2023 Harvest Report by Wines in Niagara

Wines in Niagara has unveiled its comprehensive 2023 Harvest Report, brimming with valuable insights from several esteemed vineyards across Niagara.

Rick VanSickle has expertly navigated through the year's peaks and valleys, inviting a number of vineyard contributions to enrich the narrative further. Dive into the full article at Wines in Niagara for an in-depth exploration. Below, find a concise summary and our perspective on the 2023 Harvest.

Looking back at the 2023 harvest

In 2023, Ontario's grape growers and winemakers navigated a season of dramatic climatic swings, culminating in a harvest that many described using Charles Dickens' famous dichotomy: "it was the best of times, it was the worst of times." The year's unpredictable weather patterns, from challenging beginnings to a redeeming dry fall, echoed the sentiment of resilience and hope.

Brian Schmidt of Vineland Estates encapsulated the year's narrative by stating it was a year of extremes, transforming "from a sow’s ear to a silk purse," as Andre Gagne of Last House Vineyard vividly described the turnaround in Prince Edward County.

Despite facing the largest grape surplus since 2008, with up to 6,000 tonnes of grapes left unclaimed in Niagara, the season ended on a high note thanks to a "miracle" dry September, as Kelly Mason of Domain Queylus and Mason Vineyard recalled, which was crucial for saving the vintage. This unexpected blessing allowed for the production of healthy, classic harvests across Ontario's main wine regions, highlighting varieties such as Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Gamay, and Pinot Noir.

The season was also marked by external challenges, including a haze from forest fires and a catastrophic freeze in the B.C. wine industry, which initially showed no interest in Niagara's surplus. However, the adversity faced by Ontario's vineyards was met with innovation and perseverance, leading to a harvest that Debbie Zimmerman, CEO of the Grape Growers of Ontario, described as high in both yield and quality, with a farm gate value of $113.5 million.

Paul Franciosa of Grimsby Hillside Vineyard and Thomas Bachelder of Bachelder Wines reflected on the year with a mix of relief and anticipation for the wines to come. The Vintner's Quality Alliance (VQA) praised the vintage as a testament to the region's resilience and the winemakers' craftsmanship, promising exceptional wines that reflect the unique characteristics of Ontario's terroir.

This comprehensive overview, drawn from firsthand testimonials of those on the front lines, paints a picture of a year fraught with challenges but ultimately defined by the collective triumph of Ontario's wine community. The 2023 vintage, once bottled and in cellars, is poised to be a vintage to remember and cherish, showcasing the depth, complexity, and freshness of Ontario's wines.

Scott Kirby, proprietor, Kirby Estate Wines, Niagara Lakeshore sub-appellation

2023 for the Niagara Lakeshore sub-appellation might be characterized as the year of recovery and rebound after witnessing the significant fallout damage to vines and yields experienced in 2022. Spring materialized early after a relatively mild winter but stubbornly remained dry, clear, and cool even into June. Bud break occurred between the second and third week of May.

The continuation of a cool and dry spring morphed into a cool and wet summer by June and into the latter part of August. While this was in many ways helpful to those who had planted/replanted new vines from an irrigation perspective, it provided a high stress environment for powdery and downy mildews both for new and established vines, requiring more frequent and aggressive attention than normal to keep disease at bay.

As veraison progressed through mid-August, it slowly gave way to warmer days, and that hitherto missing yellow disc in the sky made an appearance in September and through October. Phenolically, the berries developed nicely and with rich and complex flavours while sugar development remained stubbornly slow until the very last days of the season. A small percentage of vines exhibited premature exhaustion but not measurably comparable to that of 2022. Fruit yields substantially returned to historic levels and the speculated shortage of the 2023 vinifera product resulting from the winter 21/22 debacle never really materialized.

Threatening weather at the end of October combined with lingering indications of previous season’s vine stress resulted in a completed harvest by month’s end. All varietals had beautifully developed clean fruit bunches with great flavour profiles. The vines were put to bed in reasonable time to ensure hardening and well-deserved recovery. The resulting wines are expected to be full flavoured and elegant in style.

Read full article at Wines in Niagara.