The Influence of Climate on Kelowna's Wine Industry

A panoramic view of a vineyard stretching towards a large lake with mountains in the background under a partially cloudy sky in Kelowna.

The Terroir and Climate: Kelowna’s Wine Industry Secrets

Kelowna is recognized globally for its world-class vineyards and wine production. The wines of Kelowna, setting a high standard for North American wines, benefit greatly from the unique climate the region has to offer. To understand the influence of climate on Kelowna's wine industry, it's essential to review the concepts of terroir and how it shapes the character and flavour profile of wines.

Understanding Terroir

The term 'Terroir' originates from French and depicts the environmental factor in winemaking, involving elements like soil, topography, and, most importantly, climate. It's a common notion among wine enthusiasts that the terroir impacts the flavours, colour, and bouquet of the produced wine, granting each wine a unique identity.

The climate is considered the main driving factor of terroir for wine production sites, and Kelowna's climate swings the pendulum in its favour. The region sees warm summers and milder winters than many other parts of Canada, making it an ideal destination for viticulture.

Climate: The Architect of Kelowna's Wine Industry

Situated in the rain shadow of the Coast Mountain Range, Kelowna receives less rainfall compared to coastal British Columbia. The consistent summer sunshine ensures the grapes ripen perfectly, while the cool Canadian nights balance the acidity levels within the grapes.

While the semiarid climate helps in maintaining optimum sugar levels resulting in high-quality wines, the lake effect of Okanagan Lake also plays a significant role. The lake, a massive water body, influences the microclimate by cooling the vineyards during hot summer days and providing gentle warmth during winter nights. This temperature moderation safeguards vines from sudden seasonal changes, preventing bud damage.

The subregion's variability in climate within Okanagan Valley, such as colder northern regions for sparkling wines and hotter southern areas for richer reds and sweeter ice wines, contributes to a diverse range of wines. For instance, the globally renowned Mission Hill Family Estate in Kelowna produces a variety of wines, including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Riesling, exploiting the climatic variations.

Climate Change and Kelowna's Wine Industry

The influence of climate doesn't stop affecting the growth of grapes and the quality of wines. Climate change, a concerning global phenomenon, poses potential threats and benefits to Kelowna's wine industry.

The Wrath of Winter

A severe cold snap in January, with temperatures plunging to a chilling -27°C, resulted in catastrophic crop losses of 97% to 99% for the 2023 harvest. This flash freeze is not an isolated incident but part of a worrying trend of extreme weather events that have battered the region​. The impact is profound, with the potential loss of almost the entire 2024 vintage, translating to revenue losses of up to $346 million for vineyards and wineries and a further $99 million for industry suppliers and distributors​.

The recent freeze compounds the difficulties faced from a previous cold event last winter, which already had slashed the 2023 grape crop by up to 56%. The cumulative effect of these events has been devastating, with 45% of the region's planted grape crop suffering long-term damage and 22% of vines needing replacement​. The varieties most affected include those used for popular wines like Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

These extreme weather events highlight the broader issue of climate change and its impact on viticulture. While some aspects of a warming climate may initially seem beneficial, such as reducing the risk of frost and extending the growing season, the increased frequency and severity of extreme weather pose significant threats. Unpredictable and severe conditions, including both intense cold snaps and heatwaves, challenge the traditional understanding of terroir and demand innovative approaches to vineyard management and wine production.

Navigating the Future

The Kelowna wine industry's response to these challenges is multifaceted. There's an urgent call for additional support from both provincial and federal governments, including a dedicated agriculture recovery grant and expanded crop insurance to cover climate-related events​. Furthermore, the industry is exploring adaptive strategies, such as diversifying grape varieties to include those more resistant to extreme temperatures and reevaluating vineyard practices to enhance resilience.


The recent adversities faced by Kelowna's wine industry underscore the urgent need for comprehensive strategies to combat the impacts of climate change. As the industry navigates these turbulent times, the focus on innovation, sustainability, and support from both the community and government will be crucial in safeguarding this vital sector of Kelowna's economy and cultural heritage. The road ahead is challenging, but with resilience and adaptability, Kelowna's wine industry can continue to thrive in the face of climate uncertainty.