Vintage Variations in Ontario’s wine growing region “Niagara Peninsula”

November 18, 2010 5:21 pm - Posted by otta in Drink

The Niagara Peninsula is recognized globally as an outstanding wine producing region.

Climate: similar to Burgundy and Loire Valley

Location: 41–44 degrees north latitude, same as Rioja, Chianti Classico, Oregon and Mendocino

Temperatures: similar to Bordeaux and Burgundy in France, the effects of Lake Ontario and Niagara escarpment are creating an area of moderate temperatures during spring and summer.

With rich, fertile soils and a unique micro-climate which is very suitable for growing Vitis vinifera grapes, Niagara becomes a prime grape-growing region. However due to its location and climate Niagara deeply depends on mature nature year by year. World wine regions like California, Australia, Chile and Argentina, produce fully ripe grapes at consistent quality every year, Niagara is not that lucky.  But wines grown in these temperate climates can produce superior fruit, with more complexity and intense flavors than in warmer climates. So all you need is a little guidance to enjoy the best wines.

Here are some vintage charts, that should explain variances between vintages in the last  5 years:


Whites: Drink now or cellar 5 years or less. Reds: Drink now or cellar 5 years or less.

(Tentative) In many ways, 2009 was similar to 2008 in all appellations. A cool, wet summer was saved by long warm fall. While still in the barrels, the 2009 is showing lots of promises. Bordeaux grape varieties like Cabernet sauvignon had trouble ripening and this years ice wine crop yielded only 1/3 of 2008 crop.


Whites: Drink now or cellar 5 years or less. Reds: Drink now or cellar 5 years or less.

It was a wet growing season  which brought challenge in ripening in all appellations. was a challenge. The quality of this vintage will depend entirely on vineyard management. Whites and cool-climate reds (pinot noir, gamay) are showing better than other varietals. Only the best of the best produced fruit worth talking about, and that only due to vineyard management and wine making techniques


Whites – Drink Now or Cellar 5 Years or Less. Reds – Drink Now or Cellar 10 Years or More

This is a Cadillac of all vintages, it is as good as it gets in all appellations. Many winemakers call 2007 the best vintage in Ontario’s history. It was warm, dry and ideal for extended hang time on the vines. Look for the last of the reds that you can find and hang on to those, they will only get better with time. This wines were made in the vineyard entirely.


Drink Now or Cellar 5 Years or Less

Not as wet as 2008, but still humid and slightly cooler than normal. The mood was upbeat as vines recovered from the terrible winter kill of 2005. There was plenty of sunshine in August, but a wet September meant wineries had to employ good vineyard selection. It was a decent year for chardonnay, riesling, merlot, gamay, cabernet franc, pinot noir and a great year for icewines.


Drink Now or Cellar 5 Years or Less

This was a disastrous year. An extremely cold winter killed any hope for a healthy vintage with more than 50 per cent of the vintage wiped out. Many producers didn’t have enough wine to even sell and suffered hefty financial losses. The irony of the vintage was that, even with a tiny crop, what was grown still ended up being pretty good.

Over all the vintage variations are huge and quality of fruit produced every year is ever different. However the most innovative wine makers have learned  “how to make a bad vintage, work in their advantage”

As an example, Andrej Lepinski previously of Foreign Affairs Winery and now at the brand new Collonari Winery creates great wines year after year. His secret is air drying the grapes which concentrates sugars and evaporates water. This is the same system used in Amarone production. When it is used in Italy it is called passimento. In the year 2007 Andrej only used this technique on few selected wines, however “2009 and 2008 is all about drying”, according to him. This shows the diversity of climatic and harvest conditions wine makers need to accommodate in Niagara.

Other winemakers use techniques like adding late harvested grapes or grapes affected by botrytis cinnerea (Noble rot) to their white wines. This works especially well with Rieslings which need a long growing season to ripen and loose their tart green apple like characteristics. By adding those grapes, wine makers create a richer and ripper fruit with characteristics of dried apricots and peaches.

Techniques like Malo-lactic fermentation (transferring Malic Acid (green apple) to Lactic Acid (Milky creamy one) are also widely used year after year. As well, batonage (stirring dead yeast cells inside of the barrel) helps add more richness and a creamier aspect to chardonnays.

So if you can’t get your head wrapped around which years are the best, just focus on wines produced by the most recognized and awarded wineries as those are the ones that can turn rain into gold. As a Sommelier it is my joy to help clients sample and enjoy the best wines from around the world, so I love to stay on top of regional vintages.

Blog by Otta Zapotocky, General Manager and Sommelier at Wildfire Steak house and wine bar

One Response to “Vintage Variations in Ontario’s wine growing region “Niagara Peninsula””

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