Ice wine coming in early

An early cold snap this week turned into a bonus for area wineries planning to make ice wine

Sal D’Angelo

An early cold snap this week turned into a bonus for area wineries planning to make ice wine and spells good news for B.C. wine enthusiasts.

Rather than having to wait until into the winter for temperatures low enough to bring the grapes to the right level of sugar, vintners were able to begin harvesting in the wee hours of Thursday morning, one of the earliest ice wine harvests on record.

At D’Angelo Estate Winery on the Naramata Bench, owner Sal D’Angelo was out with his crew at 6:30 a.m., collecting grapes for his own ice wine variant, a combination of ice wine and brandy he calls Dolce Vita.

D’Angelo wasn’t alone. Wineries from Kelowna through to Oliver were out taking advantage of the early Arctic outflow, which saw temperatures dip to -12 C and create sugar levels in some lots of up to a very high 45 brix.

This is one of the earliest ice wine harvests in the Okanagan Valley on record; the others were at Kelowna area wineries on Nov. 5, 2003 and Nov. 19, 2011.

But this early ice wine harvest also follows on the heels of an excellent summer growing season, which saw growers in the South Okanagan picking their regular grapes early as well. The combination of an good growing season in the South Okanagan with the blast of sub-zero weather Thursday enabled the grapes to reach the desired aroma and flavour intensity that is so coveted in premium ice wine.

At Jackson-Triggs and Inniskillin Okanagan, near Oliver, crews started picking their Riesling ice wine grapes at 12:45 a.m., working through to 4:45 a.m. and managing to bring in 14 tonnes of the grapes.

“Picking exceptionally early like this is icing on the cake for what has been a stellar year. A hot, dry summer combined with this earlier than normal arctic outflow has given us ice wine grapes in outstanding condition,” said Troy Osborne of Constellation Brands, which owns the two labels. “An added benefit from harvesting ice wine in November is the nice quantity, as we don’t lose nearly as much to wildlife and birds.”

Harvesting in November makes a significant difference in the amount of grapes left on the vine, as growers can lose up to 25 per cent  of the crop for each additional month they have to wait for frigid temperatures to arrive.

Ezra Cipes, CEO of Summerhill Pyramid Winery in Kelowna also extolled the virtues of the combination of seasons.

“The Okanagan Valley is singularly blessed because not only have we had a growing season that produced perfect grapes, but we had the temperatures that froze our grapes on the vine to produce this delicious nectar. It’s perfection in a glass,” he said in a release from the B.C. Wine Institute.

Summerhill started their ice wine harvest on Nov. 20 at 9 p.m. with temperatures ranging as low as -12 C in their four vineyards. The harvest will continue this evening at their Kelowna and Oliver vineyards.

While ice wines harvests can be as late as February, the key is the temperature, which regulations say must be at least -8 C, though producers often wait for -10 C or lower before harvesting.

According to the B.C. Wine Institute, 20 wineries started their ice wine harvests as of Thursday morning and an estimated 446 tonness have been brought in, with more picking expected to continue tonight.

To keep up-to-date on the harvest, follow @winebcdotcom, #BCHarvest2013 and #ice wine on Twitter.