Early freeze brings fruitful Icewine harvest

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Students set out into the vineyards at 2 am. on December 13 to experience the Icewine harvest.

A recent snap of cold weather snowballed into a flurry of activity under a dark night sky for the College’s Icewine harvest

It was 2 a.m. on December 13 when a group of first-year students from the Winery and Viticulture Technician program traded the warm comfort of their beds for the icy chill of the teaching vineyards for an opportunity to participate in the harvest. Their mission: to pluck frozen grapes from the vines that will soon be transformed into Icewine.

It was an early harvest for the NC Teaching Winery. College winemaker Gavin Robertson noted the weather turned to favour the harvest at the last-minute, giving them the green light to proceed. Temperatures must be minus eight degrees or below to pick grapes for Icewine, and the temperatures when the harvest took place fell below minus nine degrees.

“The Teaching Winery and CFWI give the group full marks for their efforts and for maintaining a fantastic attitude while out picking,” he said. “We pulled off more than three tons of fruit in just a couple hours.”

Due to the temperature, Robertson expects the 2017 vintage to be equivalent to 2013 – which proved to be an award-winning year for the Teaching Winery’s Icewine.

“The yields are excellent as there have only been a couple freeze-thaw events so far this season and it’s an early pick by Icewine standards,” said Robertson. “”We’re expecting a really pure fruit expression in these winds given how intact the berries were, with minimal oxidative influence.”

He noted that second-year Winery and Viticulture Technician students will be allocated some juice from the harvest for their class projects.

‘There’s nothing like getting hands-on experience’

Steve Kornic described the experience as “exhilarating.”

The 2017 Icewine crew strikes a pose in the vineyards during the harvest. Photo submitted by Steve Kornic

“There is nothing like getting hands-on experience. You can see the quality of the grapes, taste them and learn about what quality Icewine grapes look like (which I can say is nothing anyone would ever buy in a grocery store just because of the appearance),” said the Winery and Viticulture Tehnician student. “With a machine harvesting the grapes, you don’t get to see the condition and can only infer what they were like based on lab results.

“As a winemaker, sometimes we need to get back to basics to help understand the winemaking process and make better wine.”

Kornic had heard about the Icewine harvest for many years while touring Niagara’s wine region but never had an opportunity to experience it until he enrolled at NC. Far from the typical student, Kornic arrived at NC with several degrees under his belt – including a PhD in Chemistry – and after 30 years in the workforce.

He was a professor at Wilfred Laurier and a research assistant in McMaster University’s chemistry department who had always dreamed of pursuing winemaking during his retirement years.His dream got fast-tracked after he lost his job due to cutback and he decided to enrol.

“It is a decision I do not regret at all and am having the time of my life,” he said.

In memory of Karl Kaiser

Once the picking concluded and students retreated indoors into the winery, Wine sciences professor Ron Giesbrecht took a moment to remember Ontario Icewine legend Karl Kaiser who recently died. A winemaking pioneer, Kaiser, along with Donald Ziraldo, founded Inniskillin winery.

“It was poignant to consider the role of the College in fostering these students who will inevitably develop and expand the Ontario wine industry in the future, in the context of a man who played such a central role in getting this industry going in the first place,” Robertson noted. “Providing experiences such as our Icewine harvest is a concrete way to ensure the long term success of this industry. It is one thing to talk about Icewine production in the classroom, but it has to be experienced to be understood.”

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