HARPERSFIELD TOWNSHIP — The sun hadn’t even cleared the horizon on Saturday morning as dozens of area vineyard workers and volunteers headed out to pick grapes to make ice wine.
The popular wines can only be created in unique climates, and northeastern Ohio is one of the lucky places that have the proper weather.
Area wineries partner with each other to make ice wines that are then highlighted in March, as visitors show up to sample the wine and get out of the house after a long winter.
Frank Kosicek, owner of Kosicek Winery in Harpersfield Township, brought his ice wine grapes to Ferrante Winery to have them pressed. The cooperative nature of the arrangement between area wineries shows how the regional partners work together to improve the tourism industry in Ashtabula and Lake counties.
“Nick [Ferrante] is very good to us at Kosicek. He is a mentor,” Kosicek said.
“All the wineries try to get along and help [each other],” he said. Sharing equipment can be a real boon to the businesses that might not have to spend $30,000, that could be used for something else, for a piece of equipment.
“It is a special wine. There only a few places in the world that can [grow the grapes] and make ice wine,” he said.
The climate has to be warm enough to grow the grapes but cold enough for temperatures to dip into the teens