Report Synopsis

Keeping Vines in the Ground and Wine on the Shelf

Gavin Robertson

The Ontario wine industry has seen persistent, positive growth in the last five decades when considering metrics such as acres of planted vines, number of winery licenses registered and domestic and export sales. Nonetheless a variety of challenges face Ontario’s grape growers and winemakers including environmental and climatic pressures, planting stock pathogens, land use and pricing issues, worker availability and high labour costs. Ontario producers are operating in an increasingly competitive global market, and to keep pace with the largest wine producing players in Europe, the Americas and Australasia they will have to address these challenges head on. It is my belief that domestic education and training programs play a key role in ensuring the viability of our future industry by producing graduates with essential skills that are highly relevant to the particularities of grape and wine production in Ontario.

Grape and wine quality are driven by access to resources, technology, knowledge and human capital in the form of skilled labour. Hypothesizing that solutions to many of the challenges facing the Ontario grape and wine industry are technical in nature, a core question that I set out to answer was: what knowledge and skills would be most relevant to grape growing in the 21st century? My Nuffield Scholarship allowed me to explore a variety of viticulture training programs located in wine growing regions in France, Italy, Germany, the United States, South Africa, and more. I spent time with researchers, faculty and students to try to understand what viticulture knowledge and skills they thought were most important in the present day, and to find out what topics these experts thought would be most important in the future.

This report identifies critical knowledge clusters and strategies for addressing challenges to Ontario viticulture. These can be studied, taught or implemented at academic and applied agriculture or viticulture training institutions in Canada. This information can be transferred to industry stakeholders including primary growers through part-time courses, workshops or online offerings to help guide their management decisions and business planning.

These topics include specific technological innovations as a response to climate and environmental threats, and vine breeding and nursery systems to help protect the future of the industry. They also include farming techniques which are appropriate to “sustainable” production in various ways and the use of mechanization, precision viticulture technology and autonomous machines and robotics to achieve high productivity with potentially low input costs. Strategies to attract and retain skilled workers in the Ontario grape and wine industry are also addressed. I conclude by making a series of recommendations based on my research findings that apply to Canadian institutions of higher education and to the grape and industry as a whole. These address curriculum priorities, resource allocation and institutional and industry partnership and collaboration models in specific ways.