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Niagara wines growing great

Alexandra Pope, staff writer
September 17, 2011 — The Niagara grape harvest is underway, and when it comes to the region’s famous wines, it looks like 2011 will be a very good year.

The Niagara region produces some of the best wine grapes in the world
The Niagara region produces some of the best wine grapes in the world

Louise Engel, co-owner of Featherstone Vineyard in Vineland, Ont., has been in the wine business for 12 years and said every growing season brings its own challenges and surprises. This year was marked by extremes.

“There was such a dichotomy between the first half of the season and the last half of the season. We had that really cool, wet spring, and then the tap shut off and it went to being very hot and very dry,” Engel said.

“We haven’t had a season with such extremes for a long time.”

The heat and humidity has now eased, but Engel is hopeful that relatively dry conditions will persist through the harvest.

“Ideally we want nice, warm, sunny days and cool nights,” she explained. “If it didn’t rain until November I’d be very happy.”

Niagara's microclimate makes it ideal for growing grapes
Niagara's microclimate makes it ideal for growing grapes

Even in years when the weather is less than ideal, Niagara wines are considered some of the finest in the world, going head to head in competitions against famous wine regions – and winning.

What is it about the Niagara region that makes it so perfect for growing grapes?

Gavin Robertson, a wine technician at the Niagara Wine College, said it all has to do with the climate. Grapes love heat, and Niagara has it in abundance during the summer.

The Niagara peninsula lies between Lake Ontario and the Niagara escarpment. In the summer, northerly winds blowing off the lake run up against the escarpment, creating a circular air flow that traps heat.

“It’s two to three degrees warmer than just around the lake in Toronto,” Robertson says.

Niagara also lies on a similar latitude to Burgundy, France, one of the world’s premier wine-growing regions.

This weekend marks the 60th anniversary of the Niagara Wine Festival, a celebration of the grape harvest. The festival runs until September 25th at Montebello Park in St. Catharines.

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