Extreme winemaking. That's a good way to think of the Grand River Valley ice wine industry. Lovely wine made under extreme conditions, yielding extreme flavor and becoming extremely popular.
"We were the first to make ice wine in the Grand River Valley [American Viticultural Area]," the pioneering Nick Ferrante told us when we visited to learn more about their award-winning vintages. Their debut batch was in 2000. "We've increased production every year since, and it's still hard to keep up with the demand."
Ferrante is a third-generation winemaker. His grandparents, Nicholas and Anna, established the family winery in Cleveland's Collinwood neighborhood in 1937. The farm was moved to Geneva in 1942. Today, the family's winery and ristorante is firmly rooted in the Grand River Valley appellation.
To legally be labeled ice wine, grapes must be picked while frozen on the vine. Depending on weather patterns, that can mean picking in both daylight and darkness. Like some smaller vineyards still do, Ferrante crews used to pick the grapes by hand. Now things have changed. "Our explosive growth over the last 10 years required the introduction of mechanized harvesting," Nick explained.
After harvesting, the frozen grapes are crushed so their water content (in this case present as ice) is left behind. Since these grapes had the longest hang time in the vineyard, they surrender a nectar-like juice that is the most concentrated version possible of their natural sweetness and acidity.
Vidal Blanc is the most popular grape for making ice wine because its thick skin resists cracking during freezing temperatures. It drinks to lovely peach and apricot flavors. Winemakers are limited only by how adventurous they are.
"This year I'm also making our first Cabernet Franc Ice Wine and then maybe a Chardonnay," Nick shared. He was hedging on the latter but from the look in his eye, it will likely happen. The Cab Franc will have strawberry and raspberry overtones he predicted, and the Chardonnay will likely show tree fruit flavors.
If you want to learn more, circle the first two Saturdays of March on your calendar. That's when the Winegrowers of the Grand River Valley host their appellation's Ice Wine Festival.
For more information, call (440) 466-VINO or visit www.ferrantewinery.com.