Cold mornings are great for sweet ice wine
FINGER LAKES REGION--With early frosts blanketing the region, many wineries in the Finger Lakes region have already harvested their ice wine crop, an especially sweet variety of wine grown in the area.
Left on the vine to sweeten far longer than grapes used for traditional wines, ice wines must be harvested early in the morning before sunrise while the berries are still frozen so that the natural concentrate hoards the sugar away from the frozen water.
"The early cold temps helped us out quite a bit," said Connor Evans, general manager of Castel Grisch Winery in Watkins Glen. He added, "It wasn't too bad a harvest, overall average, maybe even a little better than last year."
Sayre Fulkerson of Fulkerson Winery in Dundee said that while growers in the region do things a little differently for their ice wines, the Finger Lakes Region is special in part due to its ice wine.
"Our first ice wine was done in 1999, and this is one of the few grape growing areas in the country where you get naturally frozen grapes on the vine, it is important to freeze it on the vine in terms of authenticity. You can hand harvest grapes and put them in the freezer, only you are not supposed to call that ice wine," Fulkerson said.
Ice wine is one of the inherent benefits of being a cold climate wine region and another reason why the Seneca Wine Trail has year-round appeal, said Brittany Gibson, executive director of the Seneca Lake Wine Trail.
"Ice wine is quite sweet, but it is a different kind of sweetness, it is not sweetened artificially after it is made, it's just natural flavor from hanging so long and being pressed frozen. I just think it is such an elegant, sweet flavor unlike any other wine you could taste, especially from any other sweet wine. I love to serve it with cheese after dinner, great with sharp or salty cheese, I like it with brie," Gibson said.
Evans said that Castel Grisch harvested roughly three tons of Riesling and four tons of vidal blanc over the course of a day towards the end of November.
"Basically what we look for is three freeze thaw cycles and then at peak ripeness we harvest them frozen early in the morning by hand. It's a big thing being done by hand and not machine harvesting. I like to say it goes along with the term hand crafted, that definitely fits the description well," Evans said.
Evans said that for him doing everything by hand is what makes his ice wine so special.
"I just think the love and care that goes into harvesting the grapes and making it makes for a special product."
Fulkerson said that his winery also harvested their ice wine crop over the course of one day in November, getting roughly three tons of Niagara and two tons of vidal blanc.
"You have to wait for a predictable cold night and then get out very early in the morning and harvest them while they are frozen, we do it by machine and load them by hand into the press because frozen grapes don't go through the equipment very well," Fulkerson said.
He added that his ice wine only goes through one freezing cycle before being harvested in an effort to maintain the character of the fruit in the ice wine.
"We like to get it at the first freeze event, and what you end up with is juice from a grape that has not been subjected to the freeze and thaw process and its better shape than grapes picked later. More of a cleaner representative of the fruit, but that's a personal preference," Fulkerson said.
He added that with each freeze and thaw cycle grapes go through changes.
"It can make wines more complex but it may lose a bit of the fresh fruit characteristics. It's all personal preference and this is the style we like to do."
Both Evans and Fulkerson said that while ice wine is not a primary source of income, it does help sales during the winter months.
"It's something that is unique to this climate so we do it," Fulkerson said.
Even with the ice wine harvest finished, Evans said that work on next year's harvest has already begun.
"The work never ends, and with the ice wine there is no slow point," Evans said.