Posted on 16 January 2013 by Keith Lacey
The mild weather the residents of the South Okanagan Valley are blessed with most of the year has helped turn this region into one of the premier wine destinations in Canada. But that same mild weather poses some real challenges when it comes to making ice wine for area wineries.
Because you need temperatures to dip to at least minus eight degrees for several consecutive hours – which doesn’t happen a lot during the winter months in and around Osoyoos and Oliver – combined with the natural sugars in ice wine grapes reaching a certain level, there is a very limited window of opportunity to pick the ice wine grapes, says Randy Picton, the head wine maker at Nk’Mip Cellars in Osoyoos.
Nk’Mip Cellars is the only local winery which makes ice wine. This past weekend, a crew of about a dozen pickers gathered early Saturday morning around 5 a.m. and temperatures dipped to minus 12 at the winery’s Inkameep Vineyard in Oliver.
Three hours later, the crew had picked almost five tonnes of ice wine grapes, which will be used to make the 2013 Nk’Mip Cellars Quam Qwmt Riesling Ice Wine, which should hit stores in late spring or early summer, said Picton.
The window of opportunity to get a solid ice wine harvest is very narrow in this part of the country, which is why crews are notified several days in advance in early January, said Picton.
“You need the combination of an extended period of cold weather and a certain what is called brix level, which measures the sugar content in the grapes,” said Picton. “It needs to be at least minus eight over several hours and we would ideally prefer it to be a little colder around minus 10 or so and we need a minimum brix level of 35.
“That’s easier said than done in this part of the country because we don’t get a lot of days when it gets that cold over an extended period. You sort of need the perfect storm of weather conditions.”
Thankfully, Mother Nature co-operated quite nicely this past Saturday morning as it dipped to around minus 12 near 5 a.m. and the brix level in the grapes was around 40, said Picton.
“We got the entire harvest done in about two-and-a-half hours and picked pretty close to five tonnes, so it went very well,” he said. “It was about minus 12 and the brix level was 40, so it was pretty close to ideal. It’s a great starting point for the sugars.”
All of the grapes were pressed immediately and mixed with yeast and will ferment for approximately one month, he said.
The ice wine will then be ready to bottle and should be available to the buying public in May or June, he said.
Nk’Mip Cellars has been producing an ice wine since the winery officially opened for business back in 2002, said Picton.
“We knew when we opened that we wanted to introduce an ice wine,” he said. “We have roughly two acres set aside for ice wine grapes, which is a very small percentage of what we own, but it has been a very successful addition to our collection.”
The internationally-renowned Decanteur Magazine named Nk’Mip Cellars’ 2010 Riesling Ice Wine one of the five best dessert wines in the world outside of Europe, said Picton.
Because ice wine is “very sweet” and an acquired taste, there are many people who aren’t big fans, but conversely there are many people who prefer ice wine to any other kind, he said.
“It’s definitely an acquired taste, but there is a unique market for ice wine,” he said.
Another difference is ice wine, if properly stored, will keep in your refrigerator for several weeks, he said. The Nk’Mip Cellars Riesling Ice Wine for 2013 will sell for $60 a bottle.