Finger Lakes Wine Society -
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Late Harvest & Ice Wines

Late Harvest Wines and Ice Wines are made from grapes that are left on the vines through the first frosts of winter or longer. Late Harvest Wine grapes are typically harvested in late November and Ice Wine fruit is harvested even later, usually in late December. The first Late Harvest & Ice Wines probably came about by accident. Some vineyard manager forgot to harvest the back forty and in an effort to see what kind of wine those frozen, moldy grapes would make- a delicious sweet wine was discovered. Nature truly works magic in the process of giving us Late Harvest and Ice Wines.

It's all about the mold. Its formal name is Botryotinia fuckeliana, but is also known as Botrytis cinerea or just plain Botrytis. Other names this mold goes by include "Noble Rot", botrytis bunch rot and Gray Mold. This mold is critical in making a late harvest or ice wine. The conditions must be just right in order for this mold to attack the grapes. If things are a little too humid- the crop is ruined and is a complete loss.

Botrytis is the key to these late harvest wines for several reasons. First, the mold feeds on the sugars inside the grapes and in doing so, permeates the skins of the grapes. This helps the moisture inside to grape -essentially water- to evaporate, leaving behind a shriveled grape with really high sugar levels. There are several types of sugar in the grapes, including glucose and fructose. When we humans taste glucose, it’s not a big deal. It's sweet, but ho-hum. However, when we taste fructose- yum! That's the stuff! When the Botrytis is feeding on the sugar, it actually prefers glucose and leaves behind the fructose. Furthermore, when the winemaker inoculates with yeast, the yeast also prefers the glucose to fructose. So this is how we end up with a highly sweetened wine containing all natural fructose. It's delicious!

But, it's expensive! And what's up with these little, tiny bottles?

A typical regular harvest around the Finger Lakes region brings approximately four tons of grapes per acre, depending on variety and growing conditions that particular year (Vintage). Each ton of grapes yields approximately 700-900 bottles of wine. So, you are looking at about 2800 to 3600 bottles of wine per acre of vineyard.

Now, think about those grapes and how they shrivel up to little, moldy raisins. The yield is cut dramatically! Not to mention how much of your crop will be completely decimated by the birds, deer and the number one culprit of them all- the wild turkey. They don't call them gobblers for nothing! Many of these vineyards you will see neatly wrapped in netting to keep the wildlife out. There are many tricks a savvy vineyard manager uses to minimize fruit theft. By the time these grapes are harvested you are looking at only a fraction of the yield from a regular harvest. Not only are you getting much less tonnage per acre, each ton that you do get will only give you about 300 bottles for a Late Harvest Wine and even less, about 125 bottles from an Ice Wine harvest! It's no wonder that these wines come in those little bottles! It's plain to see why they are so expensive, too, once you taste the wine! But, there are other costs associated with producing these wines, too. For example, the fruit must be all harvested by hand. Sometimes harvest comes at strange hours. Not only do you have to harvest the grapes at just the right time to get the most from the fruit for the wine you are making, but generally, you need to harvest these grapes while they are frozen.

The wine made from these grapes is amazing. Dessert is a very important course of a meal. Perhaps the most important because it is the last course and your last chance to leave your guest with a great impression. So many times people will slave over a fancy dessert only to have it come out badly. (Baked Alaska Flambé? And we all know what happens to a soufflé!) Take this writer's advice, just get a bottle of Late Harvest or Ice Wine from the FINGER LAKES. Pick up a fresh peach and/or a fresh pear. If you are lucky enough to have a Wegman's grocery store, get a couple different kinds of peaches and pears. Now, slice up the peaches and pears real quick after dinner and serve them family-style in the middle of the table and pour your guests all a half a glass of the dessert wine. Now, sit back and witness the reactions. The groans and revelations will make you glad that you didn't try to make Bananas Foster or Crepes Suzette!
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