January 21, 2011 Southbrook Vineyards
Southbrook Vineyards Icewine
Here I am in my country’s capital, with a bottle of what may well be the world’s first biodynamic icewine. I’m standing on my favourite spot in the city, under Louise Bourgeois’ giant spider Maman, looking across Sussex Drive to Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica. It’s snowing this evening in Ottawa, one of the world’s coldest capital cities. Quite beautiful. And standing not far from me in the snow, with the faint outline of the National Gallery behind it, is a bottle of the aforementioned wine, made, appropriately enough, from frozen grapes.
The wine originates a few hundred kilometres from here. Southbrook has had a history of farm production north of Toronto dating back several decades and as a boutique winery since 1991. In 2005 owners Bill and Marilyn Redelmeier moved wine operations to Niagara-on-the-Lake, the heartland of Ontario winemaking, with the purchase of a parcel of 30 hectares (15 under vine). Southbrook Vineyards was born. In 2008 a stunning new winery pavilion was opened. It is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified. Today the winery stands as the first in Canada to be certified biodynamic by the international body Demeter.
Bill Redelmeier says they underwent certification in part “to show other interested, perhaps skeptical, vineyards and farmers that it’s possible to make the switch, even in a cool climate like Canada’s.”
In charge of viticulture at Southbrook is Ann Sperling (in the foreground, pictured with the Redelmeiers). Deeply rooted in British Columbia’s wine country, where she produced award-winning merlot, she brings to Southbrook a deep commitment to organic and biodynamic winegrowing. (Together with husband Peter Gamble, she also operates Sperling Vineyards in B.C. and, in Canada’s off -season, seven hectares of 1920’s malbec in Argentina.) “There is one thing we know for sure,” Sperling says, “amazing, vibrant wines come from grapes that are raised biodynamically.”
Southbrook makes several award-winning wines, but the focus today is the newly released vidal icewine. Icewine (or in German, Eiswein) is produced from healthy grapes that have been allowed to stay on the vines into winter. The small amount of liquid extracted from the frozen grapes produces a sweet, acidic, yet refreshing, dessert wine. Canada is the world’s largest producer of icewine (one of the many benefits of our subzero winters), and it is icewine for which we are best known on the world wine stage, although other wines are catching up fast.
Vidal blanc grapes (like the country’s inhabitants) have tough skins, well suited for the winter weather. Although the Niagara region of Ontario doesn’t experience the deep freezer temperatures of Quebec or the Prairie Provinces, early each new year it does reach the sustained -8 C degrees needed for the harvest of these grapes into ice wines.
Time to discard the mittens and uncork the 200ml bottle and see what lies within.
Southbrook Vineyards Icewine Vidal 2009
It is pleasantly light and delicate, bearing none of the thick, overly sweet attributes of some dessert wines. For a wine so concentrated, it brings a freshness to the nose, a spring in its step to the palate. A touch of peaches and apricots and a light, creamy mix of other fruit, but all nicely restrained and balanced, as is the acidity. A lovely burnt orange wave on the finish. As with the best of dessert wines, it lingers without overwhelming. It makes room for a little more. $