• Quebec vineyards, like the one above on Ile d'Orleans, could be growing a greater diversity of grapes within two decades if the climate continues to warm.  (Photo: Madeleine Guenette/Can Geo Photo Club)

If the climate continues to warm over the next two decades, southern Quebec wineries may be growing more of the European grapes – think pinot noir and chardonnay – than the province's harsh winters typically allow. 

Grape vines in Quebec are limited by length of frost season, winter temperatures and annual growing days – as such, most of the grapes produced in Quebec are hybrids, which are hard to compare against non-hybrids on the international market.

“In the context of climate change, there are vulnerabilities and opportunities,” says Philippe Roy, lead author on a study recently published in the journal Climate Change. For example, "the people growing the vines will be able to diversify the grapes.”

Yvan Quirion, president of the vintners’ association of Quebec, is not convinced that climate change is actually an opportunity for the vineyards in his province. He says they have already started growing the European variety of grapes, but mostly thanks to their own designs, not because of climate change.

Quirion uses geotextiles and soil to protect the vines and first buds in winter on his vineyard in Saint-Jacques, Que., and says the technique will become ever more prevalent as vintners work to moderate temperature extremes. They’ve seen more cold snaps in the winter in the last couple of decades, which threaten to damage the vines. “We had better growing days in the 90s than we have today with pinot noir,” he says. “The more climate change, the more extremes we will get and that’s not good for the plants.”

Quirion does agree with the researchers' predictions that the growing season will be, and already is, longer than in the past, but he says he would rather have a shorter season with more consistent climate and avoid the extremes they are seeing now.

The researchers of the study recognize the continuing need for the geotextils to protect the plants in winter. “The cold conditions will continue to be a limiting factor,” says Roy. “Even in a couple of decades, you’ll still have very cold days that will damage the vines.”

“For viticulture, it’s assumed that the conditions will be more favourable,” says Roy, “but it has to be seen.”

“Maybe one day we’ll even be known for Malbec,” Quirion chuckles, noting a variety of grape that does best in warm climates like Argentina. “I really hope not, though.”