Just as temperatures dropped to a chilly 10 degrees on the morning of Monday, December 19, workers at CGT bundled up for a winter harvest, hastily picking frozen Riesling grapes for Ice Wine.
Ice Wine is a specialty dessert wine that can only be made from frozen grapes that are left on the vine well past the traditional grape harvest. The grapes cannot be picked until temperatures dip to about 15 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Yes, as winemakers our schedules are entirely dependent upon Mother Nature. These below freezing temperatures cause the water in the grapes to freeze, isolating a rich and sugary concentration of juice (YUM!).
Marking the ninth Ice Wine harvest completed by CGT, the frosty December morning greeted our pickers with a shining sun and blue sky above the vineyard. The deep focus of our team was tangible in the frigid air as we worked up and down ten rows of grapes set aside exclusively for this moment. Members from our tasting room staff, vineyard and winery crew, and office personnel joined together to make the work a bit lighter.
Even Sitka got in on some of the action! A true winery dog is also a team player.
After hand picking, the frozen grapes were lightly pressed for an extended period of time to gently extract this minuscule amount of unfrozen juice. The wine then goes into a slow, cold fermentation in order to preserve the bright fruit flavors and characteristics of the Riesling grape.
“In essence, this vigorous yet rewarding process is much like that of extracting the sweet and juicy flavors from a snow cone.”
Ice Wine production is a risky business for winemakers, given that there is no guarantee that nature will cooperate. From the time CGT winemaker Bernd Croissant set out to leave ten rows of Riesling on the vine after harvest, there were many forces of nature to contend with – including hail, sleet, wind, rain, insects, wildlife, and the potential for rot. True, high-quality Ice Wine can only be made when vineyard and weather conditions are absolutely ideal, and that only happens every four to six years in Northern Michigan.
This fall, when the opportunity presented itself in the vineyard, CGT President Eddie O’Keefe jumped at the opportunity to produce such a rare and regionally expressive wine. “The abundant harvest this year allowed us to leave some grapes on the vine for a potential Ice Wine harvest. In essence, this vigorous and rewarding process is much like that of extracting the sweet and juicy flavors from a snow cone,” he said.
Not only is this a risky business for winemakers, but a costly one as well. Production of this sought-after wine is uniquely labor intensive for a final product that yields 10-15% of a normal grape harvest per cluster.
Perfect for special occasions or paired with decadent desserts, our long-awaited 2016 Ice Wine will be packaged in a 375 ml bottle and will be available for the 2017 holiday season in CGT’s Tasting Room and Online Store.