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And so it begins … the first grapes from Harvest 2021 in Niagara come off the vine

By Rick VanSickle

And here we go again … the grape harvest has begun at several Niagara wineries.

Stratus Vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake was first to post photos of Chardonnay for the sparkling program on Monday. Dean Stoyka, assistant winemaker at Stratus, told Wines In Niagara that it isn’t the earliest harvest for the winery, that honour goes to 2012, but it is earlier than average.

He pointed out that the entire vintage through most varieties is looking good at the moment. “June was the warmest we recorded since 2005 and when August numbers come in, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the same,” he said “We had a perfect amount of precipitation in July to give a full healthy canopy and crop followed by the perfect dry spell and warmth in August to put the vines resources into ripening. This may be a Goldilocks kind of year, not too hot and dry and not to wet and cold, just perfect. We’re very excited here at Stratus.”

Niagara wine
The first Chardonnay grapes for sparkling wines at Stratus Vineyard are shown in this photo by Dean Stoyka, assistant winemaker.

For perspective, bud break in 2012 was April 25 and Stratus’s first pick was Aug. 24. This year bud break was May 4-5 with the first pick Tuesday.

Meanwhile, at Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery on the Short Hills Bench, Baco Noir, very top photo, and sparkling grapes were the first grapes to be picked early this morning (Tuesday), just as the winery celebrates its 33rd vintage. It’s the earliest harvest at HoP in the last 20 years.

“Expectations are running high for the upcoming 2021 harvest,” said Matthew Speck, senior vice president of operations. “The growing season has had plentiful sunshine and heat with a few well-timed rainfalls to keep the vines well balanced and allow for full development of the canopy and grape clusters.”

Speck said the recent heat wave accelerated the ripening process and precipitated an early start to the harvest. “We expect the wines to have a good depth of flavours and aromas with exceptional colour and tannin development in the red wines.”

Following the heat wave in late August, the harvest is a full week earlier than last year, and the earliest since the late 90’s for Henry of Pelham. Picking began Tuesday with Baco Noir followed by grapes for the Cuvée Catharine sparkling wine.

The Chardonnay vineyard at Stratus was the first to be picked on Monday. Photo by Dean Stoyka.

“2021 came out of the gate with some welcome heat after a long winter,” said winemaker Lawrence Buhler. “With this heat, the vines had a jump start with early flowering and fruit set. This was corrected with some cooler weather in June and July, but when August’s exceptionally warm weather took hold, we were placed back on track for an early harvest! We are expecting to see a strong vintage across all varieties and with the late warm weather, flavours are intensifying in Baco Noir, Pinot Noir and Cabernet.”

Wines from Henry of Pelham’s 2021 vintage will be available in spring 2022 led by rosé, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling.

CCOVI student Lisa Dowling, photo courtesy of Brock University.

At Brock’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI), scientists are predicting an excellent 2021 harvest. The team at CCOVI conducts an annual pre-harvest monitoring program to support Niagara’s grape growers and winemakers as they prepare for the upcoming vintage.

“The weather from the beginning of grape maturation to harvest is going to be really important to determine the quality of the vintage, but I think we have a high potential for this year,” Jim Willwerth, the head of the program, told the on campus newspaper, the Brock News.

“Based on the historical data and what we’re already seeing with respect to the amount of heat units and growing degree days, and if we have the same wonderful weather in September and October as we did in 2020, we’re right on track to have another banner year.”