January 1st is national Icewine Day, so what better way to celebrate than learning and drinking some fabulous Niagara Icewine. Niagara is known for its Icewine. From the freezing depths of our winters comes this legendary dessert wine that is recognized around the globe. Nowhere does more of it, or better than Niagara does.
The first Icewine (Eiswine) is thought to be produced in Germany in the 1700s when freezing temperatures swept through the vineyard before the winemaker was able to harvest. The winemaker was persistent and insisted on pressing the grapes, and thus, Icewine, as we know it today, was born. While Germany and Austria still produce a small amount of Eiswine, the climates in Europe are much less forgiving when it comes to producing Icewine.
German immigrants coming over to Canada continued the tradition of producing Icewine, which began in both British Columbia and Ontario in the 1970s. There is major speculation on who produced the first Icewine in Canada, with some people insisting it was Inniskillin in Niagara, with others insisting it was Pelee Island in Lake Erie North Shore. Either way, winemakers soon came to the realization that Canada is the perfect place for producing Icewines, with warm summers to fully ripen the grapes, and cold, but not too cold winters to freeze the grapes.
Typcially you'll find Vidal, Cabernet Franc, and Riesling Icewines, while some producers use Gewurztraminer, Cabernet Sauvignon, or even Chardonnay for Icewine. Each is as unique as their table wine counterparts, so it really is worth trying them all.
Production of Icewine
Icewine production begins in the fall, with grapes destined for Icewine being netted to protect from birds and other potential harm, If a grape grower or winery is intending on producing Icewine, they must register the varietal, acreage, and expected tonnage of grapes with VQA Ontario. To harvest grapes destined for Icewine, it must be at least -8C or colder at the time of harvest and processing. Ideally one would be looking for closer to -10C to -12C for around 6-8 hours overnight in order to harvest and process all of the grapes before the day warms up. Most Icewine grapes are hand-harvested, with some larger producers electing to machine harvest.
Icewine grapes will be sent to small hydraulic presses that squeeze the grapes at much higher pressures than presses used for table wine. As the grapes are still frozen, much of the water is left behind as ice, and only a small amount of very concentrated juice is released. The yields of Icewine are roughly 15% of that of table wine per acre, both due to hungry birds and other critters, as well as the dehydration of the grapes. The juice will undergo a long and slow fermentation, typically leaving low alcohol and high levels of sugar in the finished wine.
Icewine is what put Canada on the world map for producing wine, and is something that we are recognized for all over the world. Icewine is not just for desserts though, savory, hearty, and spicy foods pair exceptionally well with Icewine as well.