A cold front in Northern Michigan this weekend allowed Chateau Grand Traverse (CGT) to pick grapes for Ice Wine production. Just as temperatures dropped to a chilly 10 degrees on the morning of Monday, December 19, workers at CGT bundled up for a winter harvest, hastily picking frozen Riesling grapes.

Ice Wine is a specialty dessert wine that can only be made from frozen grapes that are left on the vine well past the traditional grape harvest. The grapes cannot be picked until temperatures dip to about 15 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Such below-freezing temperatures cause the water in the grapes to freeze, isolating a rich and sugary concentration of juice.

After hand picking, the frozen grapes are lightly pressed for an extended period of time to gently extract this minuscule amount of unfrozen juice. The wine will then undergo a slow, cold fermentation in order to preserve the bright fruit flavors and characteristics of the Riesling grape.

In essence, this vigorous yet rewarding process is much like that of extracting the sweet and juicy flavors from a snow cone.

Photos by Chateau Grand Traverse

Ice Wine production is a risky business for winemakers, given that there is no guarantee nature will cooperate. From the time CGT winemaker Bernd Croissant set out to leave 10 rows of Riesling on the vine after harvest, there have been many forces of nature to contend with—including hail, sleet, wind, rain, insects, wildlife and the potential for rot. True, high-quality Ice Wine can only be made when vineyard and weather conditions are absolutely ideal, and that only happens every four to six years in Northern Michigan.

This fall, when the opportunity presented itself in the vineyard, CGT President Eddie O’Keefe jumped at the opportunity to produce such a rare and regionally expressive wine. “The abundant harvest this year allowed us to leave some grapes on the vine for a potential Ice Wine harvest. Although we can never predict what nature will bring, the onset of cold temperatures in December set us up for excellent conditions to make this wine,” O’Keefe says.

Not only is this a risky business for winemakers, but a costly one as well. Production of this sought-after wine is uniquely labor intensive for a final product that yields 10–15 percent of a normal grape harvest per cluster.

Perfect for special occasions or paired with decadent desserts, this Ice Wine will be sold in a 375 ml bottle and will be available for the 2017 holiday season in CGT’s Tasting Room and Online Store. Previous vintages were produced in 1978, 1982, 1986, 1992, 1998, 2001, 2005 and 2008.

Chateau Grand Traverse is a family-owned and operated winery, producing world-class wines on Old Mission Peninsula for over 40 years. The winery focuses on making wines from European Vinifera grape varietals with the utmost quality, consistency and environmental sustainability. Visit their Old Mission Peninsula Tasting Room for a complimentary tour of the winery, and taste regionally distinctive, award-winning wines.

–Press release provided by Chateau Grand Traverse

More Northern Michigan Ice Wine:

Photo(s) by Beryl Striewski