The Icewine Festival Cometh

Posted by: samy January 5, 2015 No Comments

And 12 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Icewine

Courtney & Erin at Peller Estates for an Icewine Weekend
Courtney & Erin at Peller Estates for an Icewine Weekend

At the time of this writing Southern Ontario is in the midst of a ferocious cold snap. The kind of bone-chilling, eye-watering, skin-stinging, sub-zero temperatures that prompts weather warnings and sends most of us scurrying for cover under blankets and beside roaring fires.

Most of us.

There are a frozen few – well several hundred, more likely – that have been waiting with eager anticipation for this cold streak. Ontario’s Icewine growers and makers needed this double-digit freezing spell to harvest our most famous wine export. With about 60 wineries around the province making 900-thousand litres of the prized nectar every year, this week’s inhospitable climate has received a warm welcome from the wine industry.

And this severe weather couldn’t have come at a better time, as Friday kicks off the start of the Icewine Festival in Niagara. Running a cool three weeks, the annual event will launch with the swanky Xerox Icewine Gala, followed by a weekend street party in Jordan, that moves Niagara on the Lake the weekend after. Wineries are also opening their doors to Discovery Pass holders – visitors anxious to get their hands on some Icewine and try it expertly paired to specialty food offerings.

Related: Our Photo Album of Icewine Festival 

While this festival is the perfect opportunity to rub elbows with wine makers and brush up on your Icewine knowledge, here are some cool facts to Icewine that will have people thinking you’re a pro.

  • The production of Icewine began in Germany centuries ago (where it’s known as Eiswein) but Ontario has arguably become a world leader in its production
  • Ontario’s climate of hot summers and brisk winters is perfect for growing Icewine grapes – not even Germany can make Icewine every year
  • Ontario was thrust upon the world wine stage in 1991 when Inniskillin won the coveted Grand Prix d’Honneur at Vinexpo in Bordeaux
  • It’s highly regulated in this country; grape growers and winemakers must be registered with VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance)
  • “Icewine” – capitalized and spelled as one word – is trademarked in Canada
  • Icewine is predominately made from Riesling, Vidal or Cabernet Franc — though other grapes are gaining popularity
  • Grapes must be naturally frozen and cannot be picked until at least -8 degrees Celsius, though many winemakers prefer temperatures between -10℃ & -12℃ degrees are preferable
  • Typically this means grapes are left on the vines until at least December and usually allowed to thaw and refreeze several times to allow for more concentration of flavour and complexity in the wine
  • Fermented Icewine must have a minimum of 35 Brix (sugar level in the grapes)
  • By comparison, table wines are typically around 18 – 25 Brix depending on the varietal
  • Grapes are crushed while still frozen: the water within the grapes remains in ice crystals while a few tiny drops of sweet juice is squeezed from each raisined grape
  • Grapes for Icewine will only produce about 15% of grapes for table wine

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