the wild weather this winter has kept Brock
University’s Jim Willwerth busy. A scientist at
Brock’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture
Institute, he tracks the ability of grape buds to
survive cold temperatures during the dormant
season from October to April. He then relays that
information to some 300 Ontario grape growers
through the institute’s VineAlert program.
“We are growing a lot of European grape
varieties that are winter-sensitive. In Ontario,
especially, we’re right on the cusp of where
they can survive or not,” says Dr. Willwerth.
Grape growers suffered financially from win-
ter injury in 2003 and 2005, and this prompted
the industry and government to invest in more
research to lessen future losses, he says.
Grapes become progressively more tolerant
to cold as temperatures fall during the winter and
then start to lose their tolerance as the weather
warms in the spring, Dr. Willwerth explains.
However, a deep cold snap or sudden temperature swings can put the buds in jeopardy.
Nipping cold-weather crop damage
in the bud
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It’s a WRAP in Vancouver
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Through the VineAlert program, research-
ers collect bud samples and monitor hardiness
among several grape varieties at 13 sites, mainly
on the Niagara Peninsula. If they believe a po-
tentially damaging weather event is about to
occur, they send an alert to area growers. The
growers can then use wind machines to stir
warmer air above the crops with the colder
air blanketing the ground, to try to protect the
plants. The machines are expensive to run,“but
if you save a crop, they pay for themselves pret-
ty quickly,” says Dr. Willwerth.
Researchers inspect the vineyards after a
cold event to see how the buds fared. If they find
there has been damage, which occurred this year,
then growers can mitigate that by adjusting their
pruning practices. – léo charbonneau
Brock program alerts grape growers when potentially bad weather is about to occur
Rows of grapevines brave the cold in Ontario’s Niagara region.