Now is the time for ice wine
FINGER LAKES—In the early hours of a wintry morning last week some area winery workers picked grapes for one of the hardest wines to produce: ice wine.
To be called ice wine, the grapes have to be picked frozen and with specific sugar content levels, which are regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Grapes are picked and pressed at temperatures no higher than 17 degrees.
When wineries picked grapes the end of last week, growers reported temperatures below 17 degrees. Heron Hill Winery in Hammondsport harvested on Thursday, Jan. 3. Winemaker Bernard Cannac said temperatures reached as low as 10 degrees. He added they pressed about 60 gallons of Riesling grapes.
Heron Hill hasn’t harvested ice wine grapes since December of 2010. Cannac added the weather last year made it impossible to keep the grapes under the right conditions. He explained the fruit kept maturing.
“It always fluctuates. That’s why it’s so expensive,” said Cannac.
This year’s harvest is also up from the last one at Heron Hill. Cannac explained in 2010 the winery only pressed 30 gallons of ice wine as opposed to the 60 gallons this past week.
Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards Winemaker Michael Reidy said temperatures reached 12 degrees. He explained the harvest started at 4 a.m. and the grapes were in the wine press by 6 a.m., all on Thursday, Jan. 3. Reidy added the cloudy weather kept the grapes from warming up during the process.
Reidy explained the date to pick ice wine can vary from late December to early February, and does not always happen every year. He said since 2008, Hazlitt has made ice wine every year except 2009.
Ice wine is unique in its yield. Reidy explained ice wine grapes usually produce about half as much as regular grapes, but with nearly twice the sugar levels. He added that this year Hazlitt pressed about 100 gallons of ice wine. This is down over last year’s harvest where Reidy said the winery produced 150 gallons. Last year he said the grapes were larger because of all the rain.
He explained the most recent harvest experienced a drier growing season, resulting in smaller sizes. However, Reidy added the dry weather made the grapes’ sugar content more concentrated.
Not every winery is able to make ice wine though. Jesse Bean, assistant winemaker at Fulkerson Winery on Seneca Lake, explained they haven’t produced an ice wine since 2008. However, the winery did grow and freeze grapes for an “iced wine.” The difference, as stated by federal regulations, is that these grapes did not freeze on the vines so they cannot be called an “ice wine.”
Bean explained the weather usually doesn’t cooperate and grapes can fall off the vines or become rotten. He added Fulkerson doesn’t have the capabilities to put up nets to keep grapes on the vines.
“We find it very rare to do it the natural way,” said Bean.
Hunt Country Vineyards is still selling ice wine from 2007. Marketing Manager Jim Alsina explained Hunt Country made the decision not to make ice wine this year because they already had a previous vintage and because of the risks.
“You always take a chance,” said Alisna. “We didn’t want to produce more when we have some already.”