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Bring on the frigid temperatures! Ontario’s icewine harvest in full swing, just in time for the annual festival of all things frozen

unnamedThe freezing cold temperatures that have us bundled up early in this new year is a blessing for Niagara wineries who are busy in the vineyards picking rock-hard icewine grapes.

Plunging temperatures have created ideal conditions to begin picking grapes for this season’s icewine harvest. Growers are out in full force this week picking the grapes “naturally frozen” on the vine and pressing the juice that produces Ontario’s and Canada’s premier icewine.

“Grape growers in Ontario (began) harvesting icewine grapes this week as temperatures have dropped well below the required minus -8 C. Approximately 3,600 tonnes have been left hanging in the province for icewine, which can produce between 540,000 and 576,000 litres of Icewine,” said Bill George, chair of the Grape Growers of Ontario. 

Grapes left for icewine are netted in the fall when the grapes are ripening to protect them until winter. Before harvest, the grapes dehydrate which concentrates the juices, increases the natural sugar in the fruit and develops the complex flavours of icewine. The temperature must be a sustained -8 C or lower before the grapes can be harvested and then they are pressed immediately while still frozen.

WINE COUNTRY ONTARIO - Icewine Festival transforms Wine CountryAt Niagara’s Henry of Pelham winery, the icewine harvest officially started Monday morning. Picking began as temperatures dropped below -8 C, the audited temperature for VQA rules.

Riesling icewine grapes are picked first as the skins are very thin and the grapes need to come off the vine as soon as possible. Nets are used to cover the grapes and protect them from the birds, including turkeys, and deer. The extremely sweet and ripe grapes are the only food source available.

“It is nice to finally be able to pick during the day. The quality of the fruit is fantastic. High sugars mean the acidity is good and the flavours of peach and citrus are suggestive of a wine which will be very elegant,” said winemaker Sandrine Bourcier.

Wine grapes are 85% water. When they naturally freeze on the vine the sweet nectar is pressed to produce this rare and delicious wine. 

Henry of Pelham’s icewine are sold throughout Canada and around the world. “Our largest market outside of Canada is China followed by Japan and the U.S.,” said the winery’s president Paul Speck. This vintage will be available in wine stores worldwide in the fall of 2015.

At Inniskillin Estate Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake, the 31st harvest of icewine grapes began under a full moon on Monday.

-1Gerald Klose, director of viticulture, and Bruce Nicholson, winemaker, closely monitored the temperature drop and realized they reached ideal temperatures of -12 C to -13 C  which then began the harvest of Riesling and Vidal grapes at the Pratt Vineyard. Formerly the Woerthle Vineyard, The Pratt Vineyard (Line 4 at Concession 6, Niagara-on-the-Lake), was named in honour of Inniskillin’s long time employee Debi Pratt who retired in July 2014.

Harvesting is continuing into Tuesday and yield thus far has been better than expected, delivering great looking and wonderful tasting fruit.

“The consistent frigid weather allowed us to reach our optimum harvesting temperature of -10 C which enables us to achieve our high quality standards with the desired sugar levels and acidities,” said Nicholson.

WINE COUNTRY ONTARIO - Icewine Festival transforms Wine CountryThe icewine harvest couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. The Niagara Icewine Festival begins this weekend and continues over three weeks in January.

The Icewine Festival is a unique celebration, where consumers have the opportunity to discover and enjoy Canada’s most distinctive and delicious wines. During this special time, wine enthusiasts, cocktail fans, foodies and music lovers can all choose from a collection of icewine related events reflecting the authentic and local flavours of Ontario.

The celebrations kick off on Friday with the annual Xerox Icewine Gala at the Fallsview Casino Resort. Also featured throughout January are street festivals in both Twenty Valley’s Jordan Village from Jan. 9-11and Niagara-on-the-Lake from Jan. 16-18.

New this year, Icewine Festival programming includes events in Niagara Falls. Visitors will have the chance to sip on icewine, try icewine inspired creations, check out ice sculptures, listen to live music, and sit cosy by a fire all while embracing what icewine means to Canadians.

For a full list of events, go to Niagara Icewine Festival.