Grapes grow in Ontario

Grapes grown in Ontario for processing

In Ontario, we grow a wide array of grapes for wine, juice, grape products (jams, jellies, preserves) and fresh market consumption. This diversity of production reflects the ability of Ontario growers to meet market demands, and provide a wide selection of commercial cultivars (cultivated varieties) for use by all sectors. It is important to understand the history of grapes and the many species involved in Ontario grape production.

Wine Grapes

Soil, microclimate, geography – all play a key role in producing a good bottle of wine, as does the winemaking process itself. But the most important element of winemaking is the grape itself, and the family of vines to which it belongs. In Ontario, we grow more than 50 different varieties of wine grapes.

Vitis Vinifera
The world’s highest quality wine grapes belong to a species of grapes known as Vitis vinifera (commonly referred to as Vinifera), which are native to Europe. In Ontario, the majority of commercial wine grape species are viniferas, and include varieties like Chardonnay, Cabernet, Gamay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Riesling, etc.

European hybrids (French, German and others), which include Baco Noir, Seyval Blanc, and Vidal, are also native to Europe. Hybrids, which originate from two parent vines, arose from breeding programs that sought to avoid having to graft vinifera vines on phylloxera resistant rootstocks while keeping the flavour characteristics and quality of European varieties. 

While less popular than "pure" vinifera varieties, hybrids have their place in winemaking. Vidal, for example, is the main grape cultivar used for Icewine production in Ontario. Its thicker skin, tendency for fruit to remain on the cluster without falling off well into winter, cold hardiness, and flavour profile make it an ideal grape for our famous dessert wine.

Juice Grapes

Native North American vines belong to the species known as Vitis labrusca, and include such varieties as Concord and Niagara. These typically produce the best juices, jams, jellies and preserves, and are not used in winemaking in Ontario. 

First introduced into Canada in 1882, this widely planted cultivar has berries with a light green colour and flesh. They produce a floral, strongly flavoured juice with low acidity and high yield potential. Bunch size is medium to large and is compact and cylindrical in shape. Niagara grapes ripen in mid-September and are used for juice and fresh consumption. This vine has large leaves with pubescent lower leaf surfaces and is reasonably cold hardy for Ontario. 

The Concord grape originated in 1854 and was discovered by E.W. Bull. The berries have a heavy wax bloom with blue skin and pale green flesh. Berry and bunch size is medium with a somewhat compact conical cluster shape. The Concord’s skin is reasonably durable, and separates easily from its pulpy flesh. This cultivar is vigorous in growth and the fruit ripens from late September to early October. Its primary use is for juice and jam/jelly preserves, and for fresh market consumption. Many years ago, the Concord was used in port wines but that is no longer acceptable for premium wine production in Ontario. This grape contains the material “methyl anthranilate” which is better known as the classic “labrusca flavour.” It is highly aromatic, very cold hardy and widely adapted to many soil types with the proper training system.

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