So You Want To Make Ice Wine

June 21, 2012 · Posted in Hobbies 

Making ice wine can be challenging to make, but the rewards are worth the effort. Ice wine is becoming more popular every day and home winemakers and large scale winemakers are getting in on the act. If you’re considering making ice wine, there are some key things you should know before venturing into this type of winemaking.

Ice wine overview

Ice wine is so called because of the method used when harvesting and crushing grapes. This creates a very sweet, highly acidic wine that is usually enjoyed cold and paired as you would pair a dessert wine. Because of the methods used, it’s typically created in countries that experience longer freezing times and is made with grape varietals that are hearty and can withstand such climates.

How is ice wine produced?

The goal of making ice wine is to produce very high levels of sugar, naturally creating a wine much sweeter than other dessert wines. Grapes are picked and pressed while still virtually frozen. When pressed, the water remains frozen, but the sugars are extracted and the resulting juice can have a brix of 35 to 50, vs. 20 – 25 for most red wines. This is done by allowing grapes to remain on the vine for months after a standard harvest, until the season’s first frost. Because of the characteristics of ice wine, the fermentation process typically takes much longer. If you’re used to primary fermentation taking days, prepare for weeks or months before brix levels off.

Why is it so difficult to produce ice wine?

Commercial winemakers take a great deal of risk in making ice wine, given the challenges. It’s not easy picking grapes in the freezing cold. Most are picked in the middle of the night. That’s because they must keep them frozen until they are pressed. That often means driving grape bins through difficult, snow covered terrain. If grapes are left on the vine too long, they will either fall off of the vine or be too damaged to use. Timing is essential. Once harvested, ice wine grapes must then be pressed in an unheated facility, usually with a basket press. It takes a lot of pressure to press frozen grapes and commercial bladder presses are not up to the task. That means loading frozen grapes into the press by hand and taking them out with an ice pick! The volume of free-run and pressed juice is much lower and as a result, winemakers costs are much higher, per volume. This is all in addition to the market risk of producing a product that is not yet in huge demand by a large percentage of the wine-drinking public.

How can I make my own ice wine?

Still want to make ice wine? If so, get ready for some hard work. Your first step will be to figure out if the right type of grapes are available and to determine if the weather conditions provide you with a supply of frozen grapes. If so, you’ll still need to get some very good friends to harvest grapes after the first freeze, usually in the dark of night. You will then need to transport the grapes, keeping them frozen, to a place where you can crush them fairly quickly. Make sure the grapes are still frozen when crushing, or you will not achieve the high sugar content you intend. A basket press close by the vineyard is your best bet. If you don’t have access to grapes that are frozen on the vine, hope is not lost. You can still recreate the conditions by getting fresh grapes and freezing them in a big freezer. You’ll still need to make sure that you are crushing the grapes while frozen to get a high brix. Most appellations don’t allow this type of wine to be called true ice wine, but for the homemade winemaker, you’ll not really notice the difference. Make sure you test the juice for sugar content first after free run, then again as you press. You can then mix the two juice products to achieve the brix you’re looking for. Also, use yeast made for this purpose, resistant to high sugar and high alcohol content and often used in ice wine. Once you decide to put in the time and effort, you will be able to experiment and make a wine that is ready for any after-dinner party!

If you’re thinking about making homemade wine or you’re a veteran winemaker, come check out the homemade wine source.

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