The 2003 Icewine harvest started in Ontario’s three wine regions yesterday.

The current cold spell with temperatures dipping to minus 15 Celsius provided ideal conditions to bring in the crop. Under quality regulations, harvesting for Icewine cannot begin until the temperature drops to a minimum minus 8 degrees Celsius to ensure the grape berries freeze solid and remain so during pressing.

Ontario is the world’s largest producer of Icewine and the only wine-producing region cold enough to make what vintners call the ‘gift of winter’ consistently every year.

Matt Speck, vineyard manager for Henry of Pelham Winery in St. Catharines, Ontario, says, ‘The grape size is smaller than normal this year because of the late freeze after a long, cool growing season, but the fruit looks in good condition. The berries are shriveled and the acidity is high which bodes well for the freshness and liveliness of the wine.’

Sixty Ontario wineries currently produce Icewine, last year processing 629,000 litres of Icewine juice from 4,089 tonnes of grapes.

The majority of Ontario Icewines are made from Riesling or the thick-skinned hybrid Vidal, although some produces use Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc or even the red Cabernet Franc. Two companies, Magnotta and Inniskillin, produce a sparkling Icewine.

In order to be labeled as Ontario Icewine the pressed juice must achieve a minimum alcohol level of 35 degrees – otherwise it is declassified as Special Select or Select Late Harvest.

Written by Tony Aspler