Niagara grape growers concerned over recent cold weather

Photo by: Jason Ng

This winter’s fluctuating temperatures have been a cause for concern for many Niagara-based grape growers.

Although Niagara’s weather has been relatively tame throughout the month of February – excluding last week’s ice storm – reports from Environment Canada detailing a potential polar vortex have worried local wineries and grape growers. The forecast threatens to bring cold weather to various locations in Ontario, Niagara included.

Due to the possibility of a polar vortex, grape growers have since been monitoring thermometers, as extremely low temperatures can cause serious damage to grape vines.

According to Matthias Oppenlaender, chair of Grape Growers of Ontario, catastrophic damage in Niagara vineyards last year had a negative effect on overall grape production. Extreme weather effects resulted in a 50 per cent reduction in crops in 2022.

Although wineries have yet to see such damage this year, grape growers have been preparing for the worst, and are ready to go to great lengths to protect their crops. Curtis Fielding of Fielding Estates Winery notes that if mercury dips below minus 18 or 19 degrees, the results could be extremely worrisome.

“If it goes below minus 18 or 19, we start to see buds getting damaged, so they start burning and it’ll reduce our crop for the next year,” said Fielding in an article by CHCH.

According to Greg Burti, vice president of Global Markets, Industry Relations and Business Development for Andrew Peller Limited, two years in a row of bad weather can result in devastating consequences, notably since one year’s crops commonly result in the following year’s sales. 

“If we don’t have the grapes, we can’t make the wine to sell,” claimed Burti in an article by St. Catharines Standard.

Another cause for concern is the recent warm temperatures that the Niagara Region has been seeing. If the warm weather is prolonged, it can heat up soil and result in grape buds growing before springtime. If this is the case, vines can lose the hardiness they need in order to make wine.

In order to combat these potential issues, wineries are using various methods. 

While Fielding Estates Winery is said to use wind machines to fight off the cold, which aids in warming the vineyard floor by five to seven degrees, Flat Rock Cellars uses their rolling terrain. Some grape growers in the area even result in hiring helicopters to remove cold air from their vines.

In light of the many concerns, bud survival assessments will be taking place in the next few weeks to determine the weather’s impact on Niagara’s bud survival.

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