Right now, icewine is a popular delicacy – a sweet and easily available dessert wine made from grapes plucked from winter vines.
But soon, Tony Shaw says, global warming could change all that.
The Geography professor is studying the impact of climate change on agricultural crops, including icewine. His findings show that since the 1980s, ideal picking days in Ontario for the grapes that make icewine are on a steady decline, meaning the warmer it gets, the more innovative we may have to be to create one of Niagara’s most unique exports.
“It’s not a drastic situation right now,” Shaw said. “But it’s the long term that we’re really concerned about. If those trends continue to persist, we’ll be in a serious situation in terms of icewine.”
Icewine requires grapes to be exposed to temperatures below -8 C for an extended period of time. The ideal picking time for the grapes is mid December to the end of January. If the grapes aren’t harvested by early February, they’re exposed to elements such as rot, pests, birds.
Not only have the number of picking days in December and January been gradually declining, but temperatures are also fluctuating more erratically, which means plants respond to milder periods only to be frozen again, he said.
As climate change continues, Ontario’s icewine industry — which accounts for as much as 80 per cent of Canada’s icewine — could be in danger, Shaw said. Other countries, particularly Austria and Germany, face similar challenges.
Shaw is studying Ontario’s three major wine areas — Lake Erie North Shore, Niagara and Prince Edward County. The latter still has very cold temperatures, he said. But the other two areas that are experiencing a marked downward trend.
Shaw is using Environment Canada data to forecast the future of the wine industry. This information will help develop strategies to adapt to climate change, and determine which grape varieties will do better in the warmer climate. Without this information, he said, the wine industry will eventually be in jeopardy, as could the livelihoods of farmers who have devoted time, energy and land for it.
“There’s a huge amount of investment that goes into putting in a vineyard or an orchard,” he said. “We have to look at what the climate can support on a regular basis.”
Shaw is a fellow of the Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute. He has been at Brock since 1983.
• Tony Shaw faculty page
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