Ontario's record grape harvest, coming in the midst of an expected global wine shortage, is seen providing the province's growers an "unprecedented opportunity" to expand their exports.
The province's 2012 grape harvest, according to data released Friday from Grape Growers of Ontario, is 65,800 tonnes, with farm gate value of $88.3 million, up from 64,500 tonnes and $78.7 million in 2011.
"Ontario's harvest has set records, not just in terms of yield but also quality," association chairman Bill George, a grower at Beamsville, about 20 km west of St. Catharines, said in a release.
The crop year started with one of the earliest springs in memory with risk from severe spring frost damage, followed by a "near-perfect hot, dry summer" producing "some of the highest-quality grapes ever seen," GGO said.
"The fact that this has taken place at a time of global wine shortages and increasing international grape prices provides an unprecedented opportunity for Ontario's grape and wine industry," George said.
The Paris-based International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV) forecast earlier this fall that global wine production will drop to an estimated 248.2 million hectolitres, its lowest level since 1975.
Weather damage in the world's major wine-producing regions during 2012 is much to blame, but the OIV on Oct. 30 also noted a decrease in worldwide vine acres compared to 2011. The European Union, for one, has wrapped up a three-year program offering permanent abandonment premiums for vineyards.
The "historically low harvest" is expected to translate to a wine shortage equivalent to about 1.3 billion bottles in 2013, the OIV said.
"Indeed, while there seemed to be several signs of recovery in 2010 (a halt in the decline of world consumption and a marked upturn in world trade) the 2012 situation and particularly the low production level, casts doubt on the strength of this recovery," the OIV said.
France, Italy, Argentina, Spain, New Zealand and Hungary have all seen production slide "significantly," which in turn will hit both the supply and the price of those countries' wine products, GGO said.
Portugal, Greece and the U.S. were expected to book increased production, but only in comparison to their "modest" volumes in 2011, the OIV said. On the upside, Chile was expected to boost its output by 15.5 per cent over 2010 levels, and South Africa by four per cent.
For Ontario's record harvest, GGO partly credited its work with the provincial government, through the Ontario Vineyard Improvement Program, which, for example, allowed growers to use early warning systems and wind machines to protect vineyards from a late spring frost.
"Grape growers can thank their ongoing success in large part to our partnership with the (provincial liquor retailer) LCBO, provincial government foresight in maintaining its per-bottle content regulation, the strength in numbers needed to negotiate fair minimum prices with multinational global buyers, as well as the establishment and promotion of Ontario VQA wines," GGO CEO Debbie Zimmerman said in the same release.
About 90 per cent of Ontario's grapes are typically used for commercial winemaking, GGO said, while the remainder goes to juice, jams, other grape products and home winemaking.
For wine production, Ontario's cool-climate grape-growing areas favour the aromatic white varietals Chardonnay and Riesling, and red varietals such as Merlot, Pinot Noir and Cabernets, GGO said.
Grape demand seen rising on Ont. winery upgrades, Aug. 18, 2011
Windsor-area winery to double production, March 15, 2011
Faster wine bottling seen boosting Ont. grape demand, Jan. 4, 2011