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.
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.