Which region is the world’s largest producer of ice wine (eiswein)?
A. Alsace, France
B. Rheingau, Germany
C. Ontario, Canada
D. Finger Lakes, New York
Even though Ontario’s wineries have only been making commercial ice wine since the 1980s, today they average a total of 224,500 gallons (850,000 liters) produced annually. Ice wine, however, has been around since at least 44 AD when the Roman writer Pliny reported on wines made from frozen grapes. In Germany, where it is known as eiswein, the sweet elixir is documented for the first time in 1830. After a sudden frost, winegrowers discovered it while attempting to save their grape harvest rather than feed the frozen grapes to their livestock, as was typical until then.
Canadian ice wine is made from very ripe grapes of at least 35° Brix (in Germany, grapes need only reach 26-30° Brix depending on the region) that have frozen naturally on the vine. In Canada, they must be picked while the air temperature remains at or below -8° C, or 17.6° F, by law (in Germany it’s -7° C or 19.4° F), often well before sunrise, by workers wearing gloves so their hands don’t freeze. The most common ice wine varieties are vidal blanc and cabernet franc (in Canada) and riesling (in Germany). As the frozen grapes are pressed, the sweet, high-acid, concentrated juice is separated from the ice (the water in the grapes). Musts with these levels of sugar are difficult for the yeasts to process into wine. As a result, ice wine tends to have very high natural sugar levels, typically exceeding 100 grams per liter, yet with low alcohol levels of just under 8% alcohol by volume. The wine is miraculously high in both sweetness and acidity, making drinking it an ethereal sensation. Of all the wine-producing regions in the world, only Ontario has a winter climate sufficiently cold to ensure an ice wine crop every year.