Photo: The Icewine harvest at Summerhill Pyramid Winery
Here’s hoping that consumers still have a taste for
something sweet: British Columbia’s
winemakers are likely to produce about 300,000 litres of Icewine this, or
double the 2012 production.
Some 29 producers have registered to turn 1,000 tons of
grapes into Icewine this year. The harvest began November 20-21, the third
earliest Icewine harvest in British
Columbia. The earliest harvests were November 3, 2003
and November 19, 2011.
One winery, Little Straw Vineyards in West
, was able to pick some grapes early on the morning of
November 20, stopping when the temperature rose during the day, and finishing
Several consecutive days of frigid weather in the Okanagan
and Similkameen Valleys
have given producers a generous
window for the harvest.
The jump in production this year is due primarily to the
fact that the necessary harvest conditions occurred early, when a lot of fruit was
still hanging on the vine and when the berries were plump and healthy.
“To make superb Icewine, the first thing you need is perfect
grapes,” says Ezra Cipes, the chief executive at Summerhill Pyramid Winery. “We
had a growing season that produced perfect grapes [and] we had temperatures
that froze our grapes on the vine to produce this delicious nectar.”
The difference between an early Icewine harvest and a late
one is major. In the 2012 vintage, 142,800 litres of Icewine were produced from
a harvest of 476 tons by 27 producers. In that vintage, a little Icewine was
picked on January 1, 2012 and most was picked between January 11 and January
Derek Kontkanen, one of the winemakers at Jackson-Triggs,
estimates that vines can lose as much as 25% of their fruit in each additional
month that the Icewine harvest is delayed. The berries are eaten by birds and
bears, or knocked from the vines by wind. They also lose weight by shrivelling
on the vine; and there is always a risk of rot if winter turns wet.
regulations for making Icewine are quite specific. Grapes for Icewine must be
frozen to at least -8ºC before being
picked and they must be crushed at that temperature as well.
That is the minimum. Most winemakers
prefer the grapes to be frozen to between -10ºC and -12ºC. The colder temperatures freeze more of the
water fraction in the grapes and the juice squeezed from the press is sweeter.
At -12ºC, Jackson-Triggs and Inniskillin Okanagan were getting juice that
measured 45 brix – effectively 45% sugar.
The freezing not only concentrates the
sugar; it also concentrates acidity and flavours. In the best Icewines, the
piquant acidity balances the sweetness so that the flavours are clean and
Few winemakers want the temperatures to be
much colder. If the brix reading gets above 50, it is difficult to get a
healthy ferment because the high sugar content kills the yeast cells.
The volumes of Icewine produced each
vintage vary greatly, usually depending on weather conditions. However, the
small production in 2009 probably had more to do with industry pessimism about
the demand for expensive wines after the 2008 recession. The following table is
provided by the BC Wine Institute.
In 2001, I wrote the world’s
first book on Icewine, called Icewine:
The Complete Story.
Now out of print, it shows up used on Amazon. I also
produced a 12,000-woes monograph for the International Wine and Food Society
which is the basic primer on Icewine. The text remains on my computer and I
would be happy to send it to anyone who requests it. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
The photo below is of Riesling grapes for Jackson-Triggs Icewine.