CCOVI tackling climate change challenges with research vineyards

Brock University press release –  Two research vineyards filled with thousands of grapevines are being used by Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) to help Canada’s grape growers and wineries.

CCOVI partnered with two commercial grape growers to plant the St. Catharines and Niagara-on-the-Lake vineyards that are being used for a clone and rootstock evaluation program of the main VQA grapevine varieties in Ontario.

“We are looking at the best plant material for Ontario’s industry, not only now, but moving forward with climate change uncertainties,” said Jim Willwerth, CCOVI Senior Scientist. “Cold hardiness, fruit composition, wine quality, and general vine performance will be examined so that the industry knows the best combinations to use for our core grape varieties.”

Since July 2018, more than 4,000 vines have been planted between the two vineyards. One vineyard has heavier clay soil and the other sandy soil to represent different vineyard conditions found in Ontario. There are five different grapevine varieties and up to 16 clone and rootstock combinations for each grape variety.

Planting was initially delayed because it was difficult to get certified disease-free and true to type grapevines in Canada. Starting with healthy, clean plant material is critical for this project to evaluate the best performing plant material under Ontario conditions.

“For the research, we are doing there is no sense planting dirty or infected vines. Clean vines are difficult to get, so we had to wait an extra year to make sure we had clean vines to plant,” said Bill Schenck, one of the commercial grape growers involved. “When you are planting a vineyard, the initial cost of grapevines is rather cheap compared to costs to manage the grapevines in the years that follow. Considering the length of time the grapes are in the ground, you want to make sure you are starting off on the right foot.”

After an exhaustive search, certified clean plant material was sourced three years ago from outside Canada. Half of the certified grapevines were planted in July in collaboration with Huebel Grapes Estates and the support of Schenck and another grape grower, Erwin Wiens, who are each allowing the use of two acres of their land. The other half were planted last July.

Planting and management of the research vineyards were funded through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Collaborate Research and Development grant program in partnership with Ontario Grape and Wine Research Inc.

“The material is all certified, so we know these vines are true to type and are healthy,” said Willwerth. “The Canadian Grapevine Certification Network (CGCN) is now working tirelessly to establish a domestic clean plant program and this is extremely important so that growers can access clean materials from nurseries so they know the vines they are planting are the healthiest and are going to be as productive as possible.”

Plant performance outputs from this research trial will inform CGCN of the grapevine combinations that should enter the domestic clean plant program.