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On a dark night in the heart of winter, cold pickers were out harvesting marble-like frozen grapes to make a luscious, sweet wine – it was the Icewine harvest.
After last vintage’s second-earliest start on record of November 19 and 20, the majority of the latest harvest in the Okanagan was on January 11 and 12. The first Icewine harvest for the vintage however, happened as most people celebrated the start of 2013 – Red Rooster Winery picked 10 tons of Riesling from 12:00 to 5:00 AM in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day.
Winemaker Karen Gillis and her team picked the Hidden Terrace vineyard in Oliver, at the base of McIntyre Bluff. The vineyard has a high elevation so its a few degrees colder than the rest of the valley floor, allowing them to pick early. Despite their luck with colder temperatures early in the year, they unhappily discovered their press had broken in the midst of the harvest!
Gillis notes, “Icewine is a pretty hard product to press, as it’s completely frozen. The frozen stems and grapes are always hard on the press, and this isn’t the first time this has happened.” The winery is prepared with a spare press for this reason. “I’m just glad we’re done – and I’m happy to ring in the New Year with Icewine! The dedicated crew came together and put aside their plans to make great Icewine,” Gillis says.
The majority of the Icewine harvest continued just a few weeks later from 10:30 PM on January 11, continuing to the early morning hours of January 12. The BC Wine Authority noted that 27 of 31 wineries picked this weekend, collecting approximately 450 tons of frozen grapes. Temperatures during harvest ranged from -9° to -14° Celsius, spread from north to south in the Okanagan Valley.
Summerhill Pyramid Winery in Kelowna picked 6.25 tons of Zweigelt for Icewine at the Summerhill Vineyard and Eidse Brothers Vineyard on Friday night, beginning at 12:00 AM in -11° weather. The grapes were a 42 Brix at pressing – much above the standard of 35 Brix. Unfortunately, the winery was too late for their Chardonnay Icewine grapes. Summerhill’s CEO Ezra Cipes explains, “Deer and birds ate our entire crop of Chardonnay Icewine this year, despite netting the grapes to protect them.” The wildlife also ate about three quarters of the potential harvest of Zweigelt Icewine. The winery has no deer fencing to protect the grapes and a nature preserve on the property – perfect for a family of deer.
While Kelowna’s Tantalus Vineyards netted their grapes to protect against wildlife, they lost most of their Shiraz grapes and some of their Riesling to hungry birds. The winery picked Riesling and Shiraz Icewine on January 12 at 5:30 AM at -11°.
Van Westen Vineyards in Naramata began picking their Icewine at 2:00 AM on January 12. With temperatures at -11°, the inner cluster berries were thoroughly frozen. By 4:00 PM that day, the temperature had warmed to -6° and the team was still pressing frozen grapes. The winery picked about 1.7 tons of Icewine grapes overall.
Little Straw Vineyards Estate Winery in West Kelowna reports they picked Auxerrois and Lemberger grapes between Friday, January 11 and Saturday morning, January 12 while Oliver’s Tinhorn Creek Vineyards picked their Kerner Icewine on the same day in 2012 – January 12.
Eager palates across B.C. can look forward to new Icewine releases in 2013. ■
Kate Crothers is the Communications Coordinator for the BC Wine Institute, which represents 133 winery members and 14 grape growing partners that represents 90% of the province’s total wine production and produce 95% of wine production made from 100% BC grapes.