Tough harvest for Niagara vineyards

This was the first harvest at Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery in over 20 years.

There was optimism at the end of August that the harvest would match, if not exceed, that of the previous year. The plants came out of dormancy in early spring, which allowed the vines to start the season with a bang.

The slightly higher amount of moisture Niagara has received this year has led to expectations of an even bigger harvest than the vineyards in 2020, which Henry de Pelham called “phenomenal.”

And then came the rain.

And more rain.

“The vines came into the season in very good condition, in very good health, and then we had good patches of rain in the spring, so the vines produced a fairly large harvest,” the winery co-owner said. , Paul Speck.

“We came in the fall and we just had a lot of rain, which made things really difficult with vines ready, full of grapes and ripe in some cases, or at least entering the season for their last maturation stage is in good condition.”

Instead, there were “real challenges,” including problems with grape rot, which Speck said was a bigger problem in this year’s harvest than in previous years. The grapes were left to rot in the fields, weren’t picked at all, or were rejected because they weren’t in good condition.

And the greater volume of rotten grapes from this harvest also made it difficult to plan the picking, with some grapes being ready before others.

“It’s one of those years where it’s really hard for the people who work in the vineyards and really hard for the people who work in the winery because it’s hard to plan and plan what happens in the vineyards,” Speck said.

But while the harvest itself has been “troublesome” and the size of the vintage is not what was originally expected – Speck said the company believes its crop could be historically significant ahead of harvest – this is not It’s not a “disastrous vintage”.

And because his harvest started with 20% more grapes and 120 hectares in total, Henry of Pelham is still ahead.

“It’s not like we can’t make great wines with this vintage. It’s just that it’s harder for producers and harder for wineries to manage it,” Speck said.

The difficulties facing Niagara wineries this harvest were raised during Tuesday’s Question Period by Niagara Center NDP MP Jeff Burch as part of his effort to defend local producers as they continue to compete with imports.

Huebel Grapes Estates general manager Matthias Oppenlaender said the past few months have been difficult for his Niagara-on-the-Lake vineyard.

The rain and humidity it received, in addition to the hot and humid September, delayed the ripening of the grapes and shortened an already difficult harvest.

Like Henry de Pelham, Oppenlaender said the vineyard was having a good season again, but when the rain followed Labor Day, that all changed.

“Instead of having 10 weeks to choose, we’re trying to get it in six weeks,” he said. “The (wineries) are trying to do their best to get them in as quickly as possible as they ripen now, but…it’s a compressed crop.”

Debbie Zimmerman, executive director of Grape Growers of Ontario, said experiences were similar across the region, with 35.5 centimeters of rain in September alone.

“All the things you thought could go wrong have gone wrong,” Zimmerman said.

Add to that the humidity and the vineyards began to deal with diseases such as mold and gray grape rot, a disease that can lead to yield and quality losses.

“The strength of the (grape) skins gets damaged with too much water, so it’s like an open wound,” Zimmerman said. “And you get these issues and then it’s harder to get them picked and get them into the cellar and the cellars (have to) have the capacity to be able to take the grapes.”

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