The icewine harvest has begun in the Central Okanagan

Unseasonably cold temperatures in the Central Okanagan this week have been great news for local wineries looking to produce icewine.

The sweet dessert wine can only be made from grapes harvested in temperatures below -8 C. Last year, Kelowna didn't see those temperatures until early February, and some years, the temperature never gets low enough.

“This is a really excellent year. It's quite early, which is lovely,” says Kelly Spencer, winemaker at Rollingdale Winery.

“The grapes have to be frozen all the way. We're looking for a specific sugar level. When the temperatures drop, the liquid that isn't sugar starts freezing, and we get access to that really sweet juice with the absence of that water frozen out.”

The longer the grapes hang on the vine, the less juice is available. Spencer expects to get almost double the amount of icewine from this year's harvest compared to 2018 — about 100 litres.

The specialty product commands a higher price than regular wine, with last year's Rollingdale Pinot Blanc icewine going for $52 for a 200 ml bottle.

Thursday night (Nov. 28), about a dozen friends of Rollingdale braved the cold weather, spending a couple of hours picking five and a half rows of pinot blanc grapes.

“It's pretty fun to be a part of,” Spencer says. “For us, it's only a couple of hours of picking, so there's still high morale and laughter in the vineyard. It might not be so fun for the people who are picking for days on end.”

Following the harvest, the help retired to the wine shop for drinks and homemade chili, while Rollingdale staff got to work pressing the grapes into the sweet, syrupy juice that will soon become icewine.

Other Central Okanagan wineries that produce icewine, like Quail's Gate, Summerhill and Grizzli, didn't begin their harvest Thursday night, but they're expected to begin tonight.

Farther south, Bench 1775 Winery harvested its icewine grapes in Keremeos, where temperatures hit -10 C, but temperatures didn't get low enough to harvest grapes on the Naramata Bench. 

The Okanagan is one of the few grape-growing areas capable of producing icewine, as many wine regions have too warm a climate. Ontario's Niagra region and much of Germany are also known for their icewine. 

— Nicholas Johansen, Castanet

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