Niagara Ice Wine Festival Ontario Canada - Inniskillin Ice Wine

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Niagara Ice Wine Festival Ontario Canada - Inniskillin Ice Wine
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Niagara Ice Wine Festival - Inniskillin Ice Wine

by Wade Rowland - Part 4

Frozen ice wine grapes at Inniskillin Wines
Frozen grapes for ice wine
Vineyard at Inniskillin Wines
Photo © Christine Collie

It's the risk and complexity of the winemaking process that makes icewine so expensive. As Karl Kaiser explained to us, when grapes are left unpicked well into December and January, they must be netted to offer some protection from hungry birds, and to catch those that would otherwise drop to the ground and get buried in snow. To qualify as icewines under Ontario regulations, they cannot be picked unless the temperature is a brisk -8C, but the best wines come from crops harvested when its between -10 and -13. At those temperatures, sugar content is ideal. If it gets much colder, the grapes will be too rigid and ball-bearing-like to press, and may even damage the machinery.

The result is that winegrowers wait anxiously through the early winter months for exactly the right weather conditions and when they arrive harvesting is done continuously, often through the night. (Until recently, the grapes were picked exclusively by hand. Today, mechanical harvesters are often used.)

It's a bit of a crap game, because if the temperature drops to, say -9C, it's difficult to know whether to pick, or to hang on in the hope that it will get a couple of degrees colder sometime before bird damage and losses from wind and weather grow to unacceptable levels. Every grape grower has stories of having waited too long and losing most of the crop, or picking too soon and having to settle for less than optimal quality (and price).

Sometimes winter weather never does get cold enough soon enough, and the grapes are harvested to become much less profitable (and less interesting) "late harvest" dessert wines.

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