Tuesday, January 8, 2013

2012 Eiswein in Germany, Icewine in Canada, and Cryo-Extraction Wines

Picture: Eiswein Harvest 2012 at Weingut Balthasar Ress, Rheingau, Germany

When the temperature dropped considerably in Germany during the night of December 8th to 9th 2012, dozens of German wine makers spent a sleepless night and instead harvesting Eiswein. The conditions were right - thoroughly frozen grapes - and the legal requirement - temperatures below -7 °C - were fulfilled in many of the 13 German wine growing regions in that night. Other winemakers waited a few days and harvested during the night of December 12th to 13th. All German 2012 Eiswein was harvested between December 8th and 13th.

Overall, German winemakers are very enthusiastic about the 2012 Eiswein. Here are a few reports from wine makers.

Reiner Flick, Weingut Joachim Flick, Flörsheim-Wicker, Rheingau,  harvested 5000 kg within 4 hours at -13° C from 2 different vineyards: 2012er Wickerer Nonnberg Riesling Eiswein, 320 liter at 175° Oechsle and a 2012er Wickerer Mönchsgewann Riesling Eiswein, 380 liter at 168° Oechsle. Harvest started at 10 pm and ended at 2 am, with 20 people.

Armin Diel, Schlossgut Diel, Burg Layen, Nahe, harvested in the first 2 hours of December 9th 130 liter at 188° Oechsle. The temperature was -10° C. This was the only time corridor, where the harvest was possible. 7 hours later, the temperature had risen to close to zero.

Weingut Bernhard Pawis, Zscheiplitz, Saale-Unstrut, harvested on December 8th at 7 am at -12° C 100 liter of Riesling Eiswein (180° Oechsle).

In the Rheingau at Weingut Balthasar Ress in Hattenheim, General Manager Dirk Würtz harvested with 15 helpers 40 liter Eiswein at 180° Oechsle.

Here are more reports from Germany.

Deutsches Weininstitut link

VDP link

Eiswein/Ice Wine and Noble-Sweet Wines

Eiswein belongs to the group of noble-sweet wines. There are basically two methods of producing noble-sweet wines.

First, wait for the grapes to be botrytised. Botrytise Cinerea (noble rot) is a fungus that under the right conditions attacks already-ripe grapes, shriveling them, concentrating the sweetness and acidity. The grapes end up looking disgusting but they make profound sweet white wines with complex apricot, honey and spice flavors and good balancing acidity. Typically noble rot forms best in conditions where morning mist from a lake or river gets burnt off during the day by hot sun.

Second, wait for the grapes to be frozen. Grapes used for producing ice wine have a substantially lower level of sugar in the vineyard than the botrytised grapes, but that night, when the grapes are harvested, the frost has converted the grapes into ice. 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. This also produces profound sweet wines, but without the taste of the noble rot.

Eiswein in Germany and Icewine in Canada

Pictures: Dirk Wuertz and his 2012 Eiswein at Weingut Balthasar Ress, Rheingau, Germany (All pictures are courtesy of Weingut Balthasar Ress)

The main producers of ice wine are Germany and Canada. In Germany, there is no guarantee for the vintners for the frost to come and to allow them to pick frozen, sugar-rich grapes to make the sweet and expensive elixir. So, it is always a risk to let the fruit hang and wait for the temperature to fall. In Canada, there is no such risk and this explains why Canada has become the leading producer of ice wine in the world.

Generally, ice wine require a hard freeze to occur sometime after the grapes are ripe which means that the grapes typically hang on the vine well beyond the normal harvest. If a freeze does not come quickly enough, the grapes may rot and the crop will be lost. If the freeze is too severe, the juice extraction by pressing can be very long. The longer the harvest is delayed, the more fruit will be lost to wild animals and dropped fruit. Since the fruit must be pressed while it is still frozen, pickers often must work at night or very early in the morning, harvesting the grapes within a few hours.

The high sugar level in the must leads to a slower-than-normal fermentation. It may take months to complete the fermentation (compared to days or weeks for regular wines) and special strains of yeasts are used.

Due to the labor-intense and risky production process resulting in relatively small amounts of wine, ice wines are generally quite expensive.


