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Warming Up To Ice Wines

by Silvia
December 20, 2009

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The recent frigid weather in Switzerland created perfect conditions to produce ice wines…a situation which does not often occur. Swiss wine-makers produce some of the most remarkable ice wines when given the chance…but only with extraordinary dedication to their craft.

It’s hours before the December sun rises and the temperature outside is well below freezing. It’s the perfect time to get out of a nice warm bed to harvest grapes. This is the type of sacrifice winemakers have to make in order to produce top quality ice wines.

Harvesting proceeds quickly before any sign of warmth thaws the grapes. The frozen grapes arrive at the equally frozen winery. All the doors and windows have been left open to keep the temperatures extremely low. If the grapes melt now, all the effort spent harvesting the grapes, and the risks taken by the winemaker in getting this far, will be in vain.

Ice wines are made from naturally frozen, ripe grapes. Once temperatures reach minus 7°C, the water inside the shriveled grape berries freezes, leaving a concentrated mix of natural sugars, acids and aromas. The frozen grapes are then pressed – a process which can take hours for the syrupy juice to ooze towards the tank. Finally, the alcoholic fermentation begins after a gentle warming of the juice, and the wait begins. Normal wine fermentation occurs on a scale of days, but ice wine can take months to properly ferment because of the high level of sugar in the juice.

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