Dwayne Perreault − Here in Europe, we are experiencing one of the coldest winters in recent memory. All this snow and ice makes me think... of icewine! 2009, by all accounts, should be an excellent year for this highly prized (and priced) nectar.
I assume you know what icewine is, and how it’s made. If not, I wrote an article (in Dutch) which you can read here. I also wrote a piece for this blog on a Canadian sparkling icewine.
It’s not easy to make icewine. More than anything, you are dependant on the weather. You need to have healthy grapes which are untouched by botrytis, and you may only harvest when the temperature reaches -7° C. At this point, the water in the grapes is frozen, which results in a much lower yield but a higher concentration of sugars, acidity and extract. Rot and predation by birds and animals are major problems, and vinification is difficult and lengthy, This helps to explain why real icewines are never cheap, but a good one is worth every cent. I sell the delicious 1999 Eiswein by Weingut Debus in the Rheinhessen for €35 per half bottle.
Although icewines are apparently made all over the globe including Hong Kong and Australia, there are four major producing countries: Canada, Germany, Austria and the United States. These are the major wine producing countries that are cold enough to produce icewine on a regular or semi-regular basis. This may change if global warming continues. I’ve always wondered what an Icelandic icewine from volcanic soil would taste like!
But back to 2009: I contacted various producers around the world to ask how the harvest went. I was specifically interested in the recorded must weights, but it is important to note that the minimum must weight legally required to make icewine varies from country to country (it is much higher in Canada than in Germany or Austria), and this is further complicated by the fact that different countries use different units of measurement. In Canada, the minimum must weight required to make icewine is 35° Brix. Where necessary, I have converted from Oechsle in Germany or KMW (Klosterneuburger Mostwaage) in Austria to Brix, and from Fahrenheit to Celsius for comparative purposes. Here are the responses I received:
Nicolas Quillé, the winemaker at Randall Grahm’s Pacific Rim winery in Washington, had this to say: “We had a great two weeks of solid cold weather in early December (night time at -13°C and day time at -9°C). We've handpicked on December 10th in one pass, 6.5 tons total yielding 500 gallons at about 36 Brix. It was -8°C that morning and the grapes were frozen solid. It was so cold that our tank froze as well! Should be a very very solid ice wine from our Selenium Vineyard in the Yakima Valley.”
In Canada, things were going less well for the famous producer Inniskillin. PR Manager Deborah Pratt reported on January 5th that while some Canadian wineries like Strewn and Henry of Pelham had already harvested, Inniskillin was still waiting at both its Okanagan Valley and Niagara Peninsula vineyards.
This was followed up by a second message on January 14th where she reported the following: “We did not pick at either place yet. While we were poised to proceed last, frigid, weekend the mechanical harvester broke down, temperatures rose and they are still on the vine. Again, this years volume is very limited. The longer we wait the more the birds eat even with bangers and the netting.”
In Germany, a funny thing happened this past year: there were two eiswein harvests. First, the grapes from 2008 were harvested in January 2009 and according to this press release the 2009 harvest took place from December 17th to 19th with temperatures ranging from -7° to -15°C. Must weights varied from 140 Oechsle (about 32.5 Brix) to an astonishing 200° Oechsle (45 Brix!) measured by Weingut Jörg Trossen in Traben-Trarbach.
Nicolas Quillé says “I can believe the 45 Brix number from the German Winery. The yield must have been low. When we press our icewine (the real one, not the Vin De Glaciere), we start at 55 Brix of the press and go down from there. We get only a few gallons per ton of the uber sticky stuff.”
In Austria, Susanne Staggl from the Austrian Wine Marketing Board wrote “For Lower Austria: about 75 vintners made an icewine this year, with about 20-25.000 kg - so these are around 12.000 litres of icewine. The harvest-date was around 19th/20th of December. The must weight was about 27-35 KMW (roughly 31 to 39 Brix). The most "popular" grapes this year were Grüner Veltliner, Sämling 88 (Scheurebe). This icewine-vintage is very good for vintners, because the last one was 3 years ago.
And here (is) the information for Burgenland: 80-90 vintners made icewine, the harvest-date was also 19th and 20th of December, the must-weight was around 30 till 34º KMW (about 34 to 38º Brix), the grapes were very healthy. in the region around Eisenstadt (which is the regional capital of Burgenland), the most popular Grapes for ice wine were Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt. In the Seewinkel-Region (it's the right shore of lake Neusiedl), they harvested both - red and whites.”
On both continents, now begins the long process of vinification. But generally speaking, 2009 is looking to be a great year for icewine.