Brock University: CCOVI outreach program helps Niagara grape growers monitor harvest progress

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As fall nears, Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) is heading back to the vineyard to collect samples for its Preharvest Monitoring Program.

Each week until the end of harvest, the CCOVI team will collect samples of Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc at three sites across the Niagara Peninsula.

The samples, which represent five core vitis vinifera varieties planted across Ontario, will be analyzed by CCOVI’s Analytical Services.

While the 2022 growing season has been ideal in terms of ample sunshine and heat accumulation along with a few timely rains, growers are expecting a smaller crop based on several factors, including winter damage stemming from a cold weather event in January.

CCOVI Director Debbie Inglis says this has been a challenging year for growers, due not only to the cold weather event but also to how vines were set up just prior to entering the winter months.

“The 2021 harvest was an extended season and the grapes had to hang on the vine a lot longer to reach ripeness,” Inglis says. “It was wet at the end of the season, so the vines did not get prepared as well physiologically for the cold winter months.”

She adds that December was fairly mild, so the vines had not reached maximum cold hardiness levels in advance of January’s cold front, when temperatures dropped to -25°C and below in some areas across the Niagara region.

Despite the challenges growers faced this season and expectations of a smaller yield, CCOVI Researcher and Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences Jim Willwerth says this year’s harvest has the potential to produce high-quality wines.

“Fruit maturation across the Niagara Peninsula reflects what happened over the winter and the growing season so far; lower yields due to winter injury combined with a warm summer has led to good fruit composition parameters to start the maturation period,” he says. “If the favourable weather conditions continue through September and October, the results could lead to the production of some high-quality cool climate wines in the 2022 vintage.”

CCOVI’s Analytical Services Lab examines the grapes for key ripeness indicators, including Brix (sugar levels), titratable acidity, pH and acetic acid, which indicates fruit health. Results are published weekly on Tuesdays via ccovi.ca/preharvest

The interactive website lets users view grape maturity data, compare sites and varieties across the Niagara Peninsula, and compare this year’s vintage to harvests dating back to 2010.

The Preharvest Monitoring Program is utilized by the grape and wine industry locally and around the world. Last year, more than 800 people from 12 different countries checked in on the data CCOVI reported on the Niagara Peninsula’s harvest.

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