Ice Wine Season

December 11, 2014: It’s a coincidental Throwback Thursday! Yesterday Black Star Farms released the wine we saw being made: 2013 A Capella Ice Wine.

Ice wine or ‘eiswein’ in the original German, is a rare dessert wine that requires great care and skill to produce. Last week Cortney Casey of Michigan By the Bottle was on Michigan Radio’s Stateside program talking about Michigan ice wines (at 44:20).

With the chill that settled over the area and the late harvest this year, it seemed to be a great time for a short article about this rare delicacy. In a happy coincidence, when I called Black Star Farms winemaker Lee Lutes on Monday, he told me that they’d be picking and pressing at Black Star Farms on Old Mission Wednesday. I hope you enjoy this photo feature on the process of making ice wine. Stay tuned to the end for a great video about the process too!


While December 11, 2013 was by no means the coldest December 11th on record (that would be 1977 at -11), it was a bone-chilling day with temps hovering around 11 degrees with a wind chill that never got above zero after 9:30 AM.

In short, as Black Star Farms winemaker Vladimir Banov explained, the perfect day for the ice wine harvest.


Ice wine is not made every year, and not by every winery. U.S. law for ice wines specifies that the grapes must be naturally frozen to be sold as ice wine.

To begin, a winery will leave a portion of the harvest to hang. Even under the bird netting, it’s a gamble against mercurial weather and clever creatures. Many years, it will leave the winery with nothing.


In some years however, such as this one, patience is rewarded.


While winter’s cold chills the fingers, it makes harvest faster as grape clusters fairly fall off the wine.


Buckets and bins are quickly filled. In many years, speed can be crucial. If the grapes get too warm, the pressing won’t have the necessary sweetness and the effort will be wasted.


The small crew is able to move through a row quickly, leaving little in their wake.


It’s cold and lonely work. The crew is quiet, working silently and stopping only briefly to warm up.


In a surprisingly short time, the bins fill.


At the winery, the frozen Riesling grapes are shoveled into the press.


A true ice wine is made from grapes that have frozen and hung. The 2013 Black Star Farms ice wine is being made from 100% Riesling grapes. While a typical Riesling will be harvested at a 18-23 brix (a measure of sugar content), pressing a frozen grape yields a much sweeter juice, over 45 brix in this case.


At Black Star Farms, they use a basket press that exerts hundreds of pounds of force per square inch.


The tremendous pressure slowly yet surely squeeze the concentrated juice from the frozen grapes.


The rim around the basket catches the juice…


…and captures every drop.

The juice that trickles out is sweet as honey.


The 2013 ice wine harvest is all that Lee, Vladi and the team at Black Star Farms could ask.

This was only the first run of the second pressing. Each pressing is run twice to extract the maximum juice, and there were more bins coming in. I’m guessing these guys more than earned their pay today.

Black Star Farms’ icebox wine 2012 Arcturos Winter Harvest Riesling ($52.50 / 350 ml) is available at any of their three locations in Traverse City, Leelanau & Old Mission.

The wine they began yesterday will be their A Capella Riesling – a true ice wine. Ice wine is typically sold in 350 ml bottles, half the size on an ordinary wine bottle and commands a premium price. It’s a sweet and rare taste that I really encourage you to experience when they come out this summer. There will be about 120 cases of the 1/2 size bottles so don’t sleep on it!

Back in 2008, Lee put together a great video for Black Star Farms taking you through the ice wine harvest. Enjoy!

Cortney Casey of Michigan By the Bottle was on Michigan Radio’s Stateside program talking about Michigan ice wines (at 44:20). For a hilarious (and informative) take on ice wine, check out Wine Library TV’s Gary Vaynerchuk’s tasting of three ice wines.