Not long after many German wine regions closed the 2023 vintage with an early Eiswein (ice wine) harvest, frosty night-time temperatures reached -11 degrees Celsius (about 12 degrees Fahrenheit) on January 8 – enabling more individual wine producers to harvest the coveted frozen grapes.
Saale-Unstrut: The Herzer winery in the Saale-Unstrut wine-growing region was able to harvest Pinot Blanc grapes with 185 degrees Oechsle on an area of around 0.3 hectares in the early hours of the morning. “The grapes are still being pressed, but we are expecting around 400 liters of ice wine,” says Stephan Herzer happily.
Hessische Bergstrasse: The H. Freiberger winery in Hessische Bergstrasse was also delighted with a crowning finale to the 2023 harvest. “At -9 degrees Celsius, we were able to harvest Riesling grapes with around 185 degrees Oechsle for around 60-70 liters of must in the Heppenheimer Stemmler,” reports former German wine princess Charlotte Freiberger.
Sachsen: The employees of the Meißen winegrowers’ cooperative in Sachsen were also delighted with a successful ice wine harvest. Frozen grapes of the Cabernet Blanc variety were harvested on 0.3 hectares at a frosty -11 degrees Celsius.
Franken: In Franken’s Iphofen, the Ilmbacher Hof winery was able to harvest Silvaner grapes with a high Oechsle value of 208 degrees on Tuesday morning at temperatures of around -8 degrees Celsius, expecting a yield of just under 50 liters.
Ahr: The Oliver Schell winery in Rech in the Ahr harvested Pinot Noir grapes at 195 degrees Oechsle in the Möchberg/Mayschoss vineyard at -9 degrees Celsius for the coveted ice wine. Winemaker Oliver Schell estimates that the yield will be around 50 liters of grape must.
Baden: In the middle of the week, five members of the Durbach winegrowers in Baden harvested 320 liters of Riesling ice wine at -8 degrees Celsius. Other grape varieties harvested across the region include: Sauvignon Gris, Cabernet Cubin, and Goldmuskateller.
Pfalz: According to the RLP State Examination Office, only one winery in the Pfalz was able to harvest the deeply frozen grapes.
Early Ice Wine Harvest at the Beginning of December
The first onset of winter came as early as the beginning of December 2023. Winegrowers from Rheinhessen, Württemberg and Franken brought in the coveted frozen grapes, primarily Riesling and Silvaner, followed by Gewürztraminer. The Metzingen-Neuhausen winegrowers’ cooperative reported a harvest of over 880 pounds of grapes or 70 liters of must at 140 degrees Oechsle. The Andreas Braun winery in Volkach in Franken was also able to harvest frozen grapes, producing around 200 liters of icy Riesling.
The Ice Wine Gamble – Not Without Risk
Choosing to produce ice wine has always been financially risky for winemakers; if temperatures are not consistently low enough to thoroughly freeze the grapes, they risk a total loss of product. As a result, the areas registered for an ice wine harvest have steadily declined in recent years.
Additionally, ice wine is a rarity and demands a skilled winemaker. For an ice wine harvest, the grapes must be sufficiently frozen, which requires temperatures of -7 degrees Celsius or lower for several hours. The overripe grapes are then harvested frozen and pressed. “Especially after a difficult autumn, only a few winegrowers dare to take the risk,” says Benjamin Petry, viticulture officer at the Rhineland-Palatinate Chamber of Agriculture.
Rheinland-Pfalz: More Ice Wine Acreage Than Last Year
Despite the steadily decreasing number of ice wine producers in greater Germany, the acreage of ice wine production in the Pfalz increased this year! In 2023, 40 wineries registered around 32 hectares for the ice wine harvest, compared to just 24 hectares in 2022. In previous years, these figures were much greater, with 107 hectares harvested in 2021 and more than 500 hectares in 2018.
Fewer Producers in Franken
According to Franken’s winegrower association, fewer winegrowers in the Franken region are producing ice wine, as winters are getting warmer and warmer and frosty temperatures often arrive later in January or February. Only seven wine producers were able to harvest the coveted grapes in 2022, compared to the approximately 40 wineries that harvested in 2012.
International Demand For The Noble Sweet Specialty
The magic of ice wine lies in the dense concentration of water in healthy grapes. In the frosty temperatures, the water in the berries freezes and remains in the wine press. The juice then drips from the press, sweet as honey but not overpowering, thanks to the fresh fruit’s acidity.
Ice wine usually has very high natural residual sugar levels well over 100 grams per liter, but in contrast to southern sweet wines, they have relatively low alcohol levels – often only around seven percent by volume. Given how difficult it is to ferment musts with such a high sugar content into wine, ice wine is a rare specialty, renowned globally for its unique flavor and profile.