Vin De Glacière – Wine from the Ice Box « en Français »
We recently received a rave review for our 2011 Vin De Glacière (VDG for short) from the Wine Spectator (90 points) and this reminded me that I have not done a post on the VDG since 2008! It is time to correct this dry spell as we prepare for our 26th vintage of VDG!
If you are just now joining our program, the VDG is a cryo-extracted wine. Cryo-extraction is a technique mimicking naturally frozen ice wine. The handpicked grapes for cryo-extracted wine are stored in cold storage while ice wines (which have been made for over 200 years) use Mother Nature to concentrate grape sugar. The concentration process is fairly simple; when a grape gets frozen, the water freezes first and the sugar last – this is reversed when the grapes are thawed. If you follow me, when you thaw the grapes while pressing, you end up extracting all the sugar first, leaving the water frozen in the press thus concentrating your juice.
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 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.
The first VDG was made in 1986 by Randall Grahm, arguably this was the first cryo-extracted wine made in the USA – this is a heritage we are very proud of. It was a Muscat Canelli at the time. Randall made many versions of VDG: Grenache, Gewurztraminer, Semillon and Riesling, but really stuck with Muscat all along. When I took over the responsibility for this wine in 2006, we made a final change to Riesling – Pacific Rim is all about Riesling after all – and started making the wine in Washington State. We had to reinvent some of the techniques: making VDG during the winter in the very cold state of Washington was a bit different than making it in flip flops in California. After a couple vintages of trial and error, we found the perfect balance. The quantum leaps in quality were achieved by using ice wine yeasts (low volatile acidity producer), reducing the overall alcohol levels (now our wines are 9%) and switching to organic grapes. We now make the VDG from a single vineyard (Wallula) and it is certified “Made from Organic Grapes” which is important because it means it cannot contain more than 100ppm of sulfites, which is low for a dessert wine. We’d love to hear your thoughts!