Grape Growers of Ontario - The Watsons

It's harvest time in Ontario! I spent the day in wine country this past weekend and seeing the vines full of ripe fruit made me so excited. What will the vintage of 2011 bring?  This is the time of year where everyone holds their breath, hoping that mother nature cooperates. Hopefully as harvest approaches, we will have that warm, dry weather that's needed to bring this vintage to a close. Fingers and toes crossed.

My next post for the Grape Growers of Ontario series features Kevin Watson.  He runs K.J Watson Farms LTD in Niagara-on-the-Lake.  As a second generation grape grower, Kevin and his wife, Cathy, now have 80 acres with over 13 different vinifera (the most common wine vine) varieties. In the latest video, Kevin discusses what makes a good wine grape and how to tell when a grape is ripe. These are fitting topics as we head into the 2011 harvest season.

This video is filmed during the period called "veraison". This is when the grapes start to turn colour as they mature and ripen. Did you notice in the video that Kevin was taking away the extra leaves off the vines? This is so that the grapes can get that much needed sunlight. If the vines have too much foliage, they don't turn the energy to ripening the berries. If at veraison, certain clusters are lagging behind the rest, those clusters can be dropped to the ground so the vine can turn its energy into ripening the remaining clusters.  This is called "green harvest".  Unripe berries can lead to unripe flavours in the finished wine. Sure, you'll get a smaller crop in the end, but more flavourful fruit. Wine grapes are meant to be small. You don't want big, fat and juicy grapes. Leave those for table grapes. Good wine comes from small berries. Good things do indeed come in small packages!

We all know that the main difference between red and white wine is of course, the skin. Red wine gets its colour from the the skins of the grapes. You can certainly make a white wine from red/purple/black grapes...just leave out the skins during the winemaking process. The grape skins can include a lot of the flavours that you might find in that particular varietal wine. If you pick a Syrah (Shiraz) grape off the vine, for example, the skin itself can exhibit black pepper flavours whereas Gewürztraminer grape skins can be spicy. Neat!

Kevin Watson, 2007 "Grape King"
Each year the Grape Growers of Ontario award a grower as being the Grape King.
This recognition is for the best grape grower of the year.
As harvest approaches, how does a grower tell when to pick the grapes? Kevin talks about how he assesses the grape seed colour, texture and firmness. Ultimately, it's the act of tasting the grapes that is usually the final indicator of when to pick. So now is the time when growers and winemakers walk between the vines, tasting the berries. When they call to pick, it's a mad dash to get those grapes off the vines and into the winery to perform the magic!

Meet the growers and see the care that goes into growing the grapes that produce the Ontario wines you love at: