Why I Hate Icewine....

Why I Hate Icewine….

Of course I don’t hate Icewine!!! It truly is nectar of the gods, with its rich aromas, concentrated flavours and unctuous texture. It’s the intense ICEWINE-ness of icewine I hate.

For decades whenever a non-Canadian was told we had a wine industry in Canada, icewine was evoked, along with images of harvesting in the dead of night, grapes raced to the home igloo on dogsleds for pressing. The thought of harvesting desert-ripened cabernet sauvignon at temperatures approaching the 40’s (above) was beyond imagination. Winemakers were constantly exclaiming “but, but…”

And then there’s the reality of the strategic planning and execution of icewine harvest.

By law (BC Wine Authority) grapes must be picked no warmer than -8 degrees Celsius, and by natural law they must be pressed at or below that temperature to achieve the concentration that arises from freezing the water out of the grape, leaving the sugars, acids, aromas and flavours. The lay person would be amazed at how often in a season we approach but don’t meet that temperature, and even more amazed at how often that happens on Christmas eve, Christmas day, New Year’s Eve, vineyard manager’s birthday etc.!

The longer this wait drags on, the smaller the return, as grapes and stems deteriorate through the winter.

A winemaker’s patience also deteriorates as the number of queries accumulate—

Them: “When do you think you’ll pick icewine?”

Me: “Hmm-when we get down below -8 degrees”

But as the yield decreases the flavour increases. The berries start to dessicate and add lovely raisin characters. The frozen berries hit the press like marbles and we press until juice drips through, golden and syrupy, with the promise of the elixir to follow.

THEN—there’s the actual winemaking. Yeast prefers—really really likes—grape juice at around 20 percent sugar but finds challenging—really really challenging—juice at 40-50% sugar, which is what we get at the press. Yeast must be coaxed to grow in this juice and nurtured through every day of the ferment. Again, the winemaker’s patience is called upon.

In the end, it truly is the nectar of the gods, the gods of weather, the gods of harvest and yes, the god of irony.

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Kathy Malone, Winemaker

Kathy Malone