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Icewine harvest begins in Niagara

Canada’s icewine harvest began on 7 December in Niagara, as temperatures dipped below -8C (17.6F) and grapes froze on the vine.

Winemakers across Ontario are optimistic about the vintage, with Henry of Pelham, Inniskillin and Peller Estates among the wineries to start harvesting.

‘We’re seeing excellent sugar levels in our Riesling, which were the first grapes to come in,’ said Paul Speck of Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery.

‘And that sweetness is balanced with great acidity and clean citrus and peach flavours.’

Inniskillin winemaker Bruce Nicholson told decanter.com that he has started picking Chardonnay.

‘I think icewine is best when the grapes freeze and thaw a few times on the vine,’ he said.

‘There’s always a risk of crop loss with waiting, but there’s still time. Last year, we harvested on 2 January and the 2006 vintage was picked mid-January.’

Although temperatures are highly variable from year to year and wineries insist global warming isn’t a concern, climate experts agree the window of opportunity to harvest Ontario icewine grapes is gradually closing.

‘There is slow decline in the number of days that fall below -8C (17.6F), the necessary temperature for picking icewine grapes,’ said Dr. Tony Shaw of Brock University in St Catharines, who studies climate trends in Ontario’s wine regions.

‘Although the industry has not been adversely affected yet, change will continue very gradually.’

Temperatures are predicted to drop again around 12 December, presenting the next opportunity to harvest fruit for 2008 icewine. The first of the 2008 vintage will be available in early summer.

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Written by Carolyn Evans-Hammond

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