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Ice Wine Becomes Much More Available in Today’s World of Cold Climate Grapes

Frosty Winery

Germany and Canada are the top two producers of ice wine in the world today.  Now, however, there are several more entries into this exciting area of wine excellence.  Austria, Switzerland and the United States are coming along nicely in ice wine production, especially in the Midwest.  The Finger Lakes region has been producing notable volumes of ice wine for a number of years but Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota are now entering the market based solely on the new grape varietals released by the University of Minnesota.  These States struggled to grow any worthy grapes in years past, but now there are a number of suitable varietals to choose from.  Traditional ice wine regions sometimes struggle with winters that are too warm, never reaching the 17 degrees needed to harvest, (19 degrees in Germany).  Wisconsin and Minnesota never have that problem.  They can even get to those temperatures in September in a particularly cold year.

But what is so special about ice wine? 

Ice wine is made from grapes that are left on the vine long after all other grapes are harvested.  These grapes dry and shrivel into raisins.  This would in itself concentrate the juice, however, these grapes are left until they freeze, concentrating the juice even more.  They are harvested and pressed while still frozen producing a thick, rich, flavorful syrup that is made into wine and is quite amazing to taste. 

But why is it so expensive?

When made correctly, the grapes will only produce about 100 to 200 gallons of wine per acre.  This is in sharp contrast to table wine grapes which yield about 600 to 800 gallons of wine per acre.  In addition, there is extra time and labor put into these vines because of netting to fight off birds, deer, raccoon and the like. 

How Cold Country Vines & Wines Started with Ice Wine

Jay Stoeger was raised in an area settled by German/Austrian immigrants in the early 1900s.  This type of wine was pretty much invented by those cultures starting out with Beerenauslese and Trokenbeerenauslese which are not ice wines but are definitely in the ball park.  Germany didn’t start producing commercial ice wine until about 1960.  Because of their already established sweet wine market, ice wine didn’t take long to catch on.  When Jay and the crew were half way done picking Frontenac Gris in 2013, he realized that they had too many grapes to fit into their production schedule.  So Jay, made an instant decision and said,  “Stop picking and net the remaining Frontenac Gris grapes.  We are going to make ice wine.”  Not knowing how good it would be or if the grapes would even hang on the vine long enough, (some grapes drop to the ground after they get ripe), Jay took a chance and had the crew net the remaining rows.  As it turns out, Frontenac Gris makes an amazing ice wine and the first batch of 600 bottles sold out in about 6 months.  

J Stoeger

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