Ontario wine industry takes weather hit

Cold temperatures this winter damaged vines, but the full extent of the damage won’t be known until late April and early May

Ontario’s wine grape growers are bracing themselves for bad news as extreme low temperatures last winter reduced yield potential.

Vineyard temperatures fell to as low as – 26 C in the Niagara Peninsula, Ontario’s biggest growing region.

“We had a low of – 21 C here at our vineyard,” said Paul Bosc at Château des Charmes.

“Once you get to – 20, every degree lower than that is exponentially worse.”

Bosc is cautiously optimistic. Wind machines at the family’s 250 acres of vineyards help mediate cold temperature threats throughout winter and early spring by pulling air down from higher elevations, where temperatures tend to be a few degrees warmer.

However, other growers will not be as fortunate. Bosc said there’s been talk among growers that this year’s yields may be down to 25,000 to 30,000 tonnes.

Ontario growers harvested more than 80,000 tonnes of grapes two years ago, which was a bumper harvest worth more than $100 million at the farmgate. Yields fell to 50,552 tonnes last year, also because of winter damage.

The full extent of this year’s damage will not be known until the vines bud in late April and early May.

Growers have already taken yield estimates by counting viable buds. Buds that are black inside a week after extremely cold temperatures won’t produce grapes. A small amount of green means there’s hope.

“Bud counts are an indication of how bad the situation might possibly be,” Bosc said.

“I must say that we were pleasantly surprised with our counts.”

Grape Growers of Ontario chief executive officer Debbie Zimmerman said a 65,000 tonne harvest is average for the province.

“We know we’ll have a much smaller crop than what we would have over the course of an average year,” she said.

“We’re not going to over-react until we really see what’s going on.”

Zimmerman said growers in the Niagara region may have fared the best this year, but it’s too early to tell in Prince Edward County along Lake Ontario’s northern shore, where many of the vines are buried.

Southwestern Ontario, including Essex County, has been hit hardest, she said.

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