It was an early and chilly morning for the Mazza Vineyards in Northeast today.
It’s a yearly gamble with Mother Nature: will the temperature get to the frigid 17 degrees needed to produce their award-winning ice wine. If not, the crop could be lost.
This morning, the Mazza Family, employees and volunteers let out a sigh of relief when the temperature finally hit that magic number.
“This is our annual effort to pick our Vidal Blanc grapes that are frozen on the vine for ice wine. We’ve got two different vineyards. Some here down at Mazza Vineyards; we’ve got some up at the John and Cindy Moorhead Farm as well… we’re hoping about about four hours or so. By mid to late morning we should have everything off between the three or so acres we’ve got hanging,” said Mario Mazza, Vice President and General Manager of Mazza Vineyards.
The process is naturally a risk every year, but Mario says this year was particularly risky with the potential of crop loss.
“We were definitely a bit nervous. Anytime we get into January, it’s already late,” Mario said.
Most times, Mazza Vineyards pick in December. They have been able to pick as early as November, but the weather has been so mild this year.
“Because it’s such late in the season, they’re dehydrated, and as a result, they’re very light. A lot of the water is out of them, but that’s also a plus for us because that means the quality is going to be better,” said Robert Mazza, President of Mazza Vineyards.
The grapes may be light and dehydrated, however the Mazza Vineyards plan to pick at least 6,000-8,000 pounds (3-4 tons) of grapes, all by hand.
Once the frozen grapes are all picked, the pressing process begins.
“We’ll start pressing that fruit, so we wanna press it while it’s still froze. What water is in there, stays behind there as ice, and what you press out is a really sweet juice. And what that allows us to do is when we ferment that, we leave a lot of that natural sugar leftover and that how you create that very intense, concentrated, sweet finished, dessert-styled wine with ice wine,” said Mario.
The tradition is does not have Italian roots, but the Mazza Vinyards are proud to produce it.
“It’s more of a Germanic tradition that was really something we adopted in the early eighties. We’ve been doing it the longest in the region here. It’s just a really unique wine,” said Mario.
Dozens of people help out annually. “We’ve had probably about 25-30 people volunteers and staff. And then there were probably a dozen other volunteers and staff at the other vineyard site,” said Robert.
Robert Mazza says this wine pairs well with fruit, cheese or even by itself as a dessert of its own. A 2017 bottle of ice wine costs $44.95.
Ice wine is so popular it won the Double Gold at the Pennsylvania Farm Show in the Sweet Wine category.
Don’t expect to see this year’s production on the shelves anytime soon. It takes a long time to ferment and process the wine. You’ll be seeing this wine on the shelves sometime later this year.