Although some may hate the winter weather and the cold temperatures, it is the season of frozen grapes and ice wine. While some wineries make a true ice wine using frozen grapes, others are making a variety of late harvest wines.
21 Brix Owner Kris Kane explained the winery produces a true ice wine, Vidal Ice Wine. Grapes are left on the vines beyond the fall harvest to freeze. Nets are placed, once the leaves have fallen, on the grapes for protection from wind and birds.
A worker at Johnson Estate Winery in Westfield works to harvest grapes for ice wine. The winery offers three types of ice wine, including the first-ever sparkling ice wine made in America.
"Once the nets are on, we just wait until the weather drops down, for us we like to get below 19 degrees. It's not just a touch of 19 degrees; it needs to be sustained at 19 degrees for eight to 10 hours," Kane explained.
Once the grapes have frozen, they are machine harvested for a "time sensitive" process. Grapes are transported an old fashioned style basket press with a hydraulic press, where a lot of water is left behind. When making table wine, grapes yield around 190 gallons; that same quantity will yield between 15-30 gallons when frozen, Kane said.
Ice wine is much thicker in consistency and sweeter than table wine. Table wine is often around 21 or 22 brix, a measurement of sugar content of the grapes. According to Kane, ice wine is between 38 and 42 brix. Since the wine is sweet, it is not consumed like a table wine.
"It's like cheesecake. You're not eating cheesecake at every meal and you occasionally go out and eat a slice; you're not going to eat the whole pie. That's kind of what like ice wine is," Kane said.
Merritt Winery also makes an ice wine but uses artificially frozen grapes, according to Owner Bill Merritt. The grapes are frozen in a freezer instead of on the vine to make Bella Ice. The winery would have made a true ice wine this year but the grapes were not ripe enough, he said. The grapes only had 10 percent sugar when around 40 percent is needed. The flavor of Bella Ice, as Merritt explained, is Bella Rosa on steroids.
Another local winery, Johnson Estate Winery makes three different types of ice wine. The Vidal Ice Wine, a white wine, have flavor traces of honey or vanilla. The red wine, Chambourcin Ice Wine, has traces of berry and dry raisin flavors, Jennifer Johnson, owner said.
"The secret to a really successful ice wine is that there is a nice balance between sweetness and acidity. If it doesn't have enough acidity, it will taste more like maple syrup. It won't have a balance of sweet and tart," Johnson said.
Johnson Estate Winery is also the first American winery to make a Sparkling Rose Ice Wine. The wine is made from 90 percent vidal and 10 percent chambourcin grapes and uses the traditional Champagne Method by inserting yeast directly into the bottle to create bubbles.
LATE HARVEST WINE
A late harvest wine uses grapes picked after the fall harvest, similar to ice wine, and grapes may be partially frozen. Liberty Vineyards & Winery produces a late harvest catawba blend, Cool Cat. The wine is made with partially frozen grapes. By leaving the grapes on the vine, they dehydrate and are able to develop more sugars and flavors. Late harvest wines are typically not as thick as ice wines.
"The late harvest is the same concept (as ice wine) except there's a little more water content left in the grapes so it's not so syrupy," said Beth Margolis, marketing manager for Liberty Vineyards & Winery. "It's still sweet and has all those flavors. It's really nice after dinner with dessert or as dessert."
Cool Cat can be ordered from the tasting room Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wines can be ordered online, by phone and can be mailed to different states. More information is available on the winery's website.
Merritt Winery also makes a late harvest wine, the Late Harvest Delaware. The grapes used to produce the Delaware wine are not partially frozen, however. Merritt said the grapes are left on the vine past the regular harvest and are picked near the end of October.
Due to colder temperatures early in the season, Johnson said the winery was able to harvest grapes early this year. She said in the past they have harvested into January.
"This year it was on the early side and it was in the middle of December," she said.
While the cold weather guarantees frozen grapes, Kane said only a few cold spells, between 15 and 19 degrees, are needed. Too much cold can harm the fruit and the longer the grapes are out on the vines, they can deteriorate.
"Sometimes if you go too long, it's not even worth making ice wine because the quality of the fruit is not good enough to make ice wine. That's the risk we take," said Kane. "You can get too cold. What happens is you get very little juice, it's too sweet and you won't be able to make a balanced wine. It's very tight specific parameters that we want to harvest in."
Since Liberty Vineyards & Winery does not use frozen grapes, the weather has not really impacted harvest. The winery picks them when they are partially frozen, but being too cold can damage vines.
"For the ice wines, definitely it being this cold is not necessarily good for the grape vines," Margolis said.
In order to ensure grapes survive the cold, grapes are chosen for their skin thickness. Tough-skinned grapes that can withstand the elements past the fall harvest, such as cabernet, noir and vidal, are popular varieties of ice wine.
The Vidal Ice Wine from 21 Brix, which is aged one year in tanks, can be purchased in their tasting room daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. or online from their website. Merritt Winery and Johnson Estate Winery can be purchased online from their respective websites or by visiting the tasting room of each winery. Ice wines and late harvest wines are also available in many local liquor stores.