It’s rare to find … even rarer to make it … but along Southwest Michigan’s Makers Trail you can discover wines that some describe as liquid gold, others dessert in a glass and vintners call “ice wine.”
What is this drink of the goddess Chione? Ice wine is made from grapes that have been partially frozen on the vine, a dicey challenge for winemakers. The goal is to maximize the sugar concentration in the grapes (the longer they stay on the vine, the sweeter they are). The juice ranges in sweetness from 32-41 Brix.
Vintners harvest the grapes when the outdoor temperature drops to 17-20 degrees F. That’s when the water in the grapes freezes, but not the sugar. Colder than that, the grapes become too hard to extract the juice.
These semi-frozen grapes are handpicked (often in the middle of the night) and cannot thaw before they are pressed. Then only 10-20 percent of the juice from the grapes is fermented – a slow, tricky process that takes three to six months. That’s why it’s liquid gold!
What wineries offer it? Six Southwest Michigan wineries have ice wines available on the Makers Trail Liquid Gold Tour:
- 12 Corners Vineyards | 1201 N. Benton Center Rd., Benton Harbor | 269-927-1512 | Website
Vidal Ice Wine: The 2018 vintage took a gold medal? at the 2020 Finger Lakes International Wine & Spirits Competition. Its intoxicating bouquet of mandarin oranges is complemented by notes of apricot preserves, candied brown sugar and exotic honey. You’ll happily sigh with each sip of its long, luscious finish.
- Chill Hill Winery | 8986 1st St., Baroda | 269-326-7173 | Website
Ice Wine 2017: This is the ultimate chill wine. It is fantastically sweet and delicious with a classic honeyed nose and notes of ripe peach and apricot. Savor it with Stilton cheese and fresh figs, ginger panna cotta or a brioche bread pudding.
- Domaine Berrien Cellars | 398 East Lemon Creek Rd., Berrien Springs | 269-473-9463 | Website
2017 Cabernet Franc Ice Wine: This premium auburn-colored vintage won a silver medal ? at the 2018 Jefferson Cup Invitational Wine Competition. Its rich flavors of apricot and strawberry layered with candied orange, honey and spice are delicious. This wine is not included in their regular tastings, but you can try it for $5. The bonus is a piece of dark chocolate on the side.
- St. Julian Winery Union Pier Tasting Room | 9145 Union Pier Rd., Union Pier| 269-469-3150 | Website
Ice Wine: A rich and flavorful wine that is jam-packed with tangy and juicy apricot, citrus marmalade and honey.
- Lemon Creek Winery | 533 E. Lemon Creek Road, Berrien Springs | 269-471-1321 | Website
Snow Moon Vidal Blanc Ice Wine: Nectar-like aromas, with pear and honey flavors, create this rare gem’s sweet, lingering finish.
New Moon Chancellor Ice Wine: This dark ice wine presents a smooth rich flavor and a chocolatey finish. You’ll love it to the moon and back.
- White Pine Winery | 317 State Street, St. Joseph | 269-281-0098 | Website
Ice Wine: Winemaker Dr. Dave Miller says tasting this nectar-like wine is an ethereal experience you won’t forget. It’s a sweet blend of apricot, pineapple and honey notes.
Because ice wine is such a rarity, expect to pay more to bring this liquid gold home with you – $25-$45 a bottle. Most of the ice wines come in half-size bottles (375 ml). All seven ice wine choices are great additions to your collection but they also make nice gifts.
What pairs with ice wine?
Ice wine is pure joy on its own, but you can also delight your guests by serving it with strong cheeses, pâté, spicy ethnic foods or sushi. Pour it over crème brûlée. Or pair it with cheesecake, pound cake, white chocolate mousse, coconut ice cream or flan.
If you have questions about the wines, ask for guidance at each of the six wineries. All have makers and staff that are passionate about their craft and like nothing better than to answer your questions, share their stories and make recommendations of what to try next.