Growing grapes to make wine is not a job for anyone who values certainty. The weather, vine diseases and pests can all intervene and make the difference between a glorious success and a total loss. And, with the weather, especially, there’s not much you can do to influence things.
Spring frosts will damage or destroy tiny vine shoots, rain during the flowering period (early summer) will interfere with pollination and cool or wet summers will restrict ripening. Rain during the autumn harvest can introduce rot or dilute the juice. And, hail at any time can destroy an entire crop in minutes.
But, even if the weather behaves as you would like, a number of vineyard diseases can be a nuisance – albeit most are treatable – and lovely sweet, ripe grapes are a great attraction to birds and often mammals, too.
So, not surprisingly, there are often big celebrations when the harvest is safely gathered in. For most, that will be by late autumn – unless you’re trying to make Ice Wine (“Eiswein” in Germany and Austria). For this, you need to leave your grapes on the vine (and untouched by pests) until late November or even December when the temperatures reach -8˚C (18˚F) – cold enough to turn the water content of the grape pulp into ice. Then, pickers go out into the vineyard and rush the grapes back to the winery press before they thaw. The press releases the sugar in the berries but leaves the water content behind as ice pellets. In this way, the sugar is greatly concentrated and wonderful, sweet wines result.
Given the process and the risks involved, you won’t be surprised to hear that Ice Wine is quite rare and incredibly expensive (expect to pay £30 – £40 a half bottle retail, rather more in restaurants). Apart from Germany and Austria, some of the best comes from Canada. A local Bristol restaurant, Adelina Yard, had an example on their list when we visited with some good friends recently and, of course, we couldn’t resist.
Stratus’s Ice Wine from Niagara on the Lake in Canada is made from Riesling – probably the best variety for the style giving a wonderful balancing acidity to the surprisingly delicate, but intense sweetness of the wine.
A real delight and a triumph for the growers.