Western New York has enjoyed quite a mild winter so far this winter.
For makers of ice wine, however, the recent cold weather meant a race to harvest enough grapes to make their seasonal specialty.
For a brief, but important, period on Wednesday, the weather was perfect for ice wine harvest: nice gray skies with temperatures hovering between 14 and 16 degrees and a tranquil layer of snow on the ground.At Johnson Estate, a band of about 20 harvesters hand-harvested nearly 7 tons of excellent quality Vidal and Chambourcin grapes, air-stacking the perforated crates in the vineyards to take advantage of the seven degree evening forecast which would insure that the grapes were icy marbles prior to pressing. With forecasts of warmer weather to come, the harvest took advantage of a small, but critical, window of harvesting opportunity, for if not harvested when frozen, ice wine grapes thereafter are mushy and not usable.
Early morning start of a snowy harvest of Chambourcin ice wine grapes at Johnson Estate’s vineyards on the slopes overlooking Lake Erie on Tuesday.
Generally it takes 48 hours of temperatures in the teens to fully ready the Vidal and Chambourcin grapes still hanging on now leafless vines for this unique winter harvest. The frozen grapes are pressed, leaving behind much of the pure water in the form of ice crystals, and producing a nectar-sweet, complex juice that is fermented into an expensive dessert wine. Ice wines have a long tradition in Austria and Germany and the technique was brought to North America by the Canadians in the 1980s. Today, Johnson Estate produces two types of ice wines, one from Vidal grapes and a rare, red one from Chambourcin grapes.
Johnson Estate Winery, New York's oldest estate winery, celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2011. It is located two miles of Westfield and its renovated tasting room is open year-round. During January and February, the tasting room is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The winery specializes in award-winning cold climate wines, including ice wines, Riesling, and other vinifera and American grape wines. More information is available at www.johnsonwinery.com.