Research Pays Off in Ontario

Report says CCOVI contributed $91.1 million during 2015

by Peter Mitham
ccovi brock
CCOVI senior viticultuist Jim Willwerth takes vineyard samples for the institute's VineAlert cold-hardiness program, which helps growers identify when to use frost-mitigation tools such as wind machines.
St. Catharines, Ontario—Research pays, according to a study assessing the economic impact of Ontario’s 20-year-old Cold Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI).

Toronto management consulting firm MDB Insight examined the activities of the institute, located at Brock University, and determined that its economic contribution to the province in 2015 was $91.1 million (all values in Canadian). This includes 307 jobs within the industry and ancillary sectors.

“We thought that it was time for us to assess, in dollar values, the kind of impact the institute is now having in the province,” Debbie Inglis, director of CCOVI, told Wines & Vines.

Brock University established CCOVI in fall 1996, and the first undergraduate students to benefit from the institute began classes a year later. While CCOVI doesn’t have students itself (they’re officially part of Brock’s Department of Biological Sciences), their presence is tied to the institute.

MDB Insight pegged the annual economic benefit of CCOVI’s research activities to the industry at $86.3 million in the form of climate and pest research; studies of ice wine and new styles of wine such as appassimento; as well as education and extension work.

Research into grapevine cold hardiness, for example, is estimated to prevent the loss of 1,502 tonnes of grapes annually (1 tonne equals 1.1 tons), resulting in $22.2 million more in revenues for the sector as well as savings on inputs.

Similarly, research into new styles of wine mean growers are able to use an additional 50 tonnes of fruit each year.

By far the biggest impact has been from CCOVI’s research into ladybugs, which has spared 1,570.5 tonnes of grapes worth $23.1 million as wine.

The added crop means jobs for 22 people in the industry as well as 16 in other sectors; when made into wine, a total of 250 jobs are attributable to the work.

“We’re allowing these number of jobs to continue, directly in the industry, but it’s also the supporting jobs (in) the community in general,” Inglis said.

Matthias Oppenlaender, chair of Ontario Grape and Wine Research Inc., a company that allocates industry funding to researchers, said it’s tough to put a value on research because not all projects yield results that can be put into practice.

“Sometimes research is paid for and you’re not having a result,” he said. But “if you look at our industry in the last 10 years, how it’s grown, how we’ve come to the forefront and how the quality has improved, CCOVI is one of the players that played a part in that.”

Speaking as a grower—Oppenlaender farms 480 acres of grapes at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario—he said having researchers visit his farm vineyard has given him access to expertise that’s helped him understand local conditions much better, and in turn make better informed, more educated decisions.

“Sometimes it’s hard to put a monetary value on these things, but if it saves the crop, it’s a huge difference,” he said. “They’re doing harvest monitoring and all these things that help us to make informed and educated decisions. How do you put a value on this? There definitely is a value.”

But there’s also a payoff in the form of the insights and experience future workers in the sector receive by participating in and having access to the expertise at the institute.

Since 2000, the oenology and viticulture program at Brock has graduated 130 students, of which at least 115 (or more than 90%) are working in the industry.

Graduates have found employment across Canada, taking their knowledge to both the major grape-growing regions of Ontario and British Columbia as well as to smaller, developing sectors in Quebec and Atlantic Canada. They’ve also sought international experience in California, Australia, Argentina and France.

Steve Trussler, appointed advisor, academic and admissions for Brock’s oenology and viticulture program last summer, said 82% of graduates contacted are working in Canada, 14% are in the U.S., and 4% are in other regions around the world.

MDB didn’t consider the impacts of the program beyond Ontario, but the provincial impacts alone constitute a healthy return on annual investment in CCOVI by the university ($682,719), government and industry ($1.2 million) each year.

The study underscores the economic benefit that investments in similar facilities across North America, such as Washington State University’s new Wine Science Center in Richland, can deliver.

While the environmental impact of research into issues such as powdery mildew in reducing crop losses and sprays is known, Washington State Wine Commission research program manager Melissa Hansen said a comprehensive examination of the economic value of wine industry research in the state hasn’t occurred.

The study in Ontario may be a model for such an analysis in Washington state, she said.

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