Unseasonably cold temperatures well below freezing in Eastern Washington this week allowed Chateau Ste. Michelle winemakers to harvest Riesling ice wine Tuesday (Dec. 16) in 0 degree temperatures. Weather conditions have enabled Chateau Ste. Michelle to harvest ice wine only six times in the Washington winery’s 40-year history. (Previous vintages were produced in 1978, 1995, 2002, 2003, 2006 and 2008.) Chateau Ste. Michelle was one of the first producers of ice wine in North America when it released its 1978 Ice Wine. Ice wine is rare because it requires a hard freeze below 14 degrees.
“After the regular harvest this fall, we left select blocks of Riesling grapes hanging in our Horse Heaven Vineyard (in Paterson, Wash.) just in case of a freeze, but you never know what you are going to get,” says Bob Bertheau, Chateau Ste. Michelle’s head winemaker. “Ice wine is uniquely challenging because it requires a perfect conflux of events -- a hard freeze with healthy, ripe fruit still hanging on the vine. And in the past, we had to pick the grapes in the middle of the night when temperatures are at their coldest, but it has been so cold this week that we were able to get a good night’s sleep and pick in the morning under blue skies.”
Chateau Ste. Michelle’s white winemaker Wendy Stuckey, who joined the winery last year from Australia, was able to experience her first ice wine harvest.
“I was absolutely freezing,” says Stuckey. “But it was an amazing. I never thought I would get to experience picking frozen grapes in the sunshine. The grapes sounded like bullets when they hit the hopper. It took five hours to press the syrup-like juice out the frozen grapes.”
Grapes were picked at 49 degree Brix (sugar content). The grapes were picked and pressed immediately while still frozen, releasing only the sweet, concentrated juice--leaving the water, in the form of ice, behind. The juice will undergo a long, slow, cold fermentation for several months. The finished 2008 Eroica Riesling Ice Wine will be intensely rich, concentrated, with exotic, ripe flavors.
A total of 10 tons of fruit was picked, producing 200 gallons of juice -- the equivalent of 80 cases of ice wine. The wine will most likely release in the fall of 2009.
Founded in 1934, Chateau Ste. Michelle pioneered vinifera grape growing in Washington state and has been producing classic European varietal wines under the Ste. Michelle label since 1967. The winery combines an ongoing dedication to research with a commitment to classic winemaking traditions. The winery owns 3,500 acres of vineyards in the Columbia Valley of eastern Washington, including Canoe Ridge Estate and Cold Creek. Chateau Ste. Michelle enjoys winemaking partnerships with two of the world’s most distinguished vintners. Col Solare is an alliance with Tuscany’s Piero Antinori and Eroica Riesling is a partnership with the Mosel’s Ernst Loosen.
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