ST. CATHARINES, ON -- A late-April frost made it a generally brutal year in Ontario for crops like apples, cherries, plums and nectarines.
But grapevines, which bud later, escaped the damage and have warmed up to this strange growing season, with its near desert-like conditions.
Two experts linked to Brock University's Cool Climate Oneology and Viticulture Institute say this year's grape crops in the Niagara area are looking superb.
And if weather conditions hold, this year could match the stellar harvest of 2010, thought to be possibly the best ever Ontario harvest.
"It's shaping up to be an excellent year," said Jim Willwerth, a viticulturist with the institute who is leading a CCOVI pre-harvest monitoring program through the region.
"It's really a good, healthy crop."
The program, now in its third year, lets growers and winemakers track the progress of grapes and compare it to previous harvests.
Willwerth said fruit maturity and sugar levels now are close to those of 2010.
Vineyard harvests will also likely be quite early, similar to other fruit varieties this summer.
The grape harvest is about 10 to 12 days ahead of schedule, with the picking of sparkling varieties likely to start this week. Baco Noir varieties could be gathered as early as next week. The work is expected to continue though September.
Kevin Ker, a Niagara grape and tender-fruit specialist affiliated with the CCOVI, said for vineyards, all that's needed now is continued weather that is moderately warm and sunny.
"This is excellent weather for fruit and flavour development in the clusters as well as sugar accumulation," he said. "It's where the money is made in the grape crop. From here to the end is where we might go from a premium to an ultra-premium crop."