The winter months are a big part of what makes this place so special. It’s not for the faint of heart, but those who stay through the frigid winds and grey skies are rewarded with a magical world reminiscent of a snow globe. Even better, those cold months allow us to make one of the most special wines we offer – Riesling Ice Wine.
Because ice wine is so unique, we get a lot of questions about it. So we’re here to answer once and for all – what is ice wine?
Harvesting Ice Wine Grapes
A few times a decade, when the weather aligns perfectly, Riesling grapes are left on the vine far past their typical October harvest date – awaiting the arrival of that northern Michigan chill we’re so familiar with. When the temperature dips below 20 degrees and those grapes are solidly frozen, it’s time to harvest for our Ice Wine.
Here at Chateau Grand Traverse, our whole staff comes together to hand-pick the frozen grapes for our ice wine. To be truly considered ice wine, the grapes also must be crushed at a temperature below 20 degrees, so the window of time from harvest to crushing is narrow and it’s all hands on deck. Harvesting ice wine grapes together on a frigid morning is the perfect way to bring our community together in the vineyard and it’s a big part of what makes this wine so special.
Pressing the Grapes
When grapes are left on the vine to freeze, the water inside the grapes freezes, but not the sugars that create the flavor. Pressing ice wine grapes requires an extra level of care because we want to press them while they’re still frozen solid, keeping that water – in the form of ice – contained in the press and extracting only the concentrated syrupy juice.
This practice of pressing still-frozen grapes means we only extract 10-20% of the juice the grapes would produce if pressed while fresh, so ice wine yields are always low.
Making Ice Wine
Once the grapes are pressed, the fermentation process begins. Ice wine requires a particularly long fermentation due to the high sugar content of the juice. While most wines take a few days or a week to ferment, ice wine requires 3-6-months. In addition, special attention must be paid to the yeasts that are used to promote fermentation in ice wines.
Selecting & Serving Ice Wines
While a finicky process from start to finish, ice wines are well worth the effort! The sweetness of the wine is matched with a perfect balance in acidity, creating a well-balanced wine that is sweet without having a syrupy texture.
Many wineries make a variation on ice wine in which they use a freezer to freeze the grapes after harvest. While it’s easy to freeze grapes inside, this process doesn’t create nearly the depth of flavor found in a traditionally made ice wine. Thankfully, regulations require any wine labeled “Ice Wine” to be made the traditional way, so steer clear of wines labeled “Iced Wine” or “Frozen Riesling.”
The sweetness and intensity of ice wine makes it ideal to serve alongside dessert. A rich dessert that is high in fat such as cheesecake or ice cream makes a great pairing. For something a little more delicate, try serving our ice wine after dinner with soft cheeses.