The Ontario grape harvest is set to fall by half its normal level this year after severely cold weather in January and February dramatically reduced crop levels.

Ironically, although famous for its quality ice wine which is harvested in below-freezing conditions, grapes for dry Canadian wines will have been affected by the unusually cold winter.

According to the Grape Council of Ontario – Canada’s main wine producing region – the harvest will be down by 50%.

‘There is not a grape available for sale right now,’ said Grape Council chairman Norm Beal.

The main dry wine varieties in Ontario include Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

‘We’re down two-thirds of our expectations,’said Anthony Bristow, head of Andrés Wines, whose portfolio includes the Peller and Hillebrand Estates. Companies such as Andrés and Vincor International could see losses of over CAN$100m (£45m, US$81.9m), with many smaller producers also feeling the pinch.

As a consequence, many Ontario producers are asking for an amendment to government regulations stipulating that blended wines must be made using at least 30% local grapes. They are requesting that authorities make an exception in 2005 and lower the local grape levels to 10%.

Such moves are not unknown in Canadian wine production – reductions in local grape percentages were allowed in 1993 and 2003.

Beal said that a number of growers and winemakers would experience ‘serious financial hardship’ if the regulations were not changed.

Some producers are worried, however, that allowing an increase of imported grapes could damage the reputation of Ontario wines. Currently, blended wines must carry the words ‘cellared in Canada from imported and domestic content’ on the label.

Written by Oliver Styles, and agencies