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St Catharines Standard – NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE

The squeeze was on to get Niagara’s famous icy berries off the vine.

By mid-morning Monday, temperatures across the peninsula had finally sunk to below –8°C for at least a few hours. That’s the outdoor threshold needed before the frozen berries can be harvested, pressed and fermented into the sweet icewine delicacy. It’s also the first time growers and wineries were able to do a picking after a long delay caused by a warm El Nino winter. Meanwhile, daily high temperatures are set to surge well above zero for the rest of the week. At Pillitteri Estate Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake, work started full-bore at 6 a.m., with the harvest continuing non-stop and possibly to be finished by early today.

“It rolled out well today,” said Jeff Letvenuk, Pillitteri marketing and media manager of the world’s largest estate producer of icewine. “We were a little nervous at the beginning due to the unseasonably warm weather. “But in the back of our mind, we know it’s always reached minus eight before, so there weren’t any real concerns it wasn’t going to happen,” he said, as a mechanical harvester rolled past him. “But everyone’s a bit tense … when it’s as high as 10 to 12°C leading up to Christmas.”

Letvenuk said there’ve been years when the pick hasn’t taken place until mid January. However, since icewine production began at Pillitteri in 1993 there’s never been a year where –8°C hasn’t been reached. “It hasn’t been unusually long for the grapes,” he said. “And they do look pretty consistent with the quality we’ve had in past years,” Letvenuk said, of the predominantly Vidal harvest that will see many of its bottles destined for Chinese, Asian and European markets.

Further south, at Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery in St. Catharines, the icewine harvest kicked off at about 7 a.m. The later time meant the ordeal this time was “pretty civilized I must say,” said Henry of Pelham viticulturalist Matt Speck. “We’re going through today and going to take a run at getting this all done at once. “It’s a good stretch and it looks to continue all the way to Tuesday morning,” he said of their harvest of Riesling, Vidal and Cabernet Franc. “And we really want to get it done, because this year has been so crazy warm. “I think by Friday it’s even calling for rain.” Speck his winery’s yields are also down slightly this year. “It’s early to forecast, but it’s at least 25 per cent down … it’s a smaller crop. Because of this warm weather they’re a little more dried out then they normally would be.”

As of 10 a.m. Monday, Reif Estate Winery along the Niagara Parkway was also braving the deep-freeze in its vineyards. In a tweet, @Reifwinery said its harvest began at 7 a.m. with “16 rows picked — 73 to go … plan to harvest well into the night.” “It is a good start to the icewine harvest,” said Debbie Zimmerman, chief executive officer of Grape Growers of Ontario. “Mother Nature ultimately decides.”

don.fraser@sunmedia.ca Twitter: @don_standard

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Canada is the world’s leading producer of icewine in terms of quality and quantity. Canada is consistently recognized as producing the best icewine in the world through awards and critical acclaim. Pillitteri Estates Winery is the world’s largest estate producer of icewine and is a family owned winery with three generations and eight family members full-time employed in the operation. — from a Pillitteri release

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