I recently received a teeny little bottle of ice wine in a gift basket, and it left me thinking about how very Canadian icewine seems, even though it is a borrowed culinary product. How did Canada become the icewine capital of the world?
Well, icewine definitely pairs well with the Canadian psyche. As the Quebec folksong says, “Mon pays, ce n’est pas un pays, c’est l‘hiver”. We identify with cold and ice and the depths of winter, even if for most of us the extent of our exposure to frozen wilderness doesn’t go beyond scraping our frozen windshield on a crisp morning.
Canada’s ice wine industry is also proof of our increasingly talented wine producers. Ice wine is a sweet wine made from grapes harvested when frozen on the vine, and ice wine production, like the production of maple syrup, requires specific weather and temperature conditions. Canada has become the world’s largest producer of icewine, taking advantage of near perfect conditions on the bench lands of Niagara and the interior of British Columbia. Canada has enforced exacting standards for icewine. The VQA requires icewine grapes be naturally frozen on the vine at -8°C or colder and that this temperature be maintained throughout the pressing process without artificial refrigeration. The sugar levels must also meet a certain standard.
We may not have made icewine first, but we certainly do it well. Icewine was first made in Germany, and they are likely surprised to hear it is a Canadian culinary icon. But thanks to our cultural identity as a cold country, and our exacting standards, we lead the world in this sweet golden liquid. I cracked my little bottle to celebrate a recent milestone, and marveled at the complexity of summer fruit kissed by winter.