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Wine Making in the Snow

by Liana Bennett

Like many fine things in life, ice wine was discovered by accident.  Due to an unexpected early cold spell in the 1790s, vintners in Germany were forced to either lose their harvest or press frozen grapes.  Luckily, they chose the latter and it was to their great surprise that the resulting wine was full of sweet concentrated flavors. It took a few more years to deliberately repeat the conditions and develop the practice for wine production.

     Eiswein or ice wine is a dessert wine that is generally made from the white grapes, Riesling and Vidal but can also be made from Chardonnay, and even red varieties like Merlot and Cabernet. The varieties must be hardy enough to sustain longer periods of time on the vine and the cold temperatures.  Unlike other dessert wines, ice wines are not affected with Botrytis cinerea or noble rot. 

     The grapes are left on the vine until after the first frost hits.  During the wee hours of the morning while it is the coldest, the grapes are harvested by hand and kept frozen for pressing.   During pressing, the water is driven out as shards of ice. What is left is a concentrated juice full of acid, sugars and rich aromas.   Full fermentation can take more than three months due to the high sugar content.  

     Ice wine is sold in half bottles or 375 ml. The price range runs around $30 -  $70 with some costing more than $100. It is the high risk and hands-on attention that attributes to the cost.  As well, the number of grapes it takes to make a half bottle is significantly higher than that of a regular table wine because of the concentrated juice. 

     Ice wine is ready to drink once released but can be aged for about 5-8 years.  It is best when served chilled, but not cold,  one-ounce at a time in a brandy snifter (or an ice wine glass).  The shape of the snifter will allow for the distinct, intense aromas of honey, pear, apricot, peach nectar and tropical fruits to be fully enjoyed.

     Ice wine production is very popular in Canada, especially Ontario. There are several Michigan wineries currently producing this extraordinary product. There are several Michigan wineries currently producing this extraordinary product: Black Star Farms, Chateau Chantal, Lemon Creek Winery, Fenn Valley, Peninsula Cellars, Raftshol Vineyard, and Chateau Grand Traverse.

Go to to find all the Michigan ice wine producers.

Classic Dessert
Zabaione (Italian) or Sabayon (French) is a classic serve that will give elegance to your fare. You can use your favorite fortified wine (like Marsala), liqueur, brandy or flavored coffee.  Serve alone, with fresh berries or biscotti.  

• 6 yolks
• 2/3-cup sugar
• 1 ¼ cup of Frangelico

• Beat yolks and sugar until fluffy and light yellow.
• Add in Frangelico
• Immediately cook in a double boiler; do not let it boil
• Beat the mixture for about 10 minutes while over double boiler.
• When it is ready, the cream has doubled in size and is fluffy and soft.

From: The Beverage Alcohol Report - January 2006, Liana Bennett
The Beverage Alcohol Report (The BAR) was published on a monthly basis until May, 2006 compliments of Liana Bennett. Its main purpose was to further the knowledge, appreciation and general enjoyment of all alcoholic beverages. Your comments, questions and tasting stories can be sent to


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