10 Facts About Michigan Ice Wine


Connoisseurs might describe this irresistible and luscious wine choice as liquid-gold - ice wine. Learn more about Michigan ice wine and the local producers that have received awards for the highly-prized delight below.  
 

1. Ice Wine is Sweet and Delicious

This is why it is a dessert wine. The wine is sweeter because it is made with grapes still frozen on the vine. The sugars, however, do not freeze which allows for a more concentrated and sweeter flavor.  
 

2. Michigan is Ideally Suited for Ice Wine Production 

Most other U.S. states cannot produce this decadent libation – it just doesn’t get cold enough. While not all Michigan wineries offer ice wine, many do. Consider booking a trip to the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail near Traverse City, the Thumbs Up Wine Trail in southeast Michigan or the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail.
 

3. There are Strict Rules  

Frozen Grapes on the Vine
Frozen Grapes on the Vine | Photo Courtesy of Dominic Rivard


These rules are for governing the harvesting, handling and labeling of ice wine, not just in Michigan, but internationally.
 

4. The Grapes are Frozen

Ice wine is made from grapes that have been partially frozen on the vine. There are “ice-style” wines that are made from grapes that are harvested then frozen, but these cannot be labeled as “ice wine.” Many vineyards will let you tour their grounds during the winter months, which offers a unique contrast to what you'll see between spring and fall.
 

 5. It is Risky

Leaving grapes on the vine for ice wine is risky. The longer the grapes hang on the vine, the more the sugar is concentrated. More sugar means more tasty morsels for birds, raccoons and other critters. Growers often cover the vines with netting to help reduce the damage.
 

6. Weather Counts

The grapes can also be lost to other elements of nature – hail, wind and even a sudden warm spell can jeopardize an ice wine crop.
 

7. It Must be 18 Degrees

Harvested Frozen Grapes
Harvested Frozen Grapes | Photo Courtesy of Chateau Chantal


Harvesting grapes for ice wine must be done when the temperature drops to about 18 degrees Fahrenheit. At this point, the water in the grapes freezes, but the sugar does not.
 

8. It Cannot be too Cold  

If the temperature dips too low, for too long, the grapes can actually freeze too hard and the grapes are like marbles. No juice can be extracted, so the grapes are unusable.
 

9. They Cannot Thaw

The grapes can’t be allowed to thaw, so harvest must happen quickly, often with very short notice. It’s not uncommon to harvest grapes for ice wine in the middle of the night. And it’s done by hand. The grapes must be pressed while still frozen, yielding mere drops of concentrated ultra-sweet elixir.
 

10. Pair it Right 

Wine Tasting at Chateau Chantal
Wine Tasting at Chateau Chantal | Photo Courtesy of Traverse City 

 

Ice wine is irresistible on its own and luscious with desserts like crème brulée or pecan pie; but it’s also fun to pair with strong cheeses or a creamy pâté. Now, you’re ready to unwind and celebrate with a perfect evening of flavor.

Now that you’ve got a base knowledge of ice wine, go out and taste it! In Traverse City try Black Star Farms, a 106-acres of family owned estate with award-winning wines, Brys Estate Vineyard and Winery, a 1890’s farmhouse offering tastings and charcuterie boards while overlooking the East Grand Traverse Bay and Chateau Chantal which is also a bed and breakfast that offers cooking classes and tours. 
 
Or try Burgdorf’s Winery with 40 years of artesian wine-marking experience, Chateau Aeronautique where you can sip wine in an airplane hangar, Cody Kresta Vineyard and Winery which produces hand-crafted wines in its 1882 vintage homestead and Fenn Valley Vineyards, perched on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Visit Michigan Wines  for information about these and all the other award-winning wineries in the state. 

About the Author: Karel Bush is Executive Director of the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council, a program within the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.