An Icy Debate

By / Magazine / March 1st, 2012 / 1

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has just completed a consultation on new label regulations that has sparked debate about the true nature of Icewine. If the change is implemented, it will mean a national regulation on one of Canada’s hottest, or rather coldest, wine products.

The proposed labelling change requires that only wine made from “grapes naturally frozen on the vine” can be labelled as Icewine. Guy Gravelle, Senior Media Relations Officer for the CFIA, explains that the CFIA consultation is the final step in a series of international discussions that began in 2003. Worldwide, Icewine is currently protected under the guidelines enforced in 2004 and 2007. Canada is the only country where “frozen on the vine” is unclear. In Canada, there are two methods of producing Icewine. The most common is to leave grapes on the vine until temperatures reach -7°C, the freezing point for wine grapes. The second method, unique to Quebec, is when the grapes are harvested in the fall, placed in nets, covered with dirt and snow, and left to freeze.

The netting method used in Quebec protects the fragile vines from the sudden freeze that can occur at -25°C.  “In Quebec … we need to cut the grapes when the vine is in [a] dormant state and the grapes are in the net. We … earth up the vines with 30cm natural soil to prevent the loss of the vines,” says Jean Joly, an executive of the AVQ (Association des Vignerons du Quebec) and owner of Marathonien, an Icewine producer in Havelock, Quebec.

Mr. Joly has been at the forefront of the debate, arguing for the Quebec production method to be recognized under the new labelling requirements. “If we [can’t] put the label Icewine on the bottle, we will not [be able] to export the wine.”

Some worry that if the netting method is included in the new regulation, it may open the door to other non-traditional production methods.  “Broadening the definition of Icewine could cause problems for [producers] in the future. Other countries may try to open the definition further,” says Luke Hardford, VP of Economics and Government Relations at the Canadian Vintners Association. This means that the market could flood with “artificial” Icewine. Countries, like China, where the regulations aren’t enforced attempt to produce Icewine through artificial means – but they cannot export it to the countries bound under the World Wine Trade Group agreement.

“We have to find a way out of this that isn’t going to negatively impact Canada’s reputation as the preeminent Icewine producer.” Mr. Hardford states. British Columbia, Ontario and Nova Scotia currently have strict regulations about Icewine production methods. The new labelling regulation, if adopted, could leave Quebec Icewine producers out in the cold. No pun intended.

Discussion closed on February 14th, 2012 (see details here). The new regulation must be in effect by December 31, 2012.


A freelance writer and editor, Lisa Hoekstra loves learning and trying new things. She can be found with her nose in a book or multiple tabs open on her browser as she researches the latest and greatest in the world of food, style and everything in between.

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