Ontario Icewine – 2022 Harvest Report
In line with the overall harvest volumes of 2022, this year’s Icewine harvest is short. With just over 760 tonnes registered for Icewine production (includes both Icewine and late harvest), this makes 2022 the smallest VQA recorded Icewine vintage of the last twenty years. I’m not suggesting any reason other than that is what Mother Nature gave us, and what precious few grapes that were picked were kept for the still wines which have a greater domestic market share/value and are less risky to farm than later hang-time styles.
It can be a dice roll to leave the grapes on the vines until winter sets in; they can fall victim to hungry birds or rot. Fortunately for Ontario, every winter since the late 1980s, when Icewine was first made commercially in the province, it has been cold enough to have a harvest. I’m sure it is nerve racking to wait for the necessary chilly temperatures, especially with climate change front of mind. Regulations require minus 8 degrees Celsius during the pick to ensure the grapes are in their solid state. This vintage’s first pick occurred in December, in the wee hours of the 23rd/24th when you might have been peacefully (and warmly) sleeping off the holiday rum and eggnog glow. The grapes that did not get harvested then were ideally finished off during the last cold spell around January 14th. Quality, I am told, is good overall.
I’m not raising the alarm of a smaller harvest resulting in a shortage and I imagine market demand shrunk due to the pandemic. Ontarians don’t drink as much Icewine as is exported or sold to tourists, and though travel restrictions from 2020-2021 are lifted, Ontario wine tourism is still building towards pre-pandemic levels. While Icewine is seen as a Canadian flagship to those from elsewhere, it does not seem to be viewed the same way locally and I imagine that the domestic market is a tougher one for it to crack.
I’ll admit to not having sweet wines often and truth be told, unless I’m out at a restaurant I don’t tend to have a dessert course; this is the case for most. But the indulgent nature of an Icewine wine, whether with dessert or more preferably for me, with bit of strong cheese, is a treat, and I bear firsthand witness from my years as a restaurant sommelier, Icewines are overwhelmingly enjoyed if you can get them in front of the guest.
Here are some top picks from past vintages to enjoy; all current releases.
Peller Estates Vidal VQA Niagara Peninsula 2018 $75/375ml (RS 179 g/l, abv 11%)
The nose opened slowly but as it did it, nectarine, peach and mandarin came forward, honey and a slight saffron note. Well balanced on the palate, a nice seam of acidity makes this lively and not too weighty, which can sometimes be the case for Vidal Icewines from Ontario. The warming effect of the wine on the palate really allows it to open aromatically/flavor wise, and notes of dried mango, orange blossom came through. Nice length.
Reif Estate Vidal VQA Niagara River 2019 $55/375ml (RS 245 g/l, abv 10.5%)
Exotic nose; spiced papaya, ripe peaches, sweet peach liqueur, pears in syrup. On the palate, leaning to the richer side with the acidity finding its footing on the finish and doing well to brighten up the unctuous and nearly cloying texture. Would work well with a warmed stone fruit tart or similar rustic and comforting dessert. Finished quite round and robust.
Hare Wine Co ‘Frontier’ Vidal VQA Niagara Peninsula 2019 $65/200ml (RS 171 g/l, abv 10.3%)
Fairly straightforward, stone fruits and tropical fruit notes of pineapple, mango, peach flowers and honey. On the palate, balanced veering on the rounder side, which is expected of the grape. Moderate finish, not overly complex but quite pleasant.
Byland Estate Riesling VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake 2019 $50 (RS 170 g/l, abv 11%)
Smoky, slightly reductive nose with delicate ripe pear, peach, honeysuckle, mandarin, guava. On the palate beginning with sweetness and body and an almost immediate acidity counterpart. Similar flavor profile to the nose, more open and intriguing. Long finish, nice complexity.