A South Okanagan winery gets excited when temperatures drop below -8 degrees

Pickers brave freezing cold temperatures to pick frozen grapes off the vine to make icewine at Bench 1775. (Bench 1775 photo)
Pickers brave freezing cold temperatures to pick frozen grapes off the vine to make icewine at Bench 1775. (Bench 1775 photo)
To make icewine, frozen grapes have to be pressed right away. (Bench 1775 photo)
Bench 1775 was the first to harvest icewine this year in B.C. harvesting 36 tons of frozen grapes.

Icewine is the most finicky, weather-dependent wine to make.

Bench 1775 in Naramata knows this all too well.

When all of us were shivering and heading indoors during the recent cold snap, the team at Bench 1775 were heading outdoors to harvest frozen grapes to make their 2021 icewines.

Icewine must be produced exclusively from grapes that are naturally frozen on the vine and pressed in a continuous process while the air temperature is -8° Celsius or colder.

And after a lot of hard work, with frozen hands and bodies, Bench 1775’s 2021 ice wine harvest is over, said winemaker Richard Kanazawa.

They were able harvest 36 tons of grapes and were the first winery in B.C. to harvest this year.

With 30 pickers on call, no matter what time of day or night, they waited for the cold snap to come, and when it did, they jumped to work.

Bench 1775 is one of only a few wineries on the Bench that make ice wine. Hillside Winery also does.

“Before Bench 1775 started doing table wine, they were making icewine exclusively,” said Kanazawa.

READ MORE: Penticton editor pairs Okanagan wines with the best books of 2020

Former owner Jim Stewart created the ‘Whistler’ and ‘Paradise Ranch’ ice wine series with various grape varieties from their vineyard.

Their Whistler 2017 Pinot Gris ice wine was the 2019 gold medal winner in WineAlign national awards and the Paradise Ranch 2014 Sauvignon Blanc ice wine won best in class. The Whistler 2019 Viognier is a new release with grapes harvested in perfect -15 degree weather.

“This year, we picked pinot noir, Riesling and Viognier which is our main ice wine varieties,” said Kanazawa.

Another trick to really good icewine is bottling it as quickly possible, said Kanazawa.

“Not only are we waiting for the perfect weather, you want to bottle right away to avoid re fermentation of the icewine,” he said.

Kanazawa has been the winemaker at Bench 1775 for about a year, taking the job after realizing COVID-19 made it difficult to keep his own vines. He’s a familiar face around the vines, having been the winemaker both at Blasted Church and Red Rooster. He’s looking forward to elevating the wines at Bench 1775.

EVERYTHING ABOUT ICEWINES:

Ever wonder what to pair ice wine with?

For Kanazawa, he likes to pair icewine with salty and savoury things like a salty pate or foie gras.

But dark chocolate, lemon desserts, seared scallops or soft goat cheese are also some popular pairings.

You can also cook with it, he said. Reduce it down for a demi-glaze or sauce.

Icewines are ideally enjoyed chilled between 10-12°C poured into pre-chilled wine glasses.

Kanazawa said he actually likes ice wine aged 10 years.

“A well-made icewine can hold that long. It takes on a more butterscotch flavour which is really nice to enjoy with friends.”

Canada is the world’s largest producer of ice wines. Because of how difficult it is to make, icewine does not come cheap, usually fetching $50 to $100 per bottle. The major market for icewines is Asia.

To report a typo, email: editor@pentictonwesternnews.com.


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