Johnson Estate has been producing authentic ice wine since 1995. “Ice Wine” is the legal name for wines made from grapes that have ripened and frozen naturally on the vine – something that our region’s cold winters and blizzards can readily produce. In contrast to our ice wines, “faux” ice wine is produced by harvesting grapes and then freezing them in freezers prior to crushing.
Any wine grape may be used for ice wine, although grapes which are later-ripening and which tend to stay on the vine are more successful choices. The white wine grapes we use for ice wine are Vidal Blanc and Riesling which impart flavors of honey, apricot, and peach. We use red winegrape varieties of Cabernet Franc and Chambourcin, which make ice wines with berry and cherry flavors.
In the fall, after the other vineyards have been harvested and the leaves have fallen from the vines, our ice wine vineyards are covered with netting to protect the fruit from hungry birds. Grapes in these vineyards experience a freeze and thaw cycle that desiccates them and enhances their flavors.
The ice wine grapes will only be harvested if and when temperatures have fallen to roughly 12ºF for a day or more and the grapes are completely frozen, usually in December or January. Extreme care must be taken to harvest AND press the grapes while they are still frozen. In western New York, this mean watching the forecasts carefully so harvesting and pressing can be completed at optimally low temperatures.
We harvest the grape by hand, collecting it in grape bins that will be stacked on trailors and taken immediately to the winery for pressing. Ice wine harvests yield approximately 60 gallons per ton of grapes, compared to the September harvest rate of 170 gallons per ton.
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