2021 Vintage Review
2021 proved to be both unforgettable, and forgettable for growers and wineries across the province. Especially coming off the heels of 2020, wineries had high hopes for what 2021 was going to have in store. While consistently perfect years would be most people's dreams, it is through the inconsistencies that Ontario's wine-growing regions that are what make wine fun, and beautiful.
2020 was a near-perfect vintage for wines across the province. A late start protected buds from frost, and an above-average spring and summer quickly got the vines up to speed. Conditions were consistently warm and dry, with minimal complications, and it continued through to harvest. Harvest started and finished early, with stellar fruit requiring minimal sorting. Icewine harvests were at a record low, mostly due to Covid-19 reducing tourism and international travel/export, along with majority of fruit being harvested for table wine.
January of 2021 started with above-average temperatures, along with heavy snow that made the final push for 2020 Icewine incredibly difficult. Spring brought warmer temperatures, with certain regions such as Lake Erie North Shore (LENS) receiving high winds and fluctuating temperatures. By bud break in May, the entire province saw dry conditions with optimal temperatures. It was an almost ideal start to the vintage.
Summer brought very-high temperatures, minimal rain, and many regions were facing drought. While many grape-growers do have irrigation set up if needed, it is never ideal to have to spend money watering acres upon acres of vineyard, just to keep them alive. The high levels of drought across the region also proved difficult for any growers or wineries trying to plant new vines, as their root systems are underdeveloped, and require frequent rain or watering to solidify them for the years to come. Overall, conditions were looking exceptional once again leading into August. Grapes were looking great, with high levels of sugar due to the intense heat throughout August.
The beginning of September is when everything started to turn. Early ripening grapes such as Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat, Pinot Gris, grapes used for sparkling came in in mostly ideal conditions, with spurts of rain delaying harvest in some regions. Around the end of September, when Riesling is almost ready to harvest, much of the province was hit with what seemed like endless rain for most of the month. This rain was coupled with dark dreary skies and still days, resulting in any moisture sticking to the grapes for extended periods of time. Vineyards were flooded and it was almost impossible to get any sort of harvest crews or implement out in the vineyard to harvest when you wanted to. The increased moisture in the vineyard resulted in elevated levels of rot, disease, and swelling of the grapes. Some late-ripening red varieties, although they looked great, proved to have thinner than normal skins which would result in boring, flabby, somewhat boring wines.
At the end of the day, harvest finished a bit later than normal, round the second to fourth week of November depending on the region. Growers and winemakers have incredibly high standards, so there were always ways in which high-quality grapes could get brought in, but many grapes did end up getting rejected across the province.
The outlook is looking incredible for sparkling and early ripening varieties that were able to be brought in before the rain. Many red grapes will be put towards a wineries rosé program, so expect to see high volumes of the pink stuff on winery shelves. Blended reds will still be fantastic, especially Cabernet Franc- and Merlot-based blends. Icewine harvest was double that of 2020, but still well below previous years, due to both Covid-19 leaving wineries with higher levels of Icewine in tank, and the wet conditions making it even more difficult to leave quality grapes out for the winter.
While this might make it seem that there will not be many great wines coming from the latest vintage, great winemakers will be able to work their magic, no matter what is brought in. Trust the winemaker, trust the winery, and don't be afraid of 'less than ideal' vintages.