Cold Hands on Deck for Niagara’s Icewine Pick
Published: JANUARY 2, 2013
BY DON FRASER, QMI AGENCY
LINCOLN – Sometimes, it’s the simplest things that can put the freeze on an icewine grape harvest.
By late Tuesday evening, some Niagara grape growers took advantage of temperatures sliding to minus 10°C.
That’s about two degrees colder than the minimum needed to harvest grapes to make the sweet Canadian delicacy.
For Brian Schmidt, winemaker at Vineland Estates Winery, that first time out hit a snag or two.
“We ended up having some mechanical issues with the harvester we were using,” said Schmidt on Wednesday. “We eventually had to pull the plug.”
“But we got five tons of Vidal off,” he said of the picking that forced an early end to a leisurely New Years’ dinner.
That effort ended at about 1 a.m. , with a grape-press to follow afterward.
“It’s exciting for us,” Schmidt said. “And I don’t like to have the picking hanging over my head. I like to get it done, as there’s been times in the past we’ve only had three chances to take it off in a season.”
Schmidt jokes that it’s also become a friendly competition among his winery and Henry of Pelham Estate Winery in St. Catharines to see who’ll be among the first to pull off their frozen grapes.
Henry of Pelham’s winemaker Ron Giesbrecht said their first icewine grape harvest on Wednesday focused on Riesling and Vidal varieties, with about one-fifth of their total whites taken off.
“It was a marginal night … it did go down to minus 11°C at one point last night,” he said. “But we were rather tight with our window, as after 3 a.m. it warmed up again.”
Giesbrecht reports the grape quantity is also down from normal. This, because a two-three week early start to the growing season meant many grapes ripened and fell off well before their freeze.
“The quality is great,” he added. “And we’re looking at maybe 20-25% less in quantity than what we would have hoped for. Last year, Henry of Pelham had almost completed its icewine harvest by the New Year.
Meanwhile, Niagara College Teaching Winery students are gearing up for their harvest when they return next week — and as soon as it gets cold enough.
Steve Gill, the College’s general manager of wine and beer operations, believes the Niagara-on-the-Lake campus is the only one in the world where students pick icewine grapes and make wine from it.
And each year, they prepare for a potential overnight pick — when a harvest is called, they’re all alerted using a phone-tree system.
“We get a great turnout every year,” Gill said. “I think last year, every single student showed up. They’re there at 2 a.m., and they set out to pick.
“When they’re finish, we feed them some hot soup and hot chocolate.”
Why is Ontario the world’s major producer of icewine?
To produce icewine, summers must be hot and winters must be cold and sharp.
Of all the wine-producing regions in the world, only Ontario has a winter climate sufficiently cold to ensure an icewine crop in most years. Icewine is currently produced by 60 wineries in Ontario. Even Germany cannot produce an icewine every vintage.
-from Wine Country Ontario