It appears likely that the Ontario wine harvest in 2014 will be greatly reduced due to the extremely cold temperatures brought on by the polar vortex in January. All three of the province’s primary appellations recognized by the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) – The Niagara Peninsula, Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore – have experienced lower than normal temperatures. The VQA appellations account for over 90 percent of the wine grown in the province. Growers in Ontario have been using fans to circulate warmer air down to the ground, though conditions at time have been too windy to be effective.

Hybrid varietals bred for colder climates may hold up well, but those traditionally grown in warmer climates are more sensitive and have already seen significant damage to their buds. Viticulturists at Brock University have put the survival rate for Merlot at just 14 per cent. In 2013 (the VQA’s reporting year runs from April 1st to March 31st) the VQA regions produced 1,255,762 litres of Merlot, its most popular red wine.

The 2013 harvest set new records for Ontario with 79,756 tonnes gathered, which will produce approximately 55.8 million litres of wine. Ontario is Canada’s leading producer of wine, meaning that a smaller harvest in the province may create opportunities for U.S. wines in the Canadian market. The Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) maintains a fixed amount of shelf space for wines produced in the province, however opportunities may be found in other provinces or by wineries producing the varietals hardest hit during the cold spell. British Columbia is second in production with 27,275 tons harvested in 2012 (the last year for which data is available).

The United States is already the third largest supplier of wine to Canada in terms of both value and volume. Only France and Italy export more wine. Quebec is the largest importer of wine overall, but Ontario is the largest importer of U.S. wines