The Ontario wine industry is projecting soaring demand for its product next year, on the strength of a record output and European shortfall.
“It’s a lot to do with weather,” said Debbie Zimmerman, CEO, Grape Growers of Ontario which is proclaiming the 2012 harvest one of the “highest valued crops” in the organization’s 65-year monitoring history.
While the province’s fruit farmers were devastated by the March frost which capped a mild winter, grape buds fared better thanks to more than $7 million spent on technology, she explained.
“We invested over the last few years heavily in putting in wind machines. They’re very similar to a small windmill that moves the cold air around. So, the grapes really weren’t subjected to the same weather that tender fruit or apples were.”
And the crop thrived in the hot, dry summer that followed, maximizing the “sugar value or the sweetness in a grape” that makes it ideal for wine.
“The higher the sugar content, the more the growers get paid,” said Zimmerman. “So the high quality crop that we all dream about for a great vintage is what we had this year.”
And Fielding Estate Winery’s Curtis Fielding was crowned sweetest of them all, earning the 2012 Grape King title after the former racecar driver’s batch was chosen by independent scientist and viticulturist from among 30 nominations.
Zimmerman credits a cost-sharing agreement with the Province for enabling the growers to modernize. “Each wind machine costs about $45,000 and they only run a couple of days a year; it’s a huge investment for the growers.”
With two-thirds of country’s vineyard acreage, Ontario’s grape and wine industry is said to contribute more than $529 million annually in economic spinoffs to the province.
When the 65,800 tonnes yield (equal to one half the width of the CN Tower) hits shelves next year — whites in spring, reds in fall — it should perform well against Old World counterparts which battled unseasonably cold, wet weather this year.
“Certainly the amount of wine Europe produces is going to be a lot less; that obviously gets our attention and I hope consumers’ attention in Ontario, to look at some of these superior brands that Ontario’s growing,” said Zimmerman. “We can compete with the best of them and our reds will be superior this year.”
Domestic wineries provide about a third of the wine consumed by Canadians, while nearly three-quarters of imported wines come from France, Italy, the U.S., and Australia, said a BMO Economics’ study on the national wine industry which found that between 1995 and 2011, wine rose from 18 per cent to 30 per cent of Canadians’ total alcohol consumption.
Over the same period, beer fell from 53 per cent to 45 per cent, and spirits fell from 29 per cent to 25 per cent, according to the report.
The increase in wine consumption is attributed to an aging population — older drinkers are key consumers of wine and tend to have more income —and assurance of wine’s beneficial health effects.
“Canadian wineries produce fine wines exhibiting unique and desirable characteristics that begin in Canadian vineyards with high quality fruit,” said David Rinneard, National Manager, Agriculture, BMO Bank of Montreal. “Going forward, we anticipate that Canadian wineries will continue to reassert their position in Canada and showcase their quality products in other parts of the world. As other nations’ diets expand, we have every reason to believe that Canadian wineries will be successful in making a place at the international table.”
Ontario winemakers will face stiff competition at the LCBO, particularly from New Zealand wines, sales of which are up 30 percent over last year, compared to a 7.3 per cent increase in VQA sales, according to the retailer.
“The growth is largely attributed to new product entries and a shift towards white wines by our customers; white wine represents about 90 per cent market share of New Zealand,” said LCBO spokeswoman Heather MacGregor.