Making wine is always a dicey proposition. Late frosts, hailstorms, wind, drought and lack of sunshine impact the grapes’ quality. Snow and freezing temperatures? Those would be completely at odds with wine grapes—unless you’re talking about ice wine, of course. That is exactly the point of the second annual Chateau Chantal Ice Wine Festival. Taking place January 25–26, the Northern Michigan festival celebrates the mysterious sweetness of wine made from frozen grapes.
Activities will include family-friendly events such as snowman-building, ice sculptures and outdoor firepits with roasted treats. In addition, the winery’s walking trail will be open for snowshoeing or skiing. (Enthusiasts will need to bring their own gear.)
The festival will culminate with a multi-course Ice Wine Dinner on Saturday, January 26, including a tour of the cellar and winemaking process. And, of course, samples of multiple ice wines will be available, along with a specialty dessert item. (More event details below.)
Making Ice Wine
Creating ice wine is even more fraught with peril than regular wine. First, grapes have to withstand all the rigors Mother Nature may throw at them through the growing season. Then winemakers must hope for a spate of cold weather lasting long enough to freeze the grapes, without destroying them. “It’s a gamble,” admits Kyle Brownley, the director of marketing at the Old Mission vineyard and winery.
This year still hasn’t produced a harvest of grapes for ice wine, as they are picked at temperatures between 15 to 18 degrees. As the region awaits those temperatures, the grapes set aside for ice wine are still on the vine. That’s where things can go wrong. The acreage set aside for ice wine grapes can go completely to waste if the weather doesn’t cooperate.
When—and if—the weather cooperates, the grapes are pressed while still frozen. They produce a smaller amount of wine than if it was harvested for regular processing. The resulting dessert wine is known for its incredible natural sweetness and fruitiness, and nearly as famed for its rarity as its flavor.
Chateau Chantal Ice Wine Festival
Entrance to the celebration is free, with a fee to sample and attend the wine dinner or educational sessions. It begins Friday, January 25, with a VIP Wine Club Member Reception from 5–8 p.m.
The following Saturday brings a host of activities. From 11 a.m.–5 p.m., the tasting room will be open for wine and ice wine tasting, including an indoor ice sculpture drink luge.
Free cellar tours take place at 1, 2, and 3 p.m., followed immediately by “Frost-bitten, frozen and freakin’ cold,” microsessions with wine counselor Michael Schafer. He’ll lead patrons through a 30-minute journey exploring the ins and outs of ice wine.
The Fire & Ice Wine Pairing Dinner will take place at 6 p.m. Each course will pair with a wine hand-selected by Chateau Chantal’s vintner. In addition to the ice wines, other wines will also be featured during the dinner. Cost is $125 per person. Tickets are available online.
Enjoy three different wines at the Chateau Chantal Ice Wine Festival: Estate, which Brownley says tends to be the most acclaimed; Vidal, a lower-priced wine he says is generally more accessible; and Entice, a fortified wine, which cuts the sweetness due to its higher alcohol content. Chateau Chantal’s ice wine was chosen among nine American ice wines to represent the U.S. at a Canadian state dinner at the White House in 2016.