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The Weather Network
Dec. 17, 2018 | Monday
Local News
Icewine harvest earliest ever for NC students
Niagara College students Tyra Obsborne and Taylor Toth harvest icewine grapes early Thursday morning, in what was the earliest ice wine grape harvest students have ever done. (Richard Harley/Niagara Now)

Around Niagara, wine makers and grape growers were out in the fields Thursday morning for an early harvest of icewine grapes.

The harvest being so early is extremely rare, said Niagara College wine professor Ron Giesbrecht, who was up at 4 a.m. to supervise his students while they picked in the -8 degree temperatures.

Typically, he said, the harvest happens in January or February, and while it's normally more based on the wine maker's individual style prefence when to harvest, with temperatures being so low so early, in combination with the region's poor growing season, it was important to get out and pick them early.

At the college, it was the earliest students have ever been out picking, though in his 30-year career he can remember being out as early as Nov. 17.

“It’s the perfect day for it,” Giesbrecht said.

“You need -8 degrees and we’ve got -8 to -9, which is just about perfect. And it’s calm, so we’re not getting blown around out here with winds and blizzards as we have in the past.”

The lack of wind and shorter hang times for the grapes also helps with the yield, he said, and with a growing season that left a lot of grapes with rot, it’s “important to get out there and harvest as early as possible.”

When wine makers decide to harvest their ice wine grapes is largely due to stylistic differences.

“If you have repeated freeze-thaw cycles, the actual cellular structure inside the grape breaks down and you have enzymatic action, the same way that you do when you cut an apple and you get browning,” Giesbrecht said.

His preference, he said, is for an earlier harvest, which leaves more of the grape characteristic in the wine. The characteristics of a grape left longer on the vine be more like a “caramel, creme brulee or dried fruit,” while an earlier harvest will have more of a clean, fresh-fruit taste.

An earlier harvested grape will also make for a longer lasting wine, he said.

The students at the college were harvesting vidal grapes, one of the most common grapes used in icewine production, Giesbrecht said.

The students didn’t seem affected at all by the cold or early hours.

Second-year wine production students Steve Kornic and Michael Smith said they came prepared, having been out picking in their first year of studies.

“We learned,” they jested.

“Everybody has longies on, and winter coats, and they’re in layers … and we’ve got warms drinks and things for them inside, so hopefully we’re keeping them warm and fuelled,” Giesbrecht said.

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