Chilly temps freeze grapes, creating early ice wine harvest

Not everyone is enjoying the the chilly temperatures but it is helping out the grapes at Chateau Chantal on Old Mission Peninsula.

Workers moved quickly to hand pick 2-3 tons of frozen grapes from the vines on Wednesday morning for the annual Ice Wine harvest that came a little early this year with the cold temperatures. Because grapes are made up of about 80-percent water and 20-percent sugar, temperatures between 15-19 degrees are ideal for Ice Wine grape harvesting.

After the grapes are picked, they are loaded up and hauled back to the winery where they wait their turn to be thrown into the presser.

"When we press a ton of regular grapes, we get 160 or 170 gallons of grape juice," said Chateau Chantal Vintner, Mark Johnson. "When we press a ton of frozen grapes, we get about 40 gallons of juice because the ice, the water in the grapes stays in the press. It doesn't come out."

The result is a rich, juice concentrate that is then ready to ferment for nearly 4 months.

"They key is to get up to 6 or 7 or 8-percent alcohol," said Johnson. "Sometimes that's difficult but once you get there the yeast stops and you have this incredibly rick, lush, concentrates product that is ice wine."

Chateau Chantal says that not only do they expect a good Ice Wine harvest, but that they have also had a record year for their regular harvest that brought in more than 400 tons of grapes.

The 375 ml bottles of Ice Wine at Chateau Chantal are sold for $70. One bottle is enough for six people to enjoy. Chateau Chantal hopes to bring in around 800 bottles of Ice Wine this year.