Severe winter cut crops up to 70% but excellent growing season boosts quality
Episodes of severe cold last winter have meant a low yield for this grape harvest season, but exceptional conditions this summer and fall have ensured excellent quality.
“It’s what we predicted,” said Matthias Oppenlaender, chair of Grape Growers of Ontario.
“Overall we’ll get less than half of last year’s yield,” he said, but, “the weather is perfect, so the quality is phenomenal.”
Bill Redelmeier, proprietor of Southbrook Organic Vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake, noted, “On the flats of Niagara-on-the-Lake, yield is down 40 to 70 per cent.”
Damage to the vines was caused by a combination of heavy rain last fall, which made the vines less hardy going into winter, and a number of extremely cold nights. Low spots were especially affected by pockets of cold air.
“It’s all over the map, the relative yields are very site specific,” said Oppenlaender.
At Southbrook, there won’t be any Merlot harvested this year.
“Merlot is most prone to winterkill,” explained Redelmeier.
“We lost yield but at least we don’t have to do replanting. Some growers have had to tear out whole blocks and they will have to replant.”
At Marynissen Estates Winery on Concession 1, there is no Merlot crop this year either.
“We harvested six to eight tons of Merlot grapes last year, but it will be zero tons this year,” said winemaker Mitchell McCurdy.
Oppenlaender said Chardonnay and Pinot Gris crop yields are down 30 to 40 per cent and Riesling is down 20 to 30 per cent.
Hybrid grapes, such as Vidal, fared much better, as they are less vulnerable to damage from extreme cold.
Hand harvesting of Vidal grapes destined to make orange wine at Southbrook began in early October.
“The quality looks outstanding,” said Reidelmeier. “We had a perfect summer. It was quite dry and we’ve seen very little rain during harvest season.”
While the Cabernet Sauvignon yield at Marynissen will be just half to three-quarters of last year’s, McCurdy is very happy with how the grapes are developing.
“These are beautiful clusters, there’s no rot, no worries. These grapes right now are very fruity, but the skins are still tannic so they’re underripe.”
Extra hangtime will allow the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes to fully ripen.
They likely won’t be harvested until late October or early November, depending on weather conditions between now and then.
“Right now we want cool nights and some warm sun in the daytime. If we’re below 15 degrees at night it keeps disease pressure down,” McCurdy explained.
Oppenlaender said growers knew this was going to happen.
“But we always hope for the best. I said to my wife this morning, ‘It’s too bad we didn’t get last year’s yield with this year’s weather and quality,’ ” he said with a wry chuckle.
Once the harvest is complete, “We’re hoping for a decent winter, because as farmers always say, there’s always next year,” said Oppenlaender.