For ice wine, the grapes are frozen while still on the vine. Alternatively, the freezing can take place after the harvest in the wine cellar (cryo-extraction). This is an approach, which kind of simulates the frost in the vineyard in the wine cellar. It was developed by the French. Instead of waiting for Mother Nature to produce frosty temperatures in the vineyard, the winemaker subjects the grapes to frosty temperatures in the cellar and presses them while frozen.

In the US, Austria, Germany, and Canada, the grapes must freeze naturally to be called ice wine.

German wine law entirely bans post-harvest freezing methods, even if not labeled "Eiswein".

In France, in the Sauternes region, cryo-extraction has been used now for several decades to support the production of noble-sweet, botrytised Sauternes wines.

In the US, TTB (Tax and Trade Bureau) regulations state that "Wine made from grapes frozen after harvest may not be labeled with the term "ice wine" or any variation thereof, and if the wine is labeled to suggest it was made from frozen grapes, the label must be qualified to show that the grapes were frozen postharvest." Non-traditional ice wines are generally given a proprietary name. The first non-traditional ice wine in the US was reportedly made in 1986 by Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon.

Nicolas Quille, head winemaker of Pacific Rim, who worked for Randall Grahm many years:  “There are several advantages to the cryo-extraction technique versus the true ice-wine method. Firstly, making ice wine in Germany or Canada (the only two countries that have laws insuring that you are getting a “true” ice wine) is a bit like playing Russian roulette; some years you get a good frost, some you don’t and you lose the crop. Secondly, with cryo-extraction, the timing of the frost is predictable; no need to get up at midnight on Christmas day (though making a “Christwein” is somewhat romantic at first glance) and it is less likely to have half the crop eaten by birds. Predictability allows a winery to get a better yield every year, which should be reflected in the price (our VDG – Vin de Glace - sells for $14 vs $100 for a true ice wine). Thirdly, the chemistry is different with cryo-extracted wine; the wines will be a bit tarter (picked earlier) and less “funky” (no botrytis and other fungal influence). We actually make both styles and but for an everyday pleasure, the VDG is perfect for the price.”

schiller-wine: Related Postings

Bumping into Randall Grahm in San Francisco, Owner of famed Bonny Doon Vineyard in Santa Cruz in California, USA

German American Wines: (1) Pacific Rim Dry Riesling, (2) Eroica, (3) Woelffer and his Schiller Wine

Visiting Winemaker Steven Sealock at Pacific Rim Winemakers in Washington State, USA

Pacific Rim Riesling #1 of Wine Enthusiast Top 100 Best Buy List 2011 - Meeting Founder Randall Grahm and Winemakers Nicolas Quille and Steven Sealock 

German Winemakers in the World: Johann Schiller - the father of Canada's wine industry

2009 German Eiswein - icewine - was harvested on December 18 and 19

German Wine Basics: Sugar in the Grape - Alcohol and Sweetness in the Wine

Eiswein in Germany and Icewine in Canada

Eiswein in Germany and Ice Wine in Canada

Tokaji: Depressing and Encouraging News from Hungary

Normally, Wine is Dry. But there are Many Sweet Wines in the World. How is Sweet Wine Made?

A Sauternes Vertical at the Embassy of France in Washington DC with Wine from Château Raymond-Lafon and Owner Jean-Pierre Meslier, France/US

Hanging out with Rheingau Winemakers: Dirk Wuertz, Desiree Eser, Alexander Jakob Jung, Hansi Bausch and Christian Ress in Hattenheim, Rheingau, Germany


  1. The added exposure to the elements is also what makes true Icewine in my opinion a superior wine. Cryo-Extracted wines can be made with more precision, less rules and usually less passion. They are easy to make sweet wines.

    Icewine on the other hand gains complexity from added time in the vineyard. There is more botrytis risk, potential for higher volatility, some added oxidation risk, etc. Combining that gives the wine a complexity that is not accomplished through Cryo-Extraction. It is a mor true expression of where the wine is grown and collecting character from all elements of the terroir, including the differing seasons. This is the only wine in the world that accomplishes that. Cryo-extracted wines tend to be simply sweeter and slighly more vicous examples of simple varietal table wines.

    I personally am a big fan of do what is possible for your own site, and do it the best. If you can't make Icewine, fine, but they likely can't make as ripe of a Syrah or Cabernet. It is all about appropriateness to terroir. Kudo's to German and Canadian producers for bringing real Icewine (Eiswein). - Jordan Harris - Tarara Winery

  2. Jordan - excellent comment. No need to add anything. Thanks. Christian