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Wildfires affect turnout for wine tastings across the Okanagan

Heavy smoke and travel restrictions affected area wineries
Grapes ripen on the vines at a Summerland vineyard. This year���s extreme summer heat and busy wildfire season are affecting wineries and grape growers in the community. (John Arendt - Summerland Review) Grapes ripen on the vines at a Summerland vineyard. The thick smoke from wildfires has affected wineries and wine tasting rooms in the Okanagan, Similkameen and Shuswap. (Summerland Review file photo)

Wildfires in the Okanagan, Similkameen and Shuswap are affecting the wine industry in these regions.

“These wildfires not only have an impact on wine tourism, but also the livelihoods of winery staff; many of whom have been evacuated themselves,” Wine Growers British Columbia said in a statement.

The 2023 wildfire season is the worst on record in British Columbia, and in August, wildfires in the Southern Interior blanketed the region with thick smoke.

Christine Coletta of Haywire Winery and chair of the Bottleneck Drive Association in Summerland said the wildfire season has affected wineries in the community.

READ ALSO: ‘Community spirit really shows in a crisis’: Kelowna wildfire evacuees face tiring days

READ ALSO: WILDFIRES 2023: an overview of the fire situation across B.C.

Because of the thick smoke and travel restrictions in August, wine tastings were affected. She said in some cases, more than half of a winery’s sales come from on-site sales.

“We all modified our expectations when the travel bans were imposed by the province,” she said.

Prior to the travel bans, wineries had been experiencing a soft tourism year in the entire region, she added.

As for the effect on this year’s wine grapes, Coletta said some varieties, such as thin-skinned red wine grapes, are more susceptible to smoke damage. However, the wines produced from this year’s grapes will likely not have a smoke taste.

Coletta said samples from grapes are sent away from analysis. Once testing is done on the grapes, winemakers can address any issues identified.

She added that during wildfire seasons in 2018 and 2017, the smoke damage occurred earlier in the season and had a greater impact on the wines than the damage from the August fires this year.

Gillian Stohler of SummerGate Winery in Summerland said there is a possibility of smoke damage, especially for red wine grapes. She added that harvest will soon begin for some varieties of grapes in the vineyards.

“It is too early to know whether the wildfires will impact this vintage for select producers in the impacted regions,” Wine Growers British Columbia said. “The study of how smoke impacts finished wine is evolving and depends on many variables and we will provide updates once the situation becomes clearer.”

As the wildfire season continues, Wine Growers British Columbia is asking people to support wildfire relief efforts through the Canadian Red Cross, Mamas for Mamas, United Way and Central Okanagan Food Bank.

READ ALSO: Travel restrictions remain for West Kelowna

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John Arendt

About the Author: John Arendt

John Arendt has worked as a journalist for more than 30 years. He has a Bachelor of Applied Arts in Journalism degree from Ryerson Polytechnical Institute.
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