Ontario’s wine industry gets its flavours from about 80,000 tonnes of grapes that are grown across the province each year — and half of that yield comes from farms in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Last year was considered a disaster because of wintry weather appearing too early, resulting in the overall harvest being about 50 per cent of what it is in a normal season, explained Erwin Wiens, a local grape grower for almost 30 years, this year’s Grape King and also NOTL’s deputy lord mayor.
But everything is back on track in 2023, and an “above-average” harvest is expected. “The vines came back super strong this year,” said Wiens.
The summer brought what could be considered too much rain — but a “spectacular fall” with warm afternoons and cool nights is allowing growers to finish strong, said Wiens, who is about halfway through harvesting his crop for the year before taking it to local wineries, including Peller Estates and Vineland Estates.
“We’re seeing a really nice crop, and the quality is super this year,” said Wiens, adding that dry and warm weather during the day, and cool temperatures overnight help the ripening process.
The season is about 10 days behind schedule and harvesting should be completed by mid-November.
“In the grape industry, the fall is make it or break it,” he said.
Niagara-on-the-Lake is often considered the envy of other growers across the province and all of Canada as the town has a municipal irrigation system that hydrates more than 3,200 hectares of local agricultural land.
The system that started about 35 years ago was “not needed as much” in 2023 because of a lot of rain giving grapevines what they need, said Wiens, who grows six varieties of grapes at his operation.
Aidan Buis is part of the team at Glenlake Orchards and Vineyards on Lakeshore Road, working with his uncle Peter and father Kevin.
Their harvest is on pace to be about 2,000 tonnes, and he agrees that warm days in the fall have been extremely helpful this season.
“That really helped progress the ripeness in the berries,” he said.
And because of that warmth, he expects there will be some “really cool flavours you don’t typically see” that will end up in wine bottles.
Even though there is a slight delay to a wrap on the final day of harvest, which he expects will be around Nov. 15, the 2023 growing season is going smoothly.
“Everything has been very clean so far — we haven’t seen any rot problems or pest issues,” he said.
Buis is studying at Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute, wanting to further his knowledge — he’s “starting to fall in love with the business.”
One thing he has already learned, Buis said, is that being able to pull from multiple bodies of water, such as the Niagara River, Lake Ontario, and the Welland Canal is a “huge” geographic asset.
Although farmers didn’t have to rely on the system as much in 2023, he said in years when they do, it’s important to be able to depend on it, and not to have to deal with emergencies related to dry weather.
“It’s never a worry if we know we have to water our entire farm — we just may have to work a little more,” he said referring to the infrastructure that needs to be set up when watering.
According to the Grape Growers of Ontario, there are 500 farmers in the province who operate more than 7,200 hectares of vineyards.
By Kris Dube, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Oct 18, 2023 at 07:45