Winter is normally a quiet time of year in vineyards around southern Georgian Bay but tractors have been hard at work due to the cooler temperatures.

John Ardiel says when the mercury drops below -20 degrees Celsius, the cold can damage fruit buds on the vines that will grow next summer’s crop.

“The primary is the most fragile but its strongest and the nicest, I say fragile but the strongest because it gives you the best fruit, fragile because it is susceptible to the cold.”

Tractors are burying the vines to help protect them from the extreme cold, which reached a low of -25 degrees Celsius this week.

Most of the grapes grown around southern Georgian Bay are selected to be tolerant to the colder temperatures because this is the most northerly grape growing region in the province but this month there have been two deep freezes that have reached all the way into the Niagara region.

According to the Ontario Grape Growers Association, temperatures dipped below -20 in southern Ontario too and some damage has already been done to sensitive varieties.

“The varieties that are the most sensitive to winter damage are Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc so we are seeing a bit higher mortality rates in those buds than we would like to see, in the neighbourhood of 40 to 50 percent,” says Bill George with the Ontario Grape Growers Association.  

George says the damage may vary greatly from location to location and it's still too soon to say what impact the cold will have on next year’s harvest.

There are more than 17,000 acres of grapes grown in Ontario, last summer’s crop was valued at a record $100 million.

Growers in the Georgian Bay region say they are most concerned about Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines. But they are thankful there is plenty of snow this winter, something the Niagara region doesn’t have.

“You can easily gain four or five degrees below the snow as opposed to above the snow,” says Ardiel.