Ontario’s grape and wine industry creates about 7,000 jobs, is a big tourism draw and contributes an estimated $1-billion to the provincial economy. The more than 130 wineries in Ontario represent 80 per cent Canada’s wine production.
But climate change is hammering the province’s 15,000 acres of vineyards, as Southern Ontario grows gradually wetter, and increasingly erratic weather threatens to damage grapevines and reduce harvest yields.
So Brock University scientist Gary Pickering is leading a multi-institutional effort to determine what grape growers and winemakers can do about it. It turns out they can do quite a bit.
“Adapting to climate change represents arguably the single most urgent challenge facing our world,” says Pickering. “For this industry, dramatic temperature swings during growing season harm fruit quality, while extreme cold snaps during warmer-than-normal winters threaten the very survival of vines.”
Pickering researches early warning systems that allow for better irrigation, off-vine grape ripening, new types of wine and new production methods, and even seeking out genetic markers of cold tolerance, which allows for selective breeding of winter-hardy vines.
Pickering is a professor of biological sciences and a researcher at Brock’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute — one of very few such facilities in the world.
He says countries, regions and industries that prosper will be those who respond to climate change and through targeted research and adaptation.
“This investment can put our grape and wine industry in the best position possible for both current and future challenges. Truly innovative research can help make both Ontario wine and Ontario research world leaders in climate adaptation,“ he says.
Glen Murray, who was Ontario’s minister of research and innovation when the funding was announced in 2011, said “Doctor Pickering and his team at Brock are making discoveries that will prepare our grape and wine industry for the challenges of climate change.”
Pickering isn’t merely assisting an industry to survive – he’s also assuring the continued success of countless dates and dinner parties.
“If we do not apply our research findings, wine will be of lower quality,” he says. “The optimization of off-vine ripening, the development of new wine styles and production techniques will add significant value to existing varieties and will thereby create new, innovative and value-added products for consumers.”