Hot, dry summer making for a very good wine year, say grape growers
'The wines this year are all going to be good across the board,' says local wine maker
When grape growers look back on the hot, dry summer of 2016, they may raise a glass to toast one of the best growing seasons they've had in a while.
The sun has baked much of the land in southern Ontario this summer to the point where most farmers are crying for mercy. But for those looking to harvest grapes to produce wine, the sun is a grape grower's best friend.
Paul Pender is the wine maker at Redstone and Tawse wineries near Lincoln, west of St. Catharines. He said this year has been "amazing" so far.
"This has been a really easy year. The wines this year are all going to be good across the board," he said. "It was quite cold and wet earlier in the spring, but the warm dry weather has really made up for it."
So far this year, the Royal Botanical Gardens has recorded 28 days with temperatures 30 degrees or above.
According to Environment Canada, between 1981 and 2010, the daily average for Hamilton in June, July and August was 18.9 C, 22 C and 20.9 C, respectively.
An 'amazing' year
The wines this year are all going to be good across the board.- Paul Pender, wine maker
Once established, grape vines have the ability to reach deep into the soil, down forty or even fifty feet in places, he said. Vines more than five years old will be able to find enough moisture in the soil to sustain them through long stretches of hot, dry weather.
Pender said the leaves on a vine are like little factories that create sugar in the grapes through photosynthesis. Hot summers will bring about more intense flavours in the wine.
With chardonnay – a white grape – "this type of year is going to give me a more tropical flavour, more pineapple, peach, lychee type of flavour."
When it comes to red grapes like cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc, "we're going to have really nice rich, ripe wine. Very full-bodied, assuming everything stays like this."
Pender said as an organic grape grower, this summer has been especially good for him. Grapes are very susceptible to molds and mildews, he said. During a wet year, they can be hit hard with disease.
With the hot, dry summer, it's been much easier to keep disease from creeping onto the vines, he said.
A repeat of 2012
Matthias Oppenlaender is chair of the Grape Growers of Ontario. He said the warm weather we've seen this summer is similar to the hot summer in 2012.
"2012 was probably one of the best year's I've been growing grapes," he said. "We're on pace to almost have a repeat of 2012."
But for those growers who have young vines in the ground, this summer has likely been a struggle to keep them alive.
I think that most wineries will tell you, this is a great year. We're all pretty happy.- Paul Pender, wine maker
In a recent interview with Sean Douglas of Ridge Road Winery in Stoney Creek, he said for the first time in 18 years, he's had to water his younger plants. Without an established root system, the young vines could dry out in this prolonged heat.
Pender said there may be individual vineyards along the escarpment with shallower soil that are suffering in this heat. But for the most part, he said grape growers are loving the hot weather.
"I think that most wineries will tell you, this is a great year," he said. "We're all pretty happy."