Nature and Ice Wine

  • Vidal blanc grapes used in ice wine. The vines are netted to protect the grapes from high winter winds and animals. (Photo courtesy of Mario Mazza)

When you think about wine you might think about sunny Italy or warm
Napa Valley in California. But one wine is the product of cold
weather. Ann Murray has the story:


When you think about wine you might think about sunny Italy or warm
Napa Valley in California. But one wine is the product of cold
weather. Ann Murray has the story:

Today, the weather and the sales are brisk at the Mazza Winery and

Sales Person: “Did you want these in a bag?”

Mary Ventura: “Yes, this is all going to the same spot.”

Mary Ventura is buying small bottles of wine that she describes as
“liquid candy.” Ventura and the sales clerk chime in when I ask her
what she’s talking about:

“This is ice wine. It’s not something you can find on all the shelves.
And so we came across this little winery and it’s great.”

Mazza’s is one of the few wineries in the United States that sells and
produces ice wine. More and more people are discovering this rare,
super sweet dessert wine:

“We’re going to head out right behind the winery, actually.”

Mario Mazza is a third generation grower. He says their vineyard’s
location along the Lake Erie shoreline in Pennsylvania makes ice
wine production possible. For vineyards in this region, the Great Lake
changes the local climate:

“In the spring it keeps the shore a little bit cooler, keeps the grapes
from budding too early, which is a good thing… prevents them from
getting hit from the later spring frost. In the fall, we have the reverse
happen. In September and even in October we have a little bit more
warmth along the lake shore here.”

But the real ticket to producing ice wine is a final burst of cold winter
weather. In December or January, winds off Lake Erie can bring the
temperature to well below freezing. As snowflakes whip around the
vineyards, Mazza stands next to rows of grapes still on the vine. The
rows are netted by hand to protect the vines from high winter winds
and hungry animals:

“These vineyards we’re looking at here are vidal blanc grapes.
They’re a great variety because they have a relatively thick skin and
can hold up to the colder climate, to the colder weather and leaving
them on the vine for an extra two months.”

Natural ice wines require a hard freeze to occur sometime after the
grapes are ripe. If a freeze doesn’t come fast enough, the grapes
might rot and the crop will be lost. If the freeze is too severe, no juice
can be extracted.

(Sound of bottling inside winery)

Back inside the winery, Mazza helps out with bottling. During a break,
he says that catching the right sustained freeze means that workers
must be ready to roll out of bed early to pick the grapes used in ice

“When we go out there and pick ’em about 5:00 in the morning with
headlights down the rows, you’re actually picking these grapes at
about 18 degrees Fahrenheit so they’re actually frozen, just like a marble.
You get very, very sweet juice when you press that out.”

Ice wines are very sweet because the grapes dehydrate the last two
months on the vine. That concentrates the sugar and the flavor:

“The sugars are twice that we get in a normal harvest date in October. And
the flavors are just so much more intense and concentrated.”

Murray: “So you don’t end up with a lot of juice then?”

Mazza: “Hence the rarity, the sale in a smaller bottle and the price
tags on ice wines. A lot of people look at them and say wow, those are
awfully expensive. When they learn about the extensive effort put into
making these wines, they then understand that it’s well worth it.”

At $40 dollars a half-bottle, ice wine generally is worth the extra work
for growers. It might take months to completely ferment ice wine.
Regular wines take days or weeks. Each year, the Mazzas produce
only about 250 gallons of ice wine — a tiny amount compared to other

Worker: “There should be about a case down there.”

Upstairs, customers continue to stream in and out of the Mazza wine
shop, some of them eyeing the small bottles of liquid gold that nature
and patience help make possible.

For the Environment Report, this is Ann Murray.

Related Links