The story of how a slender bottle of Canadian Icewine made its way to the sultry shores of Southern Africa is short and sweet. My long-lost cousins were here on a voyage to trace the footsteps of their ancestors and brought it as a gift. The story of how this nectar is made, however, is a tale of the labour of love.
or some, especially those born in the Southern Hemisphere, the notion of a frigid, long winter is a dreadful one. For Karl Kaiser, a native Austrian, who adapted the idea of producing Icewine to Canada, it is a blessing. The novelty of Icewine was first discovered by the Germans (where it is called Eiswein) during an unexpected frost in the winter of 1794, when Franconian peasants tried to produce wine from semi-frozen grapes. Nowadays, the vineyards of Inniskillin, located in Canada’s Niagara Peninsula, produce an Icewine from their own fertile soils, where the moderating effect of Lake Ontario and the Niagara Escarpment creates a unique mesoclimate whose relative mildness allows for the growing of Vitis vinifera grapes. It is the high level of acidity that one finds in the cool climate of this region that gives balance to the intense concentration of the sugar in grapes harvested during a frost. Nowadays, rather than waiting for a freak event of nature, the vineyard plays a waiting game, leaving the grapes untouched on the vines under a cloak of protective netting, even after they have ripened in the autumn. The harvest then takes place following the first deep freeze of the Canadian winter, typically sometime between December and January, at temperatures of –9 to –13 °C. It is during this time that the magic happens: repeated freezing and thawing causes the grapes to
Words: TANYA GOODMAN Images: © INNISKILLIN
dehydrate, thus concentrating the sugars and acids in the juice, and intensifying the flavour. When the grapes are ready, they are either handpicked or machine-harvested in their naturally frozen state, usually during the night. After the winter harvest, they are pressed while still frozen – the winery doors left open to maintain the sub-zero temperature. The water in the juice remains frozen as ice crystals during the pressing, and only a few drops of sweet, concentrated juice are obtained. After “racking” to clear the sediment, the clear juice is inoculated with a yeast culture, which is responsible for the primary fermentation that changes grape juice into wine. The juice ferments very slowly for several weeks, sometimes even months, while aging. It ceases fermenting naturally at approximately 10 to 12 percent alcohol by volume. There are, of course, extremely low yields, sometimes as little as five to ten percent of a normal yield, so production varies each year. Getting your hands, or lips, on one of these remarkably rare bottles of nectar is, therefore, an experience to which few can lay claim. Our bottle of 2005 Pearl Wine, served chilled and sipped under an African starlit night after a scorching day at the beach, was intensely sweet and sumptuous, balanced with brilliant acidity; a one-of-a-kind sensation on the palate. Both a natural wonder and a testament to extreme winemaking at its best, Inniskillin Icewine has the
remarkable ability to meld the taste of the tropical with its hints of mango, peach and litchis to the refreshing smoothness of an icy Canadian winterscape. To celebrate the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Inniskillin produced a commemorative bottle of Vidal Icewine, featuring the work of Canadian artist Gordon Halloran. Using ice as his canvas, Halloran paints spectacular abstract images that, like Icewine, have garnered worldwide acclaim. Halloran comments: “As Canadians, we have a personal and collective experience with ice and cold which is unique: we take pride in the beauty of our landscape and at the same time make peace with its harshness. We stare down into a sheet of frozen ice and see ourselves reflected clearly in a mirror the size of the sky.” For more information, visit www.inniskillin.com.
• Appearance: White Icewines: Brilliant golden colour Red Icewines: Lighter to medium red colour • Bouquet: White Icewines: Aromas of litchi, apricot, pears, vanilla, apple cider, cinnamon, nutmeg Red Icewines: Aromas of strawberries, rhubarb • Palate: White Icewines: Complex flavours of honey, mango, tropical fruits, spices Red Icewines: Full, rich flavours of red fruit such as strawberries
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