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What is Icewine?
“Icewine” is a late-harvest wine made from grapes handpicked and pressed while frozen. Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula is the world’s largest producer of Icewine, garnering international recognition for this rare, sweet ambrosia. “Eiswein”, as it is called in Germany, was first discovered there by accident as early as 1794. When Peasant farmers in Franconia were hit by a sudden, unexpected frost, they prudently made wine from the frozen grapes. The result was considered a treasure, but with the moderate German climate, perfect conditions for making this wine occurred only in very cold winters and so it remained, indeed, very rare. Ontario’s warm summers ensure high sugars in the grapes and our cold winters guarantee a natural icewine harvest . Our climate, combined with the standards set by the Vintner’s Quality Alliance, makes the quality of Ontario’s Icewine difficult to exceed.
Hernder Estates is proud to produce different Icewines to name a few: Vidal and Cabernet Franc Icewine.
The special process:
Protected by netting, fully ripened grapes are left on the vines well into December, sometimes even into January to await suitable harvesting conditions. The berries become dehydrated due to the continual freezing/thaw cycle of this wintery environment. This extraordinary process concentrates the sugars, acids, and extracts in the berries, thereby intensifying the flavours and giving icewine it’s tremendous complexity.
Wet, windy weather and rot due to fungus are among the risks to the crop, accounting for reductions in yield to that of only 10% of normal harvest. Temperatures must drop to at least -8° Celsius before the grapes can be quickly & carefully hand picked in their naturally frozen state. This necessitates often picking in the middle of the night – imagine the adventure! The frozen grapes must remain at sub-zero temperatures while immediately being destemmed, crushed and pressed to ensure the water in the grapes is separated from the juice, in the form of ice crystals. This cannot be done through artificial freezing methods. What remains is a highly concentrated, intensely sweet, aromatic juice that is then fermented very slowly for several months. The fermentation process stops naturally at approximately 12% alcohol by volume, leaving much of the sugar unfermented.
VQA authorities randomly sample and analyze the must, juice and wine to ensure their strict standards are being met.
Because of the high risk, low yield, and intense labour required by the production of Icewine, the price will always be costly. In spite of the expense, the mounting demand continues, especially in the export market. In Japan, Ontario Icewines sell for over three times the domestic price, so coveted is this “nectar of the gods”.
Storing & Serving:
Stored on it’s side away from strong odours and vibrations in a cool place, Icewine will easily keep for as long as 10-12 years. Young Icewines are fresh and clean on the palate; older vintages become stronger in flavour and linger on the palate longer. As they age, Icewines will deepen in colour and value. It’s perfectly fine if you would like to save a bottle for that special occasion.
After any wine is opened, it will begin to oxidize, becoming bitter tasting if left open too long. Once you open your Icewine, it will be enjoyable for up to 3-5 days (if you can make it last that long). A 375 ml bottle will easily serve up to 6-8 people. Chilling for an hour in the refrigerator will cool the wine sufficiently; you don’t want to consume it too cold. Offer an amount as you would that of a fine liqueur in wine glasses with proper bowls. This will enable you to savour the complex fruit flavours, and delicate balance of sugar and acidity. Try not to equate the size of the glass to the quantity of Icewine being served.
Most enjoyable served at the end of a meal or just on it’s own, while paired with fruit or blue cheeses, it’s a sensory delight – this particularly sweet ambrosia!
The “Vintner’s Quality Alliance” standards in Ontario have strict requirements for Icewine. VQA authorities randomly sample and analyze must, juice and wine to ensure the standards are being met:
- — the finished wine must, must have a Brix of 35 degrees or higher
- — there must be residual sugar of 125 g/litre
- — a minimum Brix of 32 degrees in the juice after pressing when measured in the fermentation tank
- — the alcohol must derive exclusively from the natural sugars of the grapes
- — all wine that is labeled as “Icewine” must be produced by VQA registered growers and wine makers
- — the harvest of icewine grapes must start after November 15th
Before harvesting, the producer must verify in writing, (by specified form) the following:
a) the temperatures of each individual harvest
b) the acreage and tonnage of each given crop
c) the measured Brix level of each must
d) the harvesting date and time of day
e) icewine pressing capacity