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What is ice wine ?

Ice wine, or as it is known in Germany, Eiswein, is made from cold grapes. After picking and processing the grapes, they are thawed out from frozen water and highly concentrated sugar to squeeze out acid. The result is a fruity, sweet dessert wine.

The first ice wine produced is in Germany in 1794, the outcome of an accident. Legend has it, the owner of a German vineyard was out of town when he was suppose to be home harvesting his grapes. Upon his return, he and his employees decided to pick and process the grapes anyway. The outcome was ice wine. At that time, however, the name was “winter wine.” Ice wine remained Germany’s secret until it was commercially produced in Europe in the year 1962

The grapes for ice wine are frozen naturally. This means that the grapes are handpicked in the wee hours of the morning just after the first frost hits. It also means no other process for freezing the grapes can be used. In other words, grapes cannot be placed in the freezer to create ice-wine. If this inferior method is used, the wine should have a different name.

After harvesting the grapes, they are immediately pressed. The water, actually bits of ice, is the result of the extraction. The strong flavor comes from the highly concentrated acid and sugar, which did not freeze. After being pressed, the ice wine is stored in oak barrels for numerous months for fermentation. Germany, British Columbia, Austria and Canada are known for making the best ice wine since they have such constant cold weather. Other countries, including the United States, manufacture ice wine as well. Because the method is so time consuming, ice wine can be very costly and comes in little bottles.

As you can well imagine, ice wine making is only possible if Mother Nature cooperates. For the grapes to freeze on the vine, the weather should be cold enough. That is why ice wine is best made in an area that is consistently cold. Several parts of the United States have irregular weather. A long Indian summer can spoil a season’s worth of ice wine.

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