Hamilton

Vineyards welcome hot and dry weather

So far it's been a hot summer and for wine producers, that's a great thing according to a local producer, but also says timely rain is needed as well.

The high temperatures the Niagara region has seen this summer has been good for local wine makers

So far it's been a hot summer and for wine producers, that's a great thing according to a local producer, but also says timely rain is needed as well. (Sheryl Nadler/Canadian Press)

People may not have been fans of the extreme hot and dry conditions — but Niagara's vines are — and they aren't even bothered by the humidex either.

In fact, hot and dry temperatures are two things grapevines like the best.

Matthew Speck, co-owner and vineyard manager of Henry of Pelham winery in St. Catharines says the impact of the heat is all very positive.

"In general we're looking for hot and dry, just with a couple timely rains in there."

Speck says as a producer one thing he's not too concerned about is what we call "extreme heat" in Niagara and Ontario because relative to where grapes are grown, the temperatures we've seen so far aren't that extreme at all.

"For us 31, 32 C is very hot, but grape vines grow in climates where that's a routine temperature and much hotter," said Speck. "Grapevines love the heat. They're good with it."

So the recent "extreme" heat wave that gave the Hamilton area seven straight days of temperatures above 30 C actually had a positive impact.

Grapevines don't require a lot of water ultimately.- Matthew Speck, co-owner and vineyard manager of Henry of Pelham 

He says the hot and dry temperatures are particularly great in the middle part of the season.

Where humidex is felt by people, it doesn't mean anything to plants says Speck. The vines are just concerned with the actual temperature.

The right amount of moisture

What can eventually become an issue for producers and especially younger plants is the amount of precipitation, which the Hamilton and Niagara region hasn't seen much of this summer.

As of last Tuesday, Environment Canada told CBC News Hamilton had only received 2 mm of rain this month when normally there's about 55 to 60 mm in the month of July.

Relief came over the weekend for Speck.

"That was like a million dollar rain. It hit just at the right time. We were just getting to that point where water stress could start to become an issue," said Speck.

"We were getting concerned on that front, especially with some younger plants. [They] will start to show water stress because they just haven't established the deep root system yet."

Speck says his vineyard has the ability to do some supplemental irrigation, but in the Niagara region, not all producers do.

He says in the past 30 years he's only had to irrigate once and started to do a bit about 10 days ago with some of their younger plants

I think things are shaping up well for a really good vintage.- Jim Willwerth, senior scientist of viticulture at Brock University 

"Grapevines don't require a lot of water ultimately," said Speck.

"As long as the vineyard is mature meaning north of six, seven, eight years old, typically the roots are very deep and they require remarkably little water actually rainfall during the growing season." 

He says too much moisture can dilute the flavours in a crop.
Matthew Speck, co-owner and vineyard manager of Henry of Pelham winery in St. Catharines says extreme heat combined with no precipitation generally is fine, but there does come a point where the vines need a little bit of water to keep going, making this past weekend's rain timely. (Meg Roberts/CBC)

Heat can come too quickly though, says Speck.

"What you don't want is the buds to open up too early in May or April even when you could still get a frost. That's really scary."

He says this spring was great. It stayed quite cool in April this year and the buds started to open up in mid May.

'A really good vintage'

Jim Willwerth, senior scientist of viticulture at Brock University shared a similar view that hot temperatures haven't had a negative impact at this point.

Willwerth compared the Niagara region to other parts of the world that grow in much hotter temperatures and says vines are tough.

"We've selected plant material that's pretty resilient to our climate," said Willwerth. It is quite amazing how resilient vines actually are. They can get through a lot."

He says the good thing about the heat and drought early in the season is that it can slow down the vigour of the vines so growers don't have to do as much canopy management in terms of hygiene and leaf removal, creating a natural process for better fruit exposure.

"The warmer temperatures allowed for really good bloom and fruit set and so we had really good conditions for berry development," said Willwerth.

He says the potential for fruit quality is quite high.

"I think things are shaping up well for a really good vintage."