In most wine-growing regions November marks the end of the harvest. Wineries then move to the cellar and start turning the juice into wine. In Ontario, some wineries turn to the thermometer at this time. They wait for the temperature to hit -8 C so they can begin the second harvest.
The conditions under which Icewine is made are strictly regulated and monitored by the Vinters Quality Alliance, the governing body who oversees wineries in the province. The temperature must be at or lower than -8 C. If it rises above that temperature, the harvest has to stop until it lowers again. The grapes must be left hanging on the vine to freeze. The conditions under which the fruit is processed must also remain below -8. Most wineries want to get their fruit off the vine as soon as possible, so it’s not unusual to see the Icewine harvest taking place overnight.
If all of these conditions aren’t enough to explain the cost associated with a bottle of Icewine, here’s the kicker. The same amount of fruit it takes to make three-and-a-half bottles of table wine will give you enough juice to make one 375 ml bottle of Icewine. A lot goes into a bottle of Icewine, and the people who make it are kinda crazy.
Most of the Icewine made in the province comes from Niagara. But if you head to Prince Edward County you’ll find Exultet, a small and acclaimed winery that has re-defined what lengths wineries will go to in Ontario.
Prince Edward County is colder than Niagara, and vines need to buried in soil to survive the winter. It takes temperatures below -18 C to wreak havoc on a dormant vine, and that’s not unusual in this corner of the province.
On December 15, Gerry and Lia harvested their Vidal grapes to make the only Prince Edward County Icewine made from the 2016 harvest. Not only do they have to meet the strict requirements for VQA, they also have to leave the vines exposed to the elements so they can harvest their fruit. They began harvest at 7:30 a.m. and worked until 4:00 p.m. in -10 C weather. The windchill made the temperature feel even colder at -21 C.
When I visited the winery this summer, I tasted the 2013 vintage of their Icewine, Dolce Ghiacciato. Chemically speaking, most Icewines have more sugar per volume than a can of Coca-Cola. That being said, you shouldn’t be drinking Icewine like a can of Coke. When you start dealing with wines that have some sweetness to them, it’s important to balance it with acidity. Because the County has a shorter growing season than Niagara, the Dolce Ghiacciato has retained some nice acidity to match the sweetness. The key to enjoying Icewine is to pair them with something salty and rich—I’m a big fan of cheddar, Parmesan, or blue cheese.
Unfortunately this wine isn’t available at the LCBO, but it’s very much worth the drive to check out this gem of a winery. Go taste the Icewine, but don’t forget they make excellent Chardonnay as well.