Johnson Estate harvests grapes for ice wine

WESTFIELD – This week’s frigid weather in western New York with 25 inches of snow reported in Ripley and Westfield on Monday – was good news for the ice wine producers concentrated in Buffalo’s “ice wine triangle,” the roughly 70-mile area near Buffalo that includes Niagara and Chautauqua counties as well as the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario, Canada. This region, with the all-important Niagara and Alleghany Escarpments which help to capture moderating lake air, is one of the very few regions in the world, along with the Finger Lakes, Germany and Austria, which can claim to have the right climate and the right geography for the production of high quality ice wine grapes.

Amidst gray skies, snow flurries and temperatures of just 9 degrees, a hardy crew of 20 completed the harvest of Johnson Estate’s ice wine grapes, frozen solid by the cold temperatures of winter storm Jove. The winery’s harvest of about 7 tons of Chambourcin and Vidal grapes from its vineyards takes unique advantage of the region’s infamous lake-effect blizzards and cold. Johnson Estate has been making ice wine for 20 years and these grapes will be used to make three kinds of ice wine: the traditional, white ice wine made from Vidal grapes, a rare red ice wine, from Chambourcin grapes, and the winery’s newest ice wine, Sparkling Rose Ice wine, which uses a blend of both of these grapes.

Johnson Estate, now in its 52nd year, produces true ice wines, which are made from grapes which have frozen naturally on the vines. Its newest ice wine is its 2011 Sparkling Rose Ice Wine. Owner Fred Johnson and winemaker Jeff Murphy were inspired to make it in 2011 after a visit to the Niagara Peninsula, which included sampling a Vidal sparkling ice wine. Sparkling ice wines, a product idea sometimes credited in 1988 to Canadian wine consultant and writer Konrad Ejbich, is a challenging product to make as the required yeasts ferment with difficulty in the “hostile” high-sugar environment of ice wine.

Johnson Estate’s Sparkling Rose Ice Wine is the winery’s first sparkling ice wine, and is believed to be the first sparkling ice wine ever produced in the United States. This unique and special complex flavored wine is made using the traditional, in-the-bottle “champagne” method which produces a fine fizz as well as the pressures needed for a fine sparkling dessert wine. Johnson Estate’s Sparkling Rose Ice Wine is an artisanal product, which requires dosing, riddling, disgorging, and corking of the small, long-necked 375ml bottles.

Johnson Estate Winery is located in western New York along the shores of Lake Erie. The winery’s products are available in retail stores throughout New York State and in northern Ohio. Limited varieties are available in Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board stores. The winery regularly ships wine to consumers located in nearly 40 continental states. For more information visit www.johnsonwinery.com, or www.facebook.com/johnsonwinery, or by calling 326-2191.