Karl Kaiser and Donald Ziraldo at the opening of Brock’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute, in the new Inniskillin Hall building, in 1999.
Although harvest season is always a special time in Niagara, this vintage also marks a major milestone for Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI).
The Institute turned 25 last month, commemorating a quarter-century since its inception on Oct. 26, 1996.
“While things have changed a great deal over the past 25 years, our commitment to our industry and community partners has remained at the heart of what we do at CCOVI,” Director Debbie Inglis said. “It has been amazing to see everything we have accomplished together.”
The time for popping sparkling wine and gathering in celebration will come in 2022, as soon as it is safe to do so in true CCOVI style. For now, the CCOVI team is reflecting on its two and a half decades of achievements.
The idea for CCOVI began at the Queen’s Landing Forum in Toronto, where 37 individuals from Brock University and the grape and wine community determined that the industry needed its own cool climate grape and wine research institute.
A short time later, CCOVI was born, in partnership with the Wine Council of Ontario (now known as the Ontario Craft Wineries and Wine Growers Ontario) and the Grape Growers of Ontario (GGO).
The Institute has since become internationally recognized for its leading-edge research and its continuing education, outreach and professional development opportunities. It is still supported by its inaugural partners today and has inked new partnerships with Ontario Grape and Wine Research Inc. (OGWRI) and the Canadian Grapevine Certification Network (CGCN), among others.
A year after CCOVI was created, Brock’s Oenology and Viticulture program welcomed its first cohort of undergraduate grape and wine students. Hundreds of graduate and undergraduate students have been trained by the CCOVI team since.
In 1999, Donald Ziraldo and John Howard led a $2.1-million fundraising campaign from members of the national grape and wine industry, allowing CCOVI to open the doors to its very own building: Inniskillin Hall.
Del Rollo, Chair of The Board Of Directors, Wine Growers Ontario, said all the Institute has achieved over the past 25 years “has been, and will continue to be, fundamental to the success of Ontario’s grape and wine industry.”
“Wine Growers Ontario thanks CCOVI for its dedication to our industry that supports more than 18,000 jobs in Ontario,” he added.
Tim Kenyon, Brock’s Vice-President, Research, congratulated “the entire CCOVI team” for the tangible impact its research program has had over the last two and a half decades.
“CCOVI has earned its excellent reputation by supporting scientific and scholarly inquiry in genuine collaboration with industry, community and government partners,” he added.
Ziraldo, who is still a close partner of the institute today, points to the flagship VineAlert program as an example of the game-changing research coming out of CCOVI. The program alerts growers to plummeting temperatures so they can turn on their wind machines to help protect their vines from winter damage.
“Before CCOVI created this, you had to essentially go out and hold a thermometer up in the air,” Ziraldo recalled. “I remember driving around at night to check the temperature of different vineyards, it was just crazy. Now you can set it up so that the wind machine comes on automatically to align with Brock’s data.”
OGWRI Chair Matthias Oppenlaender and GGO CEO Debbie Zimmerman also raised a glass to the impact CCOVI has had on “Ontario’s 500 grape growing farm families.”
“CCOVI’s ongoing research and support of Ontario’s grape growers is crucial in improving grapevine health, including mitigating winter injury,” they said in a joint statement on behalf of the GGO, OGWRI and CGCN. “The successful development of VineAlert is a major accomplishment for CCOVI and an important tool for protecting our vineyards to ensure the local grape and wine industry remains strong and sustainable.”
CCOVI’s robust research program tackles industry research priorities from the vine to the glass, as well as providing Preharvest Monitoring, Analytical Services and Grapevine Virus Testing. It also hosts thousands of community and industry members at its outreach events every year and provides professional certifications in wine, cider and spirits to more than 200 continuing education students annually.
Ontario Craft Wineries President Richard Linley said the organization has been “proud to partner” with CCOVI, highlighting their collaboration on the first-of-its-kind Certification in Ontario Wine.
“We look forward to further building on our partnership with CCOVI as our industry and this valuable institution continues to grow,” he added.
As for what lies ahead, Inglis is excited by CCOVI’s work to better understand consumer choice using augmented and virtual reality technology in the Institute’s R3CL Lab, its initiatives to support the sustainability of the industry and mitigate the impacts of climate change, and the implementation of a national clean plant program for grapevines.
All of which, she stresses, are possible thanks to CCOVI’s strong partnerships.
Brock University Interim President Lynn Wells echoes the sentiment.
“CCOVI’s numerous research, outreach and continuing education activities over the past 25 years have created meaningful and lasting partnerships within our local community and beyond,” she said. “We look forward to seeing what the next 25 years will bring.”