also decided that the aromatics of our wines lend well to the Alsacian bottle shape and so have chosen this bottle for our future still wines. Everything else, however, is still a work in progress.
While I am sure there will be many ‘mock-up’ labels to be made in the coming months, this is the first one that we’ve grown to really like. Although not seen in the picture, all the wine information runs along the side. While we still need to work on dispersing the leaves more elegantly… this is our first solid draft. It’s so exciting to see everything slowly, but surely, come together!
The unthinkable recently happened to us… Over the years, my Grandpa has shared so many stories and incredible memories about J-Bar ranch (the land that is now home to our winery). One special memory is about the time, back in the 1970’s, when Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty visited J-Bar.
It all started on an airplane back in 1973. My Grandpa, John Giesbrecht, was sitting next to a young man named John Rowlands. They began talking and my Grandpa shared his passion for horses, particularly quarter horses, and described the story about J-Bar ranch. John Rowlands, who also loved horses, shared that he was actually a professional music photographer and explained how he had been hired to photograph the tour of Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty (country music royalty!), and their next stop was Vancouver. As he was going to be in Vancouver for a few days, my Grandma and Grandpa invited him to come out one day for lunch and he would give him a tour of the ranch. So, John Rowlands accepted their invitation… and brought with him Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty! John captured this memorable day on camera, but unfortunately, contact was lost and my Grandpa never saw the photos.
Then over 40 years later, I received an email from John Rowlands, who I learned was a famous rock music photographer capturing the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and David Bowie! He explained how he had been going through old folders and found some long lost photographs of Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty visiting J-Bar ranch. He searched J-Bar online with the hope to finally connect and share these photos with my Grandma and Grandpa. Amazingly, he came across our winery blog and was able to share the photos with us.
With my Grandpa’s memory and health beginning to decline, these photos and the memory of this special day brought a sparkle to his eyes. For this, we are so grateful. Thank you John!
With the long summer days, our vines have burst to life, filling the vineyard back up with their lush greens. Although this June has been a little cooler and wetter than last year, the vines look amazing with everything on track for an excellent harvest this fall.
These past months, we’ve been busy managing the canopy – selecting and removing excess shoots and gathering and positioning them into the trellis system as they grow.
After flowering last month, the grapes are slowly beginning to develop. We have noticed, however, that due to a rather rainy period during the flowering of our Acadie, these vines have experienced the outcome of coulure. Coulure is the dropping of flowers, often due to rain or wind during the flowering period. As each flower is potentially one grape, this leads to some clusters not developing as they should. They end up being rather loose, with some grapes either missing or very small.
This is not as bad as it looks though, as although the yield will be reduced, the loose clusters allow for increased air circulation making the grapes less susceptible to rot in humid conditions. Also, as there are fewer grapes, those that are left will ripen more quickly and have a more concentrated flavor, which is all better for wine making.
Aside from the Acadie, all our other vines are looking great.
Now, after a cool June, all we can do is wait and hope that the hot summer sun will come back to us and start ripening our grapes!
With the summer sun high in the sky, our vineyard is simply thriving!
Being the first year that we left our vines to produce grapes, we had no idea what the result would be. All we were able to do was wait to see if all this work we’ve done would be worth it. Earlier this spring, we waited with anticipation until we saw the vines flower – and they did! We then worriedly waited to see if any berries would form – and they did! Since then, we have been waiting to see if the grapes would grow and have the chance to ripen… And here, our expectations for our very first harvest year have been surpassed!
In fact, all our varieties are producing what is looks to be an incredible harvest of beautiful, healthy, and RIPE fruit!
Last week, the Pinot Gris reached the stage of véraison, which refers to the onset of ripening and the increase of sugars (future alcohol) in the fruit. You can actually see this happening by the changing colour of the grapes – from green to rose – like in the photo below. With a number of weeks still ahead of us of warm and dry weather, we now feel confident that we can successfully grow Pinot Gris right here in Yarrow!
Our Acadie grapes are actually already deliciously sweet and will probably be the first variety ready for harvest this year!
Lastly there is the Epicure, which have tended to be a bit behind the other varieties since planting. They are also producing beautiful grapes, but will need a bit longer to ripen this year… they are still giving a strong ‘green pepper’ taste, which should hopefully burn off in a few weeks time.
In the meantime, we’ve been working at maintaining a health canopy that has good air flow and allows the sun to penetrate the whole vine and reach as many leaves as possible. This involves pruning the top and sides of the vines, as well as pulling some leaves around the grapes to ensure the winds can reach them – which helps to keep the grapes dry from any moisture and therefore, prevents mildew or bunch rot.
This week we’ll begin testing the sugar level of the grapes, which will tell us exactly how ripe they are… and ultimately their potential for wine making! Very exciting times!
While waiting to construct our winery next year, we thought we would get a head start on updating the old green barn – which was desperately in need of some love. We began by tearing down the old lean-to that ran the length of the barn and then this past month we began cleaning and painting the exterior…
Although there is still much work to be done, both inside and out, we are very happy with the result!
Next year, we’ll begin building the actual winery, which will include cleaning and sealing off one side of the barn in order to create the space where the wine will be made. It will be in this space that the magic will happen (…and where I’m sure we’ll pass many hours working in the years to come).
Off to this side of the barn is where we will build an extension for our tasting room, which will include a beautiful terrace and picnic area among the maple trees for all to sit back, relax, and enjoy our wines!
Among the trees, there is one that is very special in our family. The large maple in the foreground of the photo below was actually planted by my grandfather on the day that his mother, my great-grandmother passed away. Our family memories are embedded throughout this little piece of land.
Before tearing down the lean-to, we were also sure to take some time to search and put aside some materials that we would be able to reclaim and reuse in our winery and tasting room. We found some really great light fixtures and this beautiful old barn door, that with a bit of stain, gives some great character!