Ripe For The Pickin’

WESTFIELD – If you believe snowmobiling or skiing in single-digit temperatures is a frigid activity, then what do you think about picking grapes?

That is what 20 people did Tuesday at Johnson Estate Winery, as they harvested 7 tons of vidal and chambourcin grapes to produce ice wine.

In temperatures around 9 degrees, the Johnson Estate crew harvested grapes frozen solid naturally on the vines by the cold temperatures. Johnson Estate has been making ice wine for 20 years. Fred Johnson, Johnson Estate Winery owner, said the grape-growing area around Lake Erie is one of only a few regions in the world where ice wine grapes can be harvested.

”First you need a good place to grow grapes. Then, on top of that, you need it to be cold enough to be in the single digits or low teens,” he said. ”When it is down in the single digits, it will freeze the grapes in four to five hours. When it is 12 to 15 degrees, it takes all night to freeze them.”

Johnson said vidal and chambourcin grapes are used to make ice wine because they hang in a bunch well in the cold temperatures. Vidal grapes are used to make white ice wine, and chambourcin grapes are used to make red ice wine.

In 2011, the winery, which is located at 8419 W. Main St., Westfield, produced a Sparkling Rose Ice Wine, which uses a blend of both types of grapes. Johnson said he believes the Sparkling Rose Ice Wine is the first one produced in the United States. He said he doesn’t know if the winery will produce the Sparkling Rose Ice Wine again this year from the grapes harvested Tuesday.

”(We) definitely will do it next year if we don’t do it this year,” he said.

Johnson said the harvesting started around 8 a.m. and was done throughout the day. He said sometimes, depending on the temperatures, the harvesting will be done at night to ensure the temperature is cold enough and there is no sunlight. However, he said because of the cold temperatures and snowy conditions, harvesters didn’t have to worry about the sun on Tuesday.

”I like to pick the red ones before sunlight usually. Even if there is frigid air, the sun warms them right up,” he said. ”It was a cloudy day, and with the driving snow squall, the sun was not an issue this year.”

Johnson said some regional growers had given up on the thought of picking ice grapes this year.

”This winter is the latest or the second latest ice grape harvest we’ve done,” he said. ”Some guys gave up on the hope of making it. I guess I was too stubborn to give up on it. I kept saying, ‘I can’t believe it’s not going to get cold sooner or later.”’

Johnson said about 50 gallons of ice wine can be produce from a ton of grapes. Compared to regular wine production, typically a ton of grapes will produce 150 gallons of wine. Also, when picking ice grapes, they get about half the amount per an acre.

For more information, visit www.johnsonwinery.com or find Johnson Estate Winery on Facebook.