Imagine getting into a business where you have to wait up to 10 years before you even have the supplies to begin.

When you’re experimenting on new frontiers, that’s ok with the Mortensens.

It’s taken seven years for Kelly Mortensen and family to cultivate a wine grape that will thrive despite northern temperatures.

On their small McBride farm, they planted half a dozen varietals over the past seven years in the hope that one day they will be pouring McBride’s very own ice wine.

Now Mortensen says they will be sowing the two, possibly three, successful varietals over the remaining 2.5 acres of their 5-acre vineyard.

The new crops will need a few years to mature. But the experimentation is over. Their wine grapes can survive and thrive through -40 temperatures.

“We’ve talked about it so many years and now it’s finally happening,” he says.

If they produce wine, Mortensen says theirs will be the northern-most winery (using grapes) in North America.

Kyle Morensten, McBride, McBride Winery, BC Ice Wine
File photo of Kelly Morensten. Photo: Laura Keil.

Along the way he’s discovered some unintended perks about living in a colder climate – for one, the pests have not yet bothered his grapes. Secondly, the temperatures are better suited to the Okanagan for ice wine, where the grapes must be picked and processed at -8 degrees or lower. In the Okanagan you are not guaranteed those temperatures until mid-winter, whereas in McBride you often have those temperatures in October.

His grapes are hybrids specifically bred for a cold climate.

“They’ve ripened and they taste good – when you press them they’ll make a good wine,” he says of the grapes that materialized this year.

There is no roadmap for this venture, he says, but hopes they will be in production within five years.

“Am I confident? Yeah maybe. We’re saying ‘Look we can make it work; now we have to make it work.’

He says now that they have rootstock that is acclimatized to this valley, they can plant more and learn how to manage the grapes over time.

“It’s one more egg in the basket for the Robson Valley.”

He notes many Robson Valley residents grow table grapes, which are easier to grow. Wine grapes require more sugars to produce the alcohol and taste. Table grapes can also ripen indoors meaning you don’t need as long a growing season.

The Mortensen’s are using a biodynamic farming model, meaning they are attempting to be self-sufficient. For instance, they let the chickens and horses graze in the orchard to keep weeds down and for manure.

While he is optimistic, there is still plenty of work to do before McBride has its first local wine tasting. But a good struggle doesn’t seem to daunt him. In fact, in may be good for the wine.

“A good wine is the sign of a good struggle so let these things struggle.”

By: Laura Keil