Ice wine: Not a typical year for the harvest
FINGER LAKES--When it comes to making ice wine, this has not been a typical season for area grape growers. With a record warm December throughout the region, many of the vineyards who planned to make an ice wine this year were left waiting until January before temperatures were cold enough to harvest.
Ice wine is a sweet dessert wine made from grapes that are harvested after freezing on the vine during the winter. These wines are not to be confused with "iced" wines, which are made from grapes that are frozen artificially as opposed to naturally outdoors. However, since December's temperatures averaged close to 40 degrees Fahrenheit, the grapes were left on the vine longer than usual until it reached the 15 to 18 degrees Fahrenheit necessary for the frozen harvest.
Brian Barry, assistant winemaker at Hunt Country Vineyards, said some grapes were left on the vine for ice wine this year, but they had to "cut [their] losses," due to the warm December. Barry noted they brought in some of those grapes for a late harvest wine rather than wait for them to freeze on the vine.
Ice wine grape picking began Tuesday, Jan. 5 for Glenora Wine Cellars in Dundee, although concerns with quality have led them to produce a late harvest wine instead of an ice wine. President and CEO Gene Pierce said the temperatures dropped, but then warmed up fast.
Pierce claimed ice wine harvest is mostly dependent on the condition of the fruit that is waiting to be harvested.
"If the fruit had little to no disease pressure (molds/mildew) at the end of the growing season, in most cases, it is still in relatively good condition," Pierce said. He added Glenora has harvested ice wine grapes as early as Nov. 30 and as late as Jan. 4 prior to this year's harvest.
Heron Hill Winery was able to produce an ice wine this year, but they had to wait until longer than usual before temperatures were cold enough to bring the produce in for pressing. Marketing and Public Relations Manager Erin Rafalowski said they conducted their harvest Tuesday, Jan. 5, at 5:30 a.m. when the temperature finally dipped below the necessary 17 degrees.
"It was kind of a wait and see situation this winter," Rafalowski said.
The nine person crew brought in some 700 pounds of Riesling grapes to be pressed into this year's ice wine. Rafalowski noted this is a smaller harvest than usual, but added this is because the vineyard managers chose to harvest more Riesling grapes during the fall season. She said these grapes were netted and designated for ice wine at their vineyard site on the west side of Canandaigua Lake. The netting is to protect the grapes from predators as they sit on the vines for an extended period of time.
Rafalowski noted the winemaker at Heron Hill is very happy with the quality of this year's harvest, adding the wine from these grapes will probably be available in a year's time. She estimated the grapes will produce between 30 and 40 gallons of wine, which will ultimately amount to 325 to 350 bottles.
Some Schuyler County wineries did not even plan on producing an ice wine this year. Castel Grisch was among those who did not produce an ice wine this season, along with Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards in Hector. Hazlitt Winemaker Michael Reidy said they made the decision back in May of 2015 to not produce an ice wine. He added this decision was based on past production levels. However, he noted in the past they have still been able to produce a batch of ice wine even with a warmer December.
"From personal experience I can say that we have had very mild December a few years back and we still produced a 90 point ice wine," Reidy said. "All you need is a couple of really cold days in a row. We have harvested ice wine grapes as late as February."