Friday, January 25, 2008

Little Frozen Drops - - Ice Wines

Brrr ... it’s cold out there. Yesterday the temp reading in my car said 11' F and for some crazy reason it got me to thinking about ice wines.

Traditionally, Walla Walla Valley vineyards are not known to be famous for producing ice wines. And why is that, you ask? Believe it or not, we cannot rely on traditional freezing temperatures. Ice wines, or German Eisweins, are almost a natural phenomenon and a gamble. A gamble for the vineyard owner to give the grapes a long winter hang time, instead of harvesting in September - October, as a long winter hang time gives opportunity for a sweet dining experience for the birds and a longer hang time could also make the fruit susceptible to botrytis - noble rot. Noble rot works for Sauternes and Trockenbeerenauslese (betcha’ can’t say that three times), but not so good for clean pure ice wines.

In our valley we cannot predict how cold it is going to get. We have no traditions of cool climate like say - - up north in the Okanagan Valley or Niagra. Oh sure, a vineyard owner could get creative and throw those grapes in cold storage, but you really wouldn’t have ice wine. You would have "icebox" wine. And there are government regulations to consider. In Canada, the temperature must be a minimum of 17' F and in Germany, 19' F. And the law says that if those grapes weren’t frozen on the vine, the wine cannot be labeled, "Ice Wine." Yes, you can label it "Ice Box," "Frosty’s Bite," or "I was too busy goofing off and didn't pick my grapes in time," but you cannot label your icy faux nectar, Ice Wine.

And there are good reasons why some ice wines can be a little expensive for a little amount in those little split bottles just to have a little sip. Would you want to leave your warm bed at 3:00 am to go out into 11' F temps and hand pick Riesling grapes? Brrr...

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