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Icewine harvest 'fast and furious' in the Okanagan Valley

Only a few Okanagan wineries still make the fickle ice wine, and this year they have an abundance of grapes.

A temperature drop may not be welcomed by everyone in the Okanagan Valley, but it is for icewine makers.

One Naramata Bench winemaker has had his crews out the last few weeks, picking along the Naramata Bench, in the Similkameen and Summerland, saying the harvest this year has been “fast and furious.”

“It was early for sure. The window is pretty much closed for it now and it's done. So I'll take it, because the previous couple of years, we've done it on Christmas Eve and I don't want to be doing that on Christmas Eve, or even on the 23rd,” said Richard Kanazawa, the winemaker for Bench 1775.

“If you leave it out there till February, that becomes the most expensive bird feed you've ever made or provided to the birds, because as time goes on, obviously, the fruit is deteriorating. You might get close to freezing, but not enough.”

Temperatures need to drop to -8 C or colder in order to pick, which means pickers are often out in the middle of the night.

“Well, obviously, it has to be frozen, right? But not too frozen. When you bring those grapes in at minus 12 C or what have you...that does nothing for me because that fruit comes in frozen, it's like a rock. Even if we did press you're not gonna get more than 100 litres.”

Other main criteria after the grapes are pressed is to measure out the brix, which is the degree of sugar, and match 35 brix in total in the tank.

“We've seen stuff as high as like 56 brix before. And then once the end of the pressing comes, you'll get down into the 40s. But even yeast can't chew through that, like those conditions are too much for them to ferment in. So then you have to start off slow. So this has been manageable, good sugars, good acids on the wine on the fruit,” Kanazawa said.

Challenges with making icewine come down to finding enough pickers and being able to adapt to what weather conditions arise.

“It’s a pain in the ass. That's why 100 per cent, any winemaker who was talking honestly, would probably curse in there and say I'm never doing that. Just happens I work at a winery that loves doing it.”

Only a few Okanagan wineries still make the fickle ice wine, but with the yields of wine grapes being so high this year, Kanazawa said he suspects more wineries will be producing one.

“I hope that the popularity has gone up because we're going to have a ton of it this year,” he added with a laugh.

“I know a lot of this stuff goes to export. And it's not like every winemaker in Canada wants icewine to be our flagship but if we're gonna put it out there you might as well make it as good as you can make it.

“You're not making this wine in Australia or New Zealand or California they're not doing the sort of wine there. So it is a unique position for the valley to be in and show off.”

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