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Weather nixes ice wine production

FINGER LAKES—Many area wineries who have made ice wines in the past won’t be including that variety among 2009’s vintages, due to a combination of early frosts, followed by warm December weather.
To start with, only a handful wineries even make ice wine in the area. One reason why is because it has very specific needs in order to be called “ice wine.” If the weather doesn’t cooperate, then the winery won’t make the effort.
“If you don’t get that really early freeze, you have to wrap the grapes in fine netting,” said Sayre Fulkerson, owner and wine maker at Fulkerson Winery. This way the grapes won’t fall to the ground. He said Imagine Moore Winery in Naples did this, and will have a 2009 ice wine vintage.
However, Fulkerson explained he likes to keep the process as natural as possible. He said he prefers not to use netting. And with the weather like it has been this winter, he decided not to do ice wine this year.
“I like to do it the classic, German way,” said Fulkerson.
He said that at Fulkerson Winery, they leave some grapes hanging on the vine after the harvest. Then, the growers have to wait for the “first possible freeze event.” This is another reason if the weather isn’t cooperating, ice wine is not possible. Fulkerson said ice wine grapes need to be picked when it is 17 degrees or colder out, which is usually very early in the morning. However, the weather was warmer during that part of the season for this harvest.
Fulkerson Winery did ice wine among the last vintages, in 2008. Fulkerson said they picked the Cabernet Franc grapes in November, and by sunrise the grapes were in the press becoming pulp.
“If you can’t make it right, don’t make it at all,” said Tim Benedict, wine maker for Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards. He explained that when it looked like a bad winter for ice wine, Hazlitt decided not to pursue it this year. He said the grapes had trouble ripening, because of the rain.
Benedict explained Hazlitt released its first ice wine last year, but that he had experience before with ice wine, having worked for Hunt Country Vineyards.
“It’s a very special thing. I’m OK with not having (an ice wine) every year,” he said.
Benedict explained one of the reasons why is because in making ice wines the yield is less than other wines. He said that last year, Hazlitt got 100 gallons out of three tons of grapes. He said that normally, you can get 160 gallons out of one ton of grapes for regular wines.
Benedict explained the water in ice wine grapes stays solid. So, the frozen grapes create less juice when going through the press.
Art Hunt, owner of Hunt Country Vineyards on Keuka Lake, said he decided not to do ice wine this year because of what people were buying. He said customers were buying less high-end wines, like ice wine. So before the harvest season even started Hunt Country Vineyards knew there would be no 2009 ice wines. He said there was enough ice wine from two years ago to not produce it this winter. Hunt said they have been doing ice wines in the Finger Lakes since 1987.
He added that the weather was not conducive also. Hunt said the frost in October and the Indian Summer weather afterwards was not right for growing ice wine grapes.
Bernard Cannac, Heron Hill wine maker, said the early frost in October was problematic for ice wine grapes. He explained that having warmer weather after that was better for other varieties, but not when you want to grow grapes for ice wine.
Heron Hill still tried to harvest grapes for ice wine though. Cannac said they managed to harvest 40 gallons. However, there will be no 2009 vintage coming from Heron Hill this year either. There was not enough for a lot of ice wine. He explained the Riesling grapes grown for ice wine will be combined with other grapes  to make a semidry Riesling.
“The conditions just weren’t there,” said Cannac.

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