The Weather Network
May. 24, 2022 | Tuesday
Local News
Late, but still a promising start to grape harvest, say local farmers
Grapes on vines along the Heritage Trail. (Brittany Carter/Niagara Now)

Grape growers and winemakers alike are grateful for the sunny days and cool nights of the last couple of weeks, as they carefully monitor the delayed start of the harvest season. 

‘We came out of winter with no damage, but then Spring was two weeks late,” said Alex Kolundzic, head winemaker for Pillitteri Estates Winery. Despite the delay, he says things are looking positive.

“The last two weeks have been amazing, the warm sunny days and cooler nights are ideal conditions for grape growing. My take is we’re going to catch up and have a  good crop.”

The first grapes to be picked are chardonnay and pinot noir grapes destined for sparkling wine, he said.

 “Harvest is coming late, it’s a slow start, but picking grapes for sparkling has started, especially in the south end, said Mattias Oppenlaender, chair of Ontario Grape Growers.  “It will be later by the lake because it’s cooler there,” he added.

A lot of local winemaker, like Niagara College’s Gavin Robertson, are waiting a bit longer to take the grapes off the vines.

“It’s always tough to call (when to harvest),” he said.

“The season was delayed, and now we have a good healthy crop, but we’re waiting for it to ripen, waiting on sugars to go up and acids to come down,” he explains.

The waiting game isn’t a passive one for growers and winemakers, says Oppenlaender, noting there’s still lots to be done.

“Growers are using different management processes. Some have trimmed leaves to expose the grapes to the sun to help the grapes ripen and mature, there are still adjustments going on,” said Oppenlaender. 

In the Pillitteri vineyards, “berries are bigger than average,” said Kolundzic.

“So we’re managing that by thinning the crop to ensure quality,” he said.

“As a winemaker, I’m going to hang the fruit on the vines longer than usual, to let the grapes get riper.”  

Robertson is of the same opinion, saying “especially for the cabernets, and merlot, we want to let those grapes hang as long as possible. Another month of this weather would be perfect.” And in the meantime, Robertson is “thinning the reds so the crop isn’t too heavy to ripen.”

The consensus seems to be “so far so good” for the current harvest season, but there are several weeks left, so winemakers like Robertson have their fingers crossed for fine weather still to come. Robertson sums it up this way, “the weather in late September and October will define the vintage.”