Icewine Harvest Starts Early

December 16, 2016 | Niagara This Week - St. Catharines

ST. CATHARINES — The Speck family will be able to breathe a little easier over the holidays.

There will be no monitoring of weather patterns, no checking for temperature drops and no late night phone calls rallying the forces out to pick grapes for this year’s batch of Icewine. The harvest is over.

“Our mother and our wives will definitely be relieved,” said Paul Speck, president of Henry of Pelham Family Estate, who owns the winery along with his brothers Matthew and Daniel. “We won’t be heading out on Christmas eve or New Year’s eve for the harvest, like we’ve done in the past.”

Instead, at 5 a.m. on Wednesday morning, harvest started on the winery’s 20-acres of Icewine grapes. Thanks to a cold snap that saw temperatures dip below the required minus 8 degrees Celsius temperature mandated under VQA rules for an Icewine harvest, they were able to pick a little earlier than last year — about 21 days earlier. Paul said picking lasted through morning light until 10 or 11 a.m. when temperatures picked back up. The harvest continued on Thursday when picking was completed. Matthew, viticultural manager and vice president, oversaw the harvest of the three varietals: Riesling, cabernet franc and vidal grapes, picked in that order.

“They pick in the order of what is the most tender grape,” said Paul. 

The quantities are pretty much on target for this harvest, he said, adding that all in all it was a great harvest in terms of quantity and quality.

“It’s sort of like a Goldilocks harvest, in that there’s not too much or not too little, the amount is just right,” he said.

The St. Catharines winery was just one of many across the Niagara Region that embraced the frigid temperatures that hit Niagara earlier this week. Reif Estate winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake started picking on Wednesday evening and continued again on Thursday night, heading out around 8 p.m. and picking straight through to 3 a.m. On Friday morning, they were still pressing the frozen grapes.

“The quality of what we receive always depends on the temperature,” said winery president Klaus Reif, adding that’s why they pick at night when the temperatures are colder. “The colder the temperature, the better the Icewine. You get a lower quantity yield but a higher quality one. Quantity is not very important, it’s all about the quality.”

The temperatures on Wednesday and Thursday evening dipped to -10 and -11, he said, adding that in the first batch picked — Cabernet Franc grapes — had 44 bricks of sweetness, which was higher than the normal run of 40 bricks.

“It’s the cold that helps,” he said, adding that when the sun came up on Friday morning, they started seeing a difference in the grapes as the temperatures rose.

The winery was able to pick about two-thirds of the 15-acre batch this year, starting with the Cabernet Franc grapes and moving on to Vidal. Reif said they were hoping to complete the harvest on Sunday evening if the temperatures cooperate.

In West Niagara, several wineries were out picking on late in the week, such as Vineland Estates Winery on Moyer Road and Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery in Jordan Station. Malivore Wine Company in Beamsville had plans to head out over the weekend if the weather cooperates.