Frozen grapes gathered under stars make Canada's icewine

Tue Jan 22, 2013 11:55am EST
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By Atsuko Kitayama

BEAMSVILLE, Ontario (Reuters) - In the Ontario town of Beamsville, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of Niagara Falls, a small crowd of bundled-up figures crouched in a moonlit vineyard on a frigid January night, picking a crop of hard-frozen Gewurztraminer grapes.

With stars shining overhead and ice crystals glittering in the air, the temperature had dropped to minus 10 Celsius, or 14 Fahrenheit. Conditions were nearly perfect to harvest fruit for this year's icewine, a Canadian specialty.

Malivoire, one of the Niagara region's boutique wineries, picks its icewine grapes by hand. For this annual rite of winter it relies on a corps of more than a dozen volunteers, selected by a lottery, to get the grapes off the vine and crushed at just the right moment.

One of those chosen for this year's harvest was Susan Smith, 64, a first-time picker who said she was attracted to the mystique of icewine.

"This experience is something I've wanted to have for a long time," she said. "Having those juicy, fragrant little bunches in your hands and being out under the stars."


Icewine is almost a nectar that is rich with the flavors of apple, peach and apricot. Its hints of honey, nuts and, maybe, a dash of caramel provide a refreshing counterpoint to a blue cheese or fruit-based dessert.

"There is nothing else quite like icewine ... It's a guilty pleasure," said Eric Nixon, who works at Malivoire, adding that the wines - which sell for about double the price of most non-vintage Champagnes - are often associated with special occasions.   Continued...

A picker harvests grapes at the Malivoire vineyard near Beamsville, Ontario, in this undated handout photo. REUTERS/Malivoire Wine Company/Handout