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Ontario Funds Grape/Wine Climate Studies

Government recognizes climate change, gives $2.86 million for research

by Hudson Cattell
Debbie Inglis, director of CCOVI, leads Jim Bradley, MPP for St. Catharines, and Glen Murray, Ontario Minister of Research and Innovation, on a tour of CCOVI's research facilities.
St. Catharines, Ontario—Realizing that Ontario’s increasingly erratic weather poses a threat to its grape and wine industry, the province of Ontario announced a grant of CA$2.86 million to Brock University in St. Catharines, funding a team of scientists to study how climate change will impact the industry. The grant from the Ontario Research Fund - Research Excellence Program, will be led by Brock’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI), with Dr. Debra Inglis as its administrative director.

Team leader and scientific director is Dr. Gary Pickering, a research scientist at CCOVI; the team’s 19 members include researchers not only from CCOVI but also from the University of Guelph, Niagara College, Environment Canada and the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre. Six interrelated climate research programs are evenly divided between viticulture and enology.

In viticulture, a climate change program will use advanced modeling techniques to determine how the climates of Ontario’s wine regions will evolve over the next 30 years. A grapevine hardiness program is intended to optimize grapevine winter hardiness through an increased understanding of grapevine acclimation and deacclimation processes and the viticultural and environmental stresses that affect them.

Another viticulture program involves grapevine molecular biology. Its goal is to develop plants and markers to breed for winter hardiness, and to identify genes that can act as markers for a breeding program. This will lay the groundwork for the creation of winter-hardy elite vinifera wine varieties.

Enology efforts
Methoxypyrazines are green, unpleasant tasting compounds that can be amplified by, among other factors, the Multi-colored Asian Lady Beetles (MALB), now prevalent in Ontario due to climate change. The focus of one enology program will be to apply technologies already patented by this research team, and to develop new approaches to removing the compounds from juice and wine.

A sparkling-wine production program will use a system biology approach to develop strategies based on wine yeast to increase the efficiency and profitability of Ontario’s sparkling-wine industry. This will help to solidify sparkling wine as a successful style for the province, and hedge against unfavorable climate change for table wine production. It will also help diversify Ontario’s wine offerings in the competitive international marketplace.

Appassimento-style wines similar to Amarone are a recent innovation in the Ontario wine industry. Ripening grapes off the vine can overcome climatic barriers to obtaining fully ripe grapes. The objectives of this program are to identify the best drying techniques and to optimize the overall production process for grapes grown in Ontario as a way of producing value-added, quality-driven unique products with distinctive flavor profiles.

The grant from the province will help cover costs of groundbreaking, internationally significant research; part of the government’s strategy is also to create the next generation of jobs and make innovation a driving force of economic growth for Ontario. Ontario’s grape and wine industry contributes close to $1 billion annually to the provincial economy.

Pickering believes that the evidence for climate change is irrefutable. “Adapting to climate change represents arguably the single most urgent challenge facing the world.”

Inglis recently told Wines & Vines, “We are very excited that the province’s ministry of research and innovation agrees with us in taking a proactive approach to plan for how climate change will affect us as we continue to grow and strengthen our grape and wine industry in Ontario.”

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