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Eiswein in Canada
Exploring the Frozen Elegance of Canadian Eiswein
My first surprise was to see grape vines growing wild. I spotted them immediately as we walked along a local footpath on my first day there. I have never witnessed this before, they twist and turn and bind themselves to the very tops of the trees. Pointing them out to Maggie I said that I had read about how virulently they grow. But this was first hand evidence that I had never seen in Europe. I’m assuming it’s the phylloxera resistant American vines that enables this. Nearly all European cultivated vines are grafted to American rootstock to avoid this devastating little bug.
However, they were acidic and sharp to the taste and what I was more interested in was the delicious Eiswein. Canada has established itself as a global leader in producing some of the finest sweet wines. When it comes to Eiswein, Inniskillin stands out as an emblem of excellence. I went with my Canadian relatives to this lovely vineyard to sample some of these delicious dessert wines.
Eiswein: A Natural Wonder
Eiswein is a luxurious dessert wine made from grapes that have naturally frozen on the vine. We used to import our own from K+K in Austria. However, the climate has not permitted its production for a while sadly. I think the last one was 2014. The freezing of the water content in the grape concentrates the sugars and flavours. This result is in a wine of exceptional sweetness and complexity.
Inniskillin: The Canadian Eiswein Trailblazer
Inniskillin Vineyards were founded in 1975 by Donald Ziraldo and Karl Kaiser. They played a pivotal role in establishing Canada’s reputation as a producer of world-class ice wines. Located in the heart of the Niagara Peninsula, Inniskillin benefits from a unique terroir that’s ideal for Eiswein production. I was curious as to how the up to -30°C winter temperatures didn’t kill the vines. However, my cousin Kevin pointed out the great big escarpment rising out of the flat Ontario lands. This, along with the vast bodies of water (Niagara and Lake Ontario) create that essential rise in temperature. Therefore the vines are not killed by hard frost.
The Harvesting Process
The key to crafting exceptional Eiswein lies in the timing of the harvest. Grapes for ice wine must be picked when the temperature drops to around -8°C (17.6°F) or lower. Typically in the early hours of the morning. This meticulous process requires a dedicated team of vineyard workers who brave the frigid temperatures to hand-pick the frozen grapes.
Inniskillin specializes in several grape varieties for Eiswein production. Riesling, Vidal (Terri’s favourite), and Cabernet Franc are among the most popular. Each grape variety brings its own unique characteristics to the final wine. This results in a diverse portfolio of ice wines to suit different palates. I have of course bought some home for us all to try. So it’s a pudding night for the staff soon! Some lovely fruity puddings or delicate sponges will complement them well. Dylan might make his Cointreau ice cream and some creamy blue cheese for the Cabernet Franc – I get so excited!