In Ontario, we grow a wide array of grapes for wine, juice, grape products (jams, jellies, preserves) and fresh market consumption. This diversity of production reflects the ability of Ontario growers to meet market demands and provide a wide selection of commercial cultivars (cultivated varieties) for use by all sectors. It is important to understand the history of grapes and the many species involved in Ontario grape production.
The world’s highest quality wine grapes belong to a species of grapes known as Vitis vinifera (commonly referred to as Vinifera), which are native to Europe. In Ontario, the majority of commercial wine grape species are viniferas, and include varieties like Chardonnay, Cabernet, Gamay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Riesling, etc.
European hybrids (French, German and others), which include Baco Noir, Seyval Blanc and Vidal, are also native to Europe. Hybrids, which originate from two parent vines, arose from breeding programs that sought to avoid having to graft vinifera vines on phylloxera resistant rootstocks while keeping the flavour characteristics and quality of European varieties. While less popular than "pure" vinifera varieties, hybrids have their place in winemaking. Vidal, for example, is the main grape cultivar used for Icewine production in Ontario. Its thicker skin, tendency for fruit to remain on the cluster without falling off well into winter, cold hardiness and flavour profile make it an ideal grape for our famous dessert wine.
Native North American vines belong to the species known as Vitis labrusca, and include such varieties as Concord and Niagara. These typically produce the best juices, jams, jellies and preserves, and are not used in winemaking in Ontario.
In Ontario, additional species exist, including Vitis riparia (the Riverbank grape), and others which are used for rootstock selection and breeding (Vitis rupestris, Vitis berlandieri, Vitis aestivalis, Vitis champinii and other species).
Grape berry color is usually classified as green, pink/red, or blue. Grapes with green berries at maturity can range in color from light green to amber which includes Riesling, Chardonnay and Niagara. Pink/Red cultivars have berries that vary from pink to deep red, and their colouration may vary with their stage of ripeness and their exposure to sunlight. Examples of this are Gewürtztraminer, Pinot Gris and Vanessa seedless. The blue range includes types like Merlot, Cabernet Franc and New York Muscat, which have a reddish-blue color.