Making Ice Wine in Northern Michigan

Back at the small pole barn winery, shiny 1,000- and 3,000-liter steel tanks that cold-stabilize Cayuga, Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Gris juice rest under layers of snow. Snow also tops a few racks of French barrels holding Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir.

Crates of frozen grapes stand in stacks waiting to be dumped into the iced wine presser, currently applying brute force to900 pounds of frozen grapes. By comparison, during traditional harvests, grapes are gently pressed. Walters tells me Ican’t leave until I see the frozen cake of grapes once the pressing is complete. The presser squeezes out the golden liquid, funnels it through a small opening and slowly pours it into a pitcher.

Once the container is filled, the juice is hand-poured into a 300-liter steel tank for fermenting. The winemakers are planning for 250 liters of juice by the end of the day, which would make 660 bottles of ice wine.

As we admire the slow-going process, lunchtime nears. Thinking nourishment, Walters asks, “Do you eat meat?” Out comes freshly-made venison stew, cooked with a bottle of the winery’s Cabernet Franc. He stewed the venison and tossed it with tomatoes and carrots harvested from the garden he grows with his artist wife, Cece. Paired with fresh, crumbly homemade bread and Longview Winery’s Cabernet Franc, the stew is a marvelous accompaniment to the harvest.

After a few hours of being in the freezing temperature and savoring two bowls full of tasty stew, we all agree it is time to warm up in the heated winery. We flip over five-gallon buckets to sit and thaw amid the barrels of Pinot Noir aging in the warmth of the pole barn. A few pours of Longview Winery’s 2005 Cabernet Franc Reserve and 2007 Cabernet Franc aid in the thawing and give me further reason to settle in. Arlo the dog knocks on the door and joins us in the toasty interior of the winery.

In my newfound comfort, I ask the winemaker why all Michigan wineries don’t harvest iced grapes if the rewards are so great. Eaker takes his time replying. “People are exhausted after fall harvest. There’s trepidation in regard to an ice harvest. When it’s time, we can’t hold back. We have to work. The cold is painful, and the days are hard and long.”

I ask Walters what makes for great winemaking and why he and Alan make such a good team. “From pruning to bottling, we’re growing our wine,” Walters says. “It’s about being selective at harvest. It’s about quality over quantity.”

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