It’s estimated that around three quarters of the world’s icewine production occurs in Ontario. There are few places in the world where the climate is right to produce quality icewine, but the Niagara Peninsula is a particular wine-producing region that has made the production of wine from frozen grapes into a speciality.
This is partly because southern Ontario, and Niagara in particular, has a unique climate. It sits on the same latitude as southern France, giving the region some of the climatic properties ideal for grape-growing. The cool air from Lake Ontario in the spring climate and warm air moving towards the lake in fall are part of a natural climatic system that fosters fruit growth. (As a result, the best icewines are made in the northern regions of Niagara, with the pioneering estate Inniskillin residing near Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Despite the benefits of the local climate, Icewine is not easy to make and sets a series of challenges. The winter climate must be cold enough to naturally freeze grapes while still on the vine, meaning the temperature needs to drop below -8˚C. This must occur before the grapes are struck by ‘noble rot’ – a common problem in Canadian vineyards – and vintners take a risk of losing their grapes altogether by leaving them on the vine past normal harvesting periods, whether by the weather or various pests.
Once that temperature threshold is met, winemakers need to move quickly to immediately pick and press the frozen grapes – many vintners specializing in icewine need to retain a large local workforce simply to pick the whole estate clean of frozen grapes with maximum efficiency.
The result is a concentrated amount of small-volume must that will be fermented into a sweet dessert wine. Icewine can be made from a variety of grapes, lending individual characteristics of a Chardonnay or Merlot grape to a unique sweet wine. It’s a perilous process with a small yield but the resulting wine is like no other.
Canada obviously isn’t the only place in the world where this process occurs – northern European countries, particularly Germany, can have the right conditions to produce quality icewine. But Ontario has the long summers and warm winters necessary for regular production, and the estates with the expertise to produce world-quality icewine on a regular basis. Any wine buff with a sweet tooth who has never tried an icewine should at least know what they've been missing out on.
Combine a visit to the world's best Icewine region with a stay at the 4-star,World Class Marriott on the Falls Niagara Falls Hotel .