Rolf de Bruin
February 22, 2024 | Rolf de Bruin

2023 Vintage Report

2023 Vintage Report 

Our winemaker Alex expressed it best when he said that grape growing in Canada is very challenging. At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that we are farmers, and we are at the mercy of Mother Nature, who tested our vineyard and winemaking team in 2023. While this report is specifically about the 2023 vintage, we have also experienced the start of yet another very challenging growing season so far in 2024. As you’ve likely heard in the media, the very extended cold snap we had in January 2024 has caused further devastation in our vineyards and in vineyards all across BC. We’ll update you on these 2024 developments in the weeks ahead. 

2023 Harvest Highlights 

To look at the 2023 growing season, we must begin with fall 2022. You may recall that October 2022 was unseasonably warm. We had the warmest October on record in our vineyards, with temperatures in the high and mid-20s until mid-October. This was wonderful for our 2022 vintage because it gave us an extra 2 weeks of ripening time. However, this would prove to be the start of the challenges relating to the 2023 vintage.

Winter came quickly after our 2022 harvest ended, and the vines did not have time to properly shut down for the season. Additionally, we had almost no snow cover to keep the soil warm during this time. Then the temperatures started to fluctuate causing further complications for the vines. The temperature oscillated between +13 degrees C on Nov. 25th and -19 degrees C on Dec. 1st and then again between +3.5 degrees C on Dec. 12th and -26.4 degrees C on Dec. 22nd. Such varying circumstances made it harder for the vines to adapt to the low temperatures. The result was that the sensitive parts of the vines died, specifically the primary buds that carried the harvest potential for our 2023 growing season. 

In the spring of 2023, our vineyard manager Chris and our vineyard team conducted tests that showed severe damage of the primary buds in most blocks in our vineyards, well outside the normal range. We saw a much higher rate of bud damage than we’ve seen in prior years, across all our varietals.

Merlot showed the highest rate of bud damage. Vine death was luckily limited across the vineyard, except for the Cabernet Sauvignon block in our younger Red Rock Vineyard. In late June, our hardworking vineyard team replanted approximately 1,500 new Cabernet Sauvignon vines in our Red Rock Vineyard. 

We knew that our vineyard crew was in for a challenging year. They had to work extra hard to keep our vines and grapes healthy and to carefully manage our reduced crop.  

Overall, we had a long, dry season. It was not overly hot, and we had just 3 days that barely touched 40 degrees C, so it was a cooler year than normal. These cooler temperatures, particularly at night provided strong diurnal shifts in the vineyard with sunny days, relatively high daytime temperatures, and cool evenings.

We were fortunate to have had dry, clear, cooling winds from up the Duffey Lake Pass. Despite wildfires that burned around us, these cooling winds helped keep the vineyard and air relatively clear with little smoke. We only had 2 slightly smoky days, so we were lucky to not have to deal with wildfires and smoke during this growing season. 

We had cooler temperatures leading up to harvest. We started harvest about 2 weeks earlier than normal, on September 5th with Pinot Noir for our Rosé. Harvest ended on October 19th with Cabernet Franc. 

A Small 2023 Vintage 

To provide context, a full harvest for us would be approximately 158 tons. This includes grapes from our mature Dry Creek Vineyard and our younger Red Rock Vineyard. We had originally expected that 2023 would be the first year of full production for our Red Rock Vineyard. Heartbreakingly, this was not the case. We ended up with approximately 52 tons of grapes in 2023. This is roughly 33% of our estimated yield. 

Sadly, as mentioned earlier, the 2024 growing season is also off to a very rough start. At present, our estimate based on the most recent catastrophic winter damage is currently approximately 20 tons, or roughly 12.5% of our normal yield. This is an early estimate for 2024, and we’ll have more information on this as we go into summer. 

What to Expect from our 2023 Vintage 

Despite the challenging weather events, our winemaker Alex is excited for the 2023 vintage. “In 2023, despite it being a significantly smaller yield than normal, we had an excellent, balanced harvest. In particular, our Cabernet Franc from our young Red Rock Vineyard was very good. Overall, our fruit was very healthy. The bunch weights were lower, so the grapes provided concentrated flavours. The grapes ripened earlier, so you can anticipate lower alcohol wines with this 2023 vintage. The wines are absolutely beautiful in colour, and overall, this is a very elegant vintage.” 

Our 2023 vintage whites will be released in the weeks ahead. You can expect elegant wines with beautiful, fresh acidity. While still very early, the 2023 red wines are soft, rich, and elegant with brilliant colour.  

With a yield of just 33% of what we were expecting, you need to be aware that we will have a lot less wine available. We estimate that some of our white wines and our Rosé will sell out during the summer. 

Some of our wines, particularly our Reserve and Small Lot wines, are very small batches. Additionally, we will be skipping a vintage (and likely two) for some of our wines.

With Challenges Comes Innovation 

Recognizing early on that we were likely going to have a very small vintage in 2023, and therefore we would have much less wine to sell, we challenged our team to look for additional and innovative solutions. 

We are absolutely thrilled to share with you one of these innovations. As you may know, our assistant winemaker Seth is also the owner and cidermaker at Lillooet Cider. Alex and Seth took on the challenge of creating a very special collaboration. Today we are excited to announce the launch of our new Vineyard Cider Rosé.

This Vineyard Cider Rosé is a delightful combination of Gala and Ambrosia apples, fermented with Champagne yeast. It was blended with barrel-fermented Gewürztraminer and a splash of fruit-forward Merlot for the beautiful colour. This lively and dry cider bursts with flavours of crisp apples, zesty grapefruit, and juicy peaches. It is fresh and vibrant with a medium-bodied finish. At 7.5% alc./vol, it’s light and refreshing. it’s a delicious choice to enjoy on the patio or while soaking up the sun by the water.

This very special, limited release Vineyard Cider Rosé will be available this spring.


What to Expect Going Forward 

Based on the vine damage from these extreme cold weather events from 2022-2024, we have modified our vineyard strategy for 2024 to do what we need to do to support a healthy crop in 2025. We do expect that the vast majority of our vines survived. We anticipate that with a lot of work, the vines will bear fruit in 2025 and beyond. It will likely take 3-4 years before the vines are back in a fully productive state. This will take a lot of work in the vineyard. Whether the vineyard bears a crop or not, we still have to tend to the vineyard, pruning, thinning, irrigating, fertilizing, and more.

In previous years, we have been able to supplement our estate grown grapes with additional purchased grapes from a few select grape growers in the Okanagan. However, our growers experienced the same winter damage and also expect severe crop loss. 

Looking longer term, we expect our harvest over the next 5 years to be in total 300 tons lower than expected. This is the equivalent of about 120,000 bottles of wine. Without significant changes, we are currently looking at a severe shortage of wine towards the end of 2024, into 2025 and 2026.

Despite the challenges, we are passionate about what we do, and we remain committed to the Lillooet VQA. The weather events we saw in Lillooet are not any worse than the South Okanagan has experienced, and the impacts we are enduring are similar to the Okanagan. Based on that, we remain committed to the Lillooet VQA. There is still a lot to learn about the frequency of the winter events. In the meantime, we are looking at strategies to help us mitigate these extreme weather events.

We are committed to Lillooet, our beautiful community, and our BC wine industry. Not unlike the challenges we experienced during COVID, we will pivot and we will be resourceful. Our goal is to ensure our business is sustainable and that we can continue to produce world-class wines for you. 

While the journey is a challenge, it is one we are passionate about. We are deeply grateful for everyone who has shared in our journey and has supported us through all of the challenging and the wonderful times. Thank you for your love and support.


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