Canada should be OK as wild weather hammers European wine production

Erratic weather conditions are helping drive this year’s global wine production to its lowest levels in half a century, but a Brock University researcher says Canada’s grape and wine industry is poised to ride out the storm.

The Paris-based International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV) reported that unfavourable climate conditions in Europe’s main winemaking regions of Italy, France and Spain will drive a global wine production shortfall of 8.2 per cent this year.

It is the lowest level seen since 1961.

Jim Willwerth, senior viticulturist at Brock’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI), said extreme weather fluctuations experienced across Europe, such as frost and drought, are to blame for injury to the regions’ grapevines.

“It’s not good news. It’s got a lot to do with our changing climate and extremes in weather,” he said. “We’re having weeks and weeks of increased risk, which we wouldn’t have seen 50 years ago.”

He explained that warmer winter temperatures are causing bud break earlier in the season, leaving vines’ shoots more susceptible to frost damage in the spring.

“It’s these really big extremes and sharp drops in temperature that resulted in a lot of injury to the grapevines,” he said.

The OIV’s report doesn’t mention Canada’s 2017 wine production levels, but Willwerth, who monitors the grape harvest in Niagara, said “the size and health of this year’s crop looks very good.”

Work being done by researchers at CCOVI is also helping Ontario’s grape growers to better mitigate the effects of climate change and protect their harvests in the face of extreme weather events, he added.

“In Canada, we deal with extremes and I think we’re more prepared in terms of having some technologies available and research and outreach to help support our industry.”

One example is using wind machines in the vineyard to drive warm air down to ground level when extreme weather such as unexpected frost hits.

Willwerth, along with fellow researchers Debbie Inglis and Kevin Ker, also operates a CCOVI program called VineAlert, which advises growers in the region of immediate cold weather threats to grapevines so growers know when to turn their crop-protecting wind machines on.

The OIV reported an increase in wine production for the U.S., but stressed that the data was compiled before the wildfires broke out across California’s wine country earlier this fall.

“I have heard that because of the wildfires, California wines in Napa are supposed to be going up in price,” Willwerth said.

He also said cost increases of wines from the other affected regions might not be felt right away.

“The thing with wine is a lot of it is still in the cellar, so we might see downstream effects of this in years to come,” he explained. “If a region sustains damage and loss year after year, we definitely will see it in our pocket books. I don’t know exactly what those impacts will be, but you can assume there will be some.”

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