Not being a wino I haven’t any sovereignty upon the subject of ice wine except what I’ve garnered from an occasional chance encounter. I know it is sweet and exceedingly pleasant, properly considered a dessert wine – though I am pressed to imagine the necessity of wine with dessert much less if there were fruit or Belgium chocolates at hand. I understand it is a rarity (it only comes in microscopic bottles). And it materialises at this time of year which for my purposes makes it an apt metaphor for what is happening in my life. I am also drawn to its celebrity as a paramountly Canadian production.
Ice wine (or icewine; German: Eiswein) is a type of dessert wine produced from grapes that have been frozen while still on the vine. The sugars and other dissolved solids do not freeze, but the water does, allowing for a more concentrated grape juice to develop. The grapes’ must is then pressed from the frozen grapes, resulting in a smaller amount of more concentrated, very sweet wine. With ice wines, the freezing happens before the fermentation, not afterwards. Unlike the grapes from which other dessert wines are made, such as Sauternes, Tokaji, or Trockenbeerenauslese, ice wine grapes should not be affected by Botrytis cinerea or noble rot, at least not to any great degree. Only healthy grapes keep in good shape until the opportunity arises for an ice wine harvest, which in extreme cases can occur after the New Year, on a northern hemisphere calendar. This gives ice wine its characteristic refreshing sweetness balanced by high acidity. When the grapes are free of Botrytis, they are said to come in “clean”.
Ice wine production is risky (the frost may not come at all before the grapes rot or are otherwise lost) and requires the availability of a large enough labour force to pick the whole crop within a few hours, at a moment’s notice, on the first morning that is cold enough. This results in relatively small amounts of ice wine being made worldwide, making ice wines generally expensive.
Ice wine production is limited to that minority of the world’s wine-growing regions where the necessary cold temperatures can be expected to be reached with some regularity. Canada is the world’s largest producer of ice wines, producing a greater volume of ice wine than all other countries combined, followed by Germany.
Traveling along the rural concessions today I was overwhelmed by the magnetism of the wintry hues and the sparsity of growth upon the erstwhile corn and hay fields reduced to stubble and frozen channels of earth. It marks the end of summer and the beginning of winter. Given the marvellous weather we’ve had lately it is as though we’ve eclipsed autumn and jumped from one polar fascination to another.
There is however nothing precipitous about the alteration of our future. It is as fluid as the dawn; and, as intoxicating as the seasonal wine. The sequence is invigorating. The energy that springs from these ingredients ornaments my appetite for whatever may follow.