Location: Whitby, Ontario, Canada

Born in Malta but in Canada since age 5. Has written three books and presently does several columns about wine and food for various magazines.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Frosty Icewine Harvest At Inniskillin Winery Done Early In The Morning

The Call
Tuesday, January third, was a regular day as I worked on an assignment for "This Week", one of Metroland's (TorStar) local newspaper/magazines. The call came just as I was completing the rough draft of the article.
"Chuck? Debi Pratt! Just wanted to tell you that Bruce (Nicholson) has decided to do the Icewine harvest tonight as it is expected to go down to minus thirteen and he likes the grapes well frozen!"
Deborah Pratt is the Media Relations Manager/Director for Inniskillin Wines and had promised to contact me in relation to their Ice wine harvest as soon as the word came from the Chief Winemaker, Bruce Nicholson.
Picking Icewine grapes is one of those things that can be "iffy" when the temperatures fluctuate as much as they had been the previous days. Daytime "highs" close to the +10 degrees Celsius degree mark were not conducive to picking grapes that were especially left on the vines to be picked at a temperature of at least -8 degrees Celsius----preferably for at least three consecutive days. We had a couple of quite cold days and that evening the temperature was supposed to plummet to at least -13 degrees or colder. To make sure, they were going to pick at the ungodly hour of One AM! Would we like to come?
Since the whole purpose of our visit was to film the picking of the grapes, that time in the morning would not be suitable for getting good visuals (thank God!) and since the romanticism
of Icewine picking by mechanical harvester did not do the trick for me, I opted to choose a much more hospitable (and much more visual) time of getting there by seven thirty AM. Even so we had to leave by five AM to arrive in time to start filming.
Cold Filming
Roy and I were off dark and early and managed to get there on time with about ten minutes to spare. The winery was basically deserted with the exception of the harvest crew which were bringing over containers filled with frozen Vidal grapes freshly brought from the Montague and Woerthle vineyards (both vineyards are part of the newer Four Mile Creek Sub-Appellation) over to the destemmer crusher which ironically did not need to destem the grapes since the mechanical harvesters were not only quick in their picking of the grapes but also left most of the stems on the vines while the berries were shaken into the containers.
Debi stated that "Bruce actually waited until he felt the weather was at its coldest and that the grapes were all frozen." At -11 and -13 I guess they would be.
The berries went from the crusher to cylindrical containers which in turn were taken to pneumatic presses that pressed the grapes----their juice running into a catch basin flowing into storage containers. This was all done outside while the temperature was still -7 degrees.
Mechanical Harvesters
The romantic notion of freezing one's hands (as well as other very special and sensitive parts of the body) while picking grapes in the dead of night during the equally dead of winter only lasts until that first frost bitten finger tip and/or bit of snow/ice melts one's boot! Then the reality hits and the word "insanity" comes to the fore!
Mechanical Harvesters not only do the work of a multitude of people but in the dark of night and being insensitive to pain or cold, they also do a better job. Looking at the grapes in the containers. the harvesters completed all the vineyards in one night under pretty optimum conditions.
Tasting The Juice
Debi brought over several glasses so we could taste the freshly pressed juice. Bruce commented:
"I am very pleased with these levels of concentration. We have 39 Briks!" (One Brik is equal to one gram of sugar per 100 gram solution and is a measure of sweetness). The juice was indeed very sweet-----almost like a liqueur itself. I was imagining how it would taste as a fully fledged Icewine.
The filming sequences went well and we managed (just barely) to keep out of the way of the forklift trucks transporting the containers back and forth while doing our interviews. we were later escorted by Debi to the staff lounge for a much needed coffee and snacks.
Since it was still morning we took our closeness to Niagara-on-the-Lake to head down to head down to Jackson-Triggs Winery and take have a quick visit with Del Rollo, Stacey Mulholland and Jen Cowan having a delicious breakfast at the Little Red Rooster Restaurant.
We ate and then hightailed it home arriving around one PM!
Inniskillin Icewine
Inniskillin Icewine has long been recognized as one of the World's greatest wines. The original event that put this wine on the world map was in 1991 when the Inniskillin Vidal Icewine won the best of show Platinum Medal in Bordeaux beating out many of the World's iconic sweet wines such as the famed Chateau d'Yquem. The original co-founders Dr. Donald Ziraldo and Dr. Karl Kaiser have now achieved legendary status among Canadian and World wine enthusiasts.
Award winning winemaker Bruce Nicholson is now taking their efforts to new heights.
Dr. Ziraldo has become a Canadian Ambassador of wine as well as a world class consultant.