Ontario grape growers enjoying a banner harvest due to hot and dry summer

August 28, 2016 - By John Miner, The London Free Press

The hot and dry weather that menaced crops in much of southern Ontario this summer has turned out to be a blessing for the province’s grape growers, who expect to reap a banner harvest.

“Going into the fall we have everything set to have a spectacular year,” said Matthias Oppenlaender, chair of the Grape Growers of Ontario association.

“We are expecting a stellar year, for sure,” he said.

While some areas in Southern Ontario were more parched than others, Oppenlaender said many grape growers in the extremely dry Niagara area had access to irrigation.

Grapes have deep roots, so they’re able to withstand drought conditions better than many other crops.

The hot, dry conditions also reduce disease pressures on the crop, Oppenlaender said.

“Too much rain is worse than not enough. We really do prefer a dry year,” he said.

The near-ideal conditions this year come after a few tough years for Ontario grape growers when plunging winter temperatures damaged vines.

At Maelstrom Winery in Huron County, near Clinton, Catherine Landsborough said the growing season had a gentle, easy start with no late spring frosts to threaten the crop.

The hot and dry conditions that followed have condensed the juices in the grapes.

“While the berries are small, they are going to be very flavourful. We are expecting a wonderful vintage,” said Landsborough.

Marc Alton of Alton Farms Estate Winery, near Forest in Lambton County is also expecting a great year for grape and wine production.

“This year looks very good. The grapes are nice, they’re ripening nicely. They are fairly small, so they will be high sugar and low water content,” Alton said.

Maelstrom Winery and Alton Farms Estate Winery are part of an expansion beyond the traditional wine-producing areas of Ontario. Earlier this summer, Dark Horse Estate Winery opened at Grand Bend on an 85-acre site next to the Huron Country Playhouse.

What Ontario grape growers are hoping for now is a nice dry fall with warm days of temperatures in the low- to mid-20s and cooler nights, Oppenlaender said.

“That really helps,” he said.

Ontario’s wine industry

— More than 180 wineries, producing about 71 per cent of total Canadian wine volume

— Nearly 7,000 hectares of vines in the province’s eastern, southern and southwestern areas.

— Total farm gate value of Ontario grapes exceeded $63.5 million in 2015

 97 per cent of grape production is used for wine products

jminer@postmedia.com