Essex ice-wine supplies suffer from last winter's harsh cold

Several winemakers in Essex County lost entire ice-wine harvests because of harsh cold weather last winter.

Ice wine is harder to come by in Essex County this year, largely because of last winter's harsh cold snaps throughout southern Ontario.

Several winemakers lost entire harvests because grape quality deteriorated so drastically after periods of significant freeze-thaw.

At Colio Winery in Harrow, winemakers figured out in early 2015 an ice wine harvest wouldn't happen this season because the buds on the vines froze. Staff at Sprucewood Shores Winery said grapes were removed from the vines entirely.

"When we sustained that -25 C or colder temperature, it just pretty well zapped all the grapes on my farm," said Kevin Donahue, vineyard manager at Colio.

Both Colio and Sprucewood still have ice wines from previous vintages on their shelves, but their supply is nowhere near as robust as it would have been.

"It's just been too much of the warming and cooling effect on the grapes has caused deterioration," said Tanya Mitchell, director of operations at Sprucewood.

Sustained low temperatures last winter lasted long enough to freeze Lake Erie, which further complicated conditions for winemakers.

"Usually Lake Erie stays open to some degree and that gives us some warming effect," Donahue said. "When it froze over solid it was pretty much a matter of time that we got an event that we couldn't get through."

Donahue, along with several other winemakers in the county, are hopeful weather in early 2016 won't be as cold. So far, they've been quite fortunate with recent mild temperatures setting vineyards up for a solid growing season for next year, said Donahue.

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