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Early (but not earliest) harvest of Niagara icewine grapes begins at several wineries

Niagara icewine

By Rick VanSickle

And, so it began, in the early hours of Thursday, Nov. 22, the first harvest of Niagara icewine grapes began at several wineries.

Niagara-on-the-Lake winery Stratus appears to be first out of the gate for picking icewine grapes in 2018 with crews in the vineyard before midnight on Wednesday (Nov. 21).

Other wineries, including Henry of Pelham, which usually is first to pick icewine, joined the fray when temperatures plummeted to -9 C (-8 C is required by VQA) in the wee hours of Thursday.

Niagara College and Glen Elgin also picked icewine grapes and probably more wineries did as well.

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At Stratus, a professional crew picked before midnight and then students were bused in from George Brown College to begin picking between 12:30 a.m. and 2 a.m.

After a chilly pick in the vineyard, hot chocolate, pizza and donuts were served back in the winery, then it was back on the bus to Toronto. It wasn’t the earliest icewine harvest for Stratus. The winemaking team picked frozen grapes on Nov. 14, 2013.

According to VQA Ontario, the earliest harvest (since 2007) that was officially recorded was Nov. 19, 2014. But it was close! In 2013, the first Icewine was harvested just a few days later, on Nov. 23.

All Stratus photos above were taken from the frozen fingers of Elena Galey-Pride, Winestains.

It was also an early morning for students at Niagara College. By 4 a.m. today, they were out in the vineyard picking icewine grapes at the Niagara College Teaching Winery.

It was the earliest the college has picked in its history thanks to the snap cold spell this week in Niagara.

At Henry of Pelahm, it was the earliest icewine harvest in the family winery’s 30-year history, with harvest officially starting at 5 a.m. today when temperatures dropped below -8 C, the audited temperature for VQA rules.

Riesling was the first of the icewine grapes to be harvested and will be followed by Cabernet Franc and Vidal grapes.

“The sudden and unusual cold snap this week has allowed us to start picking this year’s Icewine crop,” said Matthew Speck, Co-Owner and Viticulturist, Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery. “This is the earliest harvest ever and follows on the heels of a very early wine harvest this fall. With the incredibly warm growing season of 2018, we expect the icewine grapes to be very ripe, making powerful icewine with almost tropical fruit over tones. It is beneficial to be able to start picking early this year, as the grapes are more advanced in ripeness than what is typical. This will help maintain freshness, a very desireable characteristic in Icewine.”

Said winemaker Lawrence Buhler: “Coming through a great summer season and an exceptionally warm September, the flavour of our fruit, across all varieties, has developed concentrated intensity and layers of complexity. With these factors and ideal temperatures on the horizon, we are set for another fantastic Icewine harvest!”