Ice wine on tap in Delta County

ESCANABA –Two local wineries are creating something sweet this winter. Leigh’s Garden Winery in Escanaba and Northern Sun Winery of Bark River are making ice wine at their locations — a wine unique to cold climates.

According to Carrie Bartel, tasting room manager at Leigh’s Garden Winery, the creation of ice wine is a big risk, since timing is key.

“This is the first time we’ve made an ice wine in four years,” said Bartel, adding normally grapes are harvested in late fall, but for ice wine the fruit is left on the vine until it freezes.

Bartel said a frontenac gris, which is a cold climate grape, is used for their ice wine. While the grapes are still frozen, Bartel said their juices are pressed from them — an element that makes ice wine so unique.

“Ice wine is very unique because there is a lot of risk involved,” she said, noting the results outweigh the risk.

Leigh’s batch of ice wine should be released in late April or early May.

The flavor profile of ice wine is also different than most wines, explained Bartel, as it is sweeter and has a pale, yellow color. When last tasted, Bartel said the current batch of ice wine had hints of apple and apricot, but as the wine ferments the flavors could change.

Owner and wine maker for Leigh’s Garden Winery, Leigh Schmidt, said the process of wine making is tedious and unpredictable. In order to create this batch of ice wine, it took 645 pounds of grapes and will yield about 17-18 gallons of wine. The wine will then go through two fermentation stages, and will be racked (filtered and moved to another barrel by the use of gravity instead of a pump) four times, along with being filtered another four times, ensuring there is no yeast left in the substance so it can no longer ferment.

The wine is being kept in the cellar area of Leigh’s where the temperature is kept cooler, said Schmidt. The second stage of fermentation will probably begin in February, he explained, noting that process takes at least four weeks to complete.

Another local vintner and owner of Northern Sun Winery in Bark River, Dave Anthony, said they picked their grapes for ice wine in December, and chose one that they normally use to create their dry, white wine.

In an effort to protect the grapes from falling and breaking off the cluster, Anthony said they net their grapes. At last taste, Northern Sun’s ice wine had hints of pear flavoring.

While the fruit was still frozen, they were pressed, allowing the juice to come out. But because they were so deeply frozen, Anthony said it took a lot more force, and in turn, doesn’t produce as much by-product as when pressing grapes normally. Out of the ton of grapes pressed, Anthony noted they gathered about 26 gallons of juice, adding this isn’t a negative.

“But that’s a good thing,” he said, explaining that even though the juice content was small, it was more of a sugary by-product and has the consistency of Karo syrup, which is perfect for creating ice wine.

“It’s a lot more involved,” he said, adding the process is “slow and tedious” but a lot of Northern Sun customers have been asking for the rare product.

“There’s been lots of demand for it,” he said.

Northern Sun also does not create ice wine every year, as it is highly involved, but Anthony said they like to keep a nice variety to their wine menu, and this will be a perfect addition.