Sat 3/16 @ noon-5PM
This weekend, you have the chance to try ice wines at the Grand River Valley Ice Wine Festival. We have the right conditions to produce ice wines in Ohio — we have the grapes, we have the frost, we have the ability to wait until the time is right. Six wineries are participating in the weekend festival that takes place Sat 3/16 @ noon-5pm.
To enjoy ice wines, your palate must be prepared for a sweet dessert wine, called Eiswein in German. If you’re expecting a sweet Niagara wine, guess again. Ice wines are highly concentrated and rare. Most ice wines are produced in Germany and Canada, and are unlike any other wines because the grapes are harvested on the night they first freeze and picked within a few hours. The viticulturists purposely leave their healthiest grapes on the vine to use them until the late harvest.
The juice is highly concentrated because the water freezes, but the sugars and other dissolved solids do not, producing a concentrated grape juice. The grapes must be pressed from frozen grapes before fermentation. The wine becomes a velvety-smooth concoction like no other. The wines are worth celebrating because of the patience of the vineyards managers and the work force they must garner to come out in the middle of the night to pick grapes. Wait any longer and the grapes drop to the ground, unworthy. The resulting juice is precious and expensive.
There are reasons why ice wine is bottled in small containers and costs more than other wines —it’s in short supply and is labor-intensive. And now is the time to experience them, because when the supply is gone, that’s it. The great thing about a group of wineries banding together for a festival is that you have the ability to compare the wines and decide what you like. Take the time to notice the nuances in the wines due to different kinds of grapes, the Earth (or terroir) it’s grown in, the length of time spent aging.
The Grand River is the heart of the Vines and Wines Trail east of Cleveland near Lake Erie. In addition to the moderating temperature of the lake, the valley of the Grand River adds additional protection from wind and sleet and snow. Since we’re in Ohio, winter always comes, and when it’s near, growers keep watch for the first frost. Ohio ice wines are one of our signature productions in the Lake Erie appellation — not all grape-growing regions get a frost.
Personally, I love Ohio wines because they’re local, each winery’s unique, the wines and the owners are accessible, and because Ohio has a deep history of winemaking that makes it special. People don’t know Ohio has over 300 wineries or that it was called Vinland in the 19th century because travelers up the Ohio River spied bountiful Catawba vineyards. It’s fun to talk to the winemakers and experience the unique qualities of every wine.
Participating wineries at the 15th Annual Ice Wine Festival are Debonne Vineyards, Ferrante Winery, Grand River Cellars, Laurello Vineyards, St. Joseph Vineyards, and South River Vineyard. Take Route 2 west into Lake County and follow the signs to the wineries that are within a few minutes’ drive from each other. The $6 cost at each winery includes a collectible ice wine glass, wine samples, an appetizer, and a special festival-style event. Those bringing a canned food item for the food bank get a $1 discount. Noon to five is enough time to linger at each of six wineries and maybe eat dinner when the afternoon ends.
Debonne Vineyards, Tony Dbevc’s heritage family winery that had its beginnings in 1976, is housed in the winery’s chalet-style building and the cozy, homey interior is a nice escape from winter doldrums. The Ferrante family began making wine in Cleveland’s Collinwood neighborhood, and the Tuscan villa-style winery that serves Italian food is a destination winery known for its Italian hospitality. Grand River Cellars is set back from the road, giving it a reclusive feel, in a good way, and inside you’ll feel like you’re in another world. Laurello Vineyards, a family-owned winery, pays homage to the family’s ancestors with Italian-style wine made from estate-grown grapes, and the space has a softy-lit Tuscan feel. St. Joseph Vineyards produces pinot noirs that surprise many Ohio wine drinkers and successfully compete against Oregon wineries. And South River, also known as the church winery, shows off the beautiful, even when bare, vineyards behind the winery.
More information can be found on the wineries’ websites or at the Ohio Wine Producer Association’s site at ohiowines.org/.