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Winter Hard on Ontario Grape Growers

Vine Damage Estimated Somewhere Between 30 to 40% Across Niagara Region

By Amanda Brodhagen,

Ontario grape growers are beginning to assess the damage done to their vines from the colder than normal winter.

“I can suggest that there’s 30 to 40 per cent damage across Niagara,” Bill George, Chair of the Grape Growers of Ontario said in an interview.

According to George, the industry conducts bud sampling, but it’s not an accurate process. “It’s not an exact science,” he said.

The industry won’t know the full extent of the damage until around mid-May, when vines have reached full bud break. George says he will be able to provide a more definitive answer in May on how much of an impact winter has had on the crops.

Most vulnerable grape varieties to cold damage are – Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah.

While George estimates the damage to be around the 30 to 40 per cent range in the Niagara region, other parts of the province, what he called “micro grape growing climates” may have experienced more damage, closer to 50 per cent.  “I think everyone expects to have some harvest this year, but it will be reduced,” he said.

But the industry says there is no reason to panic.

Last year, the sector had an 800,000 metric ton bumper crop, which was about 15,000 more metric tons than what the industry had originally expected. And farm gate sales were valued at $100,000 million.  

What do grape growers do to mitigate crop loss after winter?

The province’s growers have invested heavily in wind machine technology to protect their vineyards in the winter time. Wind machines also protect vineyards from spring frost. But as George notes, there were several cold events this winter that the machines weren’t able to be used. One of those days was January 6, when there was a polar vortex, which resulted in high winds.  

In addition to the wind machines, some of the winter injury can be made up for during the pruning process. “Typically on a vine for premium production we would leave 20 to 24 fruiting primary buds,” explained George. “We can easily double the amount of fruiting buds that we are leaving, which will offset some of the budding damage.”

Vines can accommodate approximately 30 to 40 per cent damage through berry size and bunch size. “You may have less fruit clusters, but your clusters could potentially be bigger,” said George adding that bigger berries could offset some of the cost as well.

The perk of having a good crop the year before is that there should be strong inventories on the wine shelves. “I don’t think the consumer would expect to see any great deal of hiccup on the store shelves,” he said.

There are about 540 grape growers in Ontario.

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