Deep into the 2020 harvest, growers and winemakers alike agree the quality of grapes in Niagara is excellent this year.
While COVID-19 has wreaked havoc elsewhere, conditions in the fields have conspired to produce small berries with beautiful flavour, which will become exceptionally good wine.
“This year we had a great summer, it was dry, with lots of heat,” says Andrzej Lipinski, proprietor and head of winemaking at Big Head Wines, adding, “It will be a great vintage.”
“Sunshine produces flavour and sugar,” explained Jamie Slingerland, director of viniculture at Pillitteri Estates Winery, so 2020's hot summer created beautiful quality grapes.
But even the best summer growing season needs correspondingly favourable weather conditions during harvest to get the best grapes. September can make or break the harvest.
Pete Buis, co-owner of Glenlake Orchards & Vineyards, is in the midst of harvesting his 300 acres, and he said, “The weather has been good for harvesting, not too wet,” which means there’s been “very little disease pressure, from either fungi or pests.”
Ideal weather in September and October has other benefits. “The cool nights and sunny days give growers the privilege of letting the grapes hang longer, to ripen fully,” said Mattias Oppenlaender, chair of the Grape Growers of Ontario.
“We’re seeing tremendous quality, we’re excited about it. The white aromatics will be very full-flavoured, and the reds will be tremendous,” he enthused.
“Pinot Noir grapes are stunning, the best year ever, because we had the luxury to let them mature fully, and give them the hang time to develop mature flavours.”
Pinot Noir grapes are often referred to as the “heartbreak” grape, because they are very thin skinned, so if harvest season is wet, they break down very quickly and have to be picked in a hurry, before their ideal ripeness is achieved.
Yield is down this year and, while it’s too soon to know exactly how much, Oppenlaender estimates it will be off by 5 to 10 per cent.
The exceptional quality, though, is what growers and winemakers are talking about this harvest season.
Slingerland said that for red wines in our cool climate, “Typically three out of five years are really good, and this year is better quality than we’ve seen since 2015,” which was an exceptional vintage for Niagara red wines.
Lipinski over at Big Head concurs. “This year, there is no excuse for not making very good wines. We had all the conditions a winemaker could dream for.”
Oppenlaender sums it up somewhat philosophically, saying, “It’s been a challenging year in many ways, so it’s good to see the weather co-operating at least!”