Ice Wine

A couple of years ago we were invited by our friend Bob to join a small group making a red meritage at California Wine Works in Ramsey, NJ. That wine turned out to be quite enjoyable and as we open bottles periodically to check on its development and progress over the years, we continue to be impressed by how well it is aging. Well, we were invited back by Bob for another round of wine making. Our first experience turned out so well we didn’t hesitate to sign on. This time around we are making a Cabernet Franc Ice Wine ( Eiswein in German).

This wine sounds lots harder to make than it is for us. Basically, we get the easy part. We start with cold grape juice brought back from Canada that just needs a little extra help to develop into that luscious end product. All that hard work has already been done on a night when the temperature has dropped and the grapes have frozen on the vine.

The grapes have been hand harvested and brought into the winery where they get pressed on the spot. The small amount of very concentrated juice that is extracted becomes the icewine and the frozen water content is tossed along with the skins.

Icewine is a dessert wine which was first made in Germany in the early 1800’s. This highly regarded Canadian producer Inniskillin started to make it in 1984. It is luscious with tropical fruit flavors yet has a balance of refreshing acidity. This wine is sweet but yet not cloying.

Icewine can be enjoyed with dessert or simply become your dessert in a glass. Inniskillin in Canada is a leader in Icewine production. we know from experience they have many acres as we have biked through the vineyards-certainly not in the winter but when we could enjoy the warmth of the summer sun! Their main grapes are: Vidal Blanc, Riesling, and Cabernet Franc but others are also used such as Ugni Blanc and Seibel. Some Ice wines are just stored in stainless steel tanks while others may have some age in wood barrels for added complexity. So called “Ice Box” wines have been manipulated by the winemaker who has simply harvested ripe grapes and frozen them cryogenically.

To make true Icewine the vineyard manager and the winemaker keep a close watch on the temperature. When they know it will drop below 20 degrees, ensuring the grapes will be frozen, they plan on a harvest. Usually this takes place sometime between mid-December and February. Once the harvest begins the grapes are put in insulated containers until they arrive at the winery for the pressing.

Harvesting by hand and pressing in that cold weather is tough, labor intensive work. The end result is a very small amount of a super concentrated juice, hence the high price tag. For Cabernet Franc Icewines the color is generally darker when harvested earlier even though there is no skin contact during fermentation. True Icewine, while expensive, is really a treat to be savored in tiny doses!