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VQA Sparkling Wines of Ontario

Bubbly is rapidly rising to the top as a key strength of Ontario winemaking. The cool climate and limestone-based soils, plus Ontario’s proficiency with the Champagne grapes – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and even a couple of Pinot Meunier vineyards – add up to exactly the right recipe for fine aged bubbly made in the Traditional Method. And for those who want less expensive fresh and fruity wines made from the Charmat or tank method, Ontario also easily provides high acid aromatic grapes like Riesling and Vidal, even Sauvignon Blanc.

“Ontario bubbles have little to envy. After a big tasting of VQA sparkling wines, I’m convinced more than ever that Ontario has the potential to produce, and is already producing, quality wines of the caliber that should make the champenois quiver in their standard-issue vigneron coveralls.”

– John Szabo

How Icewine Is Made

Icewine season starts when the grape vines are netted in the autumn to protect them from being devoured by birds. Grapes are then left on the vine until a sustained temperature of -8°C or lower is reached (typically between December and February). During the time between the end of the growing season and harvest, the grapes dehydrate and the juices are concentrated, creating the characteristic complexities of Icewine.

Grape growers and wineries carefully watch the weather, looking for an optimum stretch of temperatures between -10°C and -12°C. This range will produce very sweet juice in the range of 35 to 39 degrees Brix (a measurement of sugar). Typically, a period of at least six hours is needed to harvest and press the grapes – usually during the night. Many wineries harvest by hand but mechanized harvesting is also used.

Harvested grapes are pressed in small hydraulic presses. Because the grapes are frozen, most of the mass is water and is left behind as ice in the press. Only a small amount of concentrated juice is extracted. Juice yields for Icewine grapes are much lower than for table wines – only 15% of the expected yield for grapes harvested for table wines. Icewine juice is very sweet and can be difficult to ferment. High sugars can create a hostile environment for the yeast and fermentation stops early, leaving relatively low alcohol and high sugar levels in the finished wine. Icewine can be aged in stainless steel tanks to enhance their pure fruit expression, or aged in oak barrels for an added depth of complexity. For something really unique, during the mid-90’s the Charmat Method was applied to develop a sparkling Icewine.