Ice wine production plummets
Kirk Penton - Mar 05, 2020 - Biz Releases

File photo: Nich Johansen
Ice wine grapes were harvested at West Kelowna’s Rollingdale Winery in November.

Two countries well known for producing ice wine are Canada and Germany.

This year, however, it looks like Canada will have to go it alone.

The German Wine Institute announced recently that temperatures in its country did not get cold enough this winter to harvest the grapes that vintners left on the vines to freeze. The New York Times reported Tuesday that one German winery was actually able to complete the process thanks to one cold evening, so the country’s grand total for the 2019-20 season will be 100 litres.

And while this winter did get cold enough in the Okanagan for vintners to produce ice wine, the amount of grapes that were harvested in the province was the second smallest since the turn of the century, according to the BC Wine Institute. More than 450 metric tonnes were expected to be harvested this winter in the Okanagan, Shuswap and Similkameen regions, but less than half of that—205 tonnes—ended up getting pressed by 15 wineries.

“It’s become more specialized,” Summerhill Pyramid Winery CEO Ezra Cipes said Wednesday. “It used to be that every winery in the valley did a little ice wine, and now some people have focused on it and some people have culled it from their production.”

Cipes said it was business as usual at Summerhill this winter, as it took advantage of a nasty cold snap in January to produce its usual batch of approximately 40 metric tonnes. That represents about 20% of the provincial total. The amount would have been greater if they did not have to wait until January, as 30 to 40% of their ice wine grapes were either eaten by animals or fell off the vine.

“It’s something so beautiful and special that we do,” Cipes said. “It’s a little bit extreme. It sort of requires a little bit of passion. Ice wine is something that British Columbia can make a very strong claim to doing better than anywhere else in the entire world.”

Ice wine, which is concentrated and rich, is already expensive when compared to regular wine, but prices in Germany are expected to skyrocket after the disastrous winter. Cipes wasn’t sure if the German situation would have an impact on his business; he is more concerned about Canada’s relationship with China, which has been damaged due to the Huawei situation.

“I don’t know about other companies that do ice wine business in China, but that certainly affected us and we are hopeful that it’s just a blip,” Cipes said. “Our production stayed pretty steady, but potentially, hypothetically, some wineries may not have made as much because they may see that differently.

“… If you’re actively marketing it and developing a market for it, it’s a really cool, fun, passionate, amazing niche. But if it’s just a little side project that you do while you sell your red and whites, you might ask yourself why you’re doing it.”

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