Conditions ripe for ice wine

After a few false alarms, this weekend’s cold temperatures were just right for picking grapes for ice wine in the Okanagan.

Pickers were out as early as 2 a.m. Saturday  at Granite Ridge, a vineyard owned by winemaker Robert Van Westen in north Naramata.

“It’s too cold to do anything else in the winter, so it is a thrill picking grapes in the middle of the night, to make these specialty wines,” he said.

Sweet ice wine is typically produced from grapes that have frozen while still on the vine. Legally in Canada it has to be -8 C or lower to start harvesting them.

Among the other regulations issued by the British Columbia Wine Authority, which wineries must register with before making the speciality wines, are grapes must be transported by the most direct route from picking to pressing. The grapes are then pressed in a continuous motion while they are still frozen.

The concentrated juice then goes into containers, before being put in a fermentation tank. From there it is a slow process, taking over a month to ferment.

In total nine bins, about 1.7 tonnes of grapes, were picked on the weekend for Van Westen Vineyards ice wine.

Van Westen anticipates the winery will make double this year what they made in 2010. Their ice wine that year earned silver at the Canadian Wine Awards

Steve Latchford, the winemaker at Therapy Vineyards in Naramata, said the picking there started around 6 a.m. Saturday, as soon as they got the temperatures they need to call a wine, ice wine.

He worked quickly to press the grapes and put the juice in stainless steel tanks, with much of the initial production work finished over the weekend.

“It is a balancing act to create a perfect ice wine," he said. "As soon as we saw the window of opportunity with the temperatures right, we jumped on it."

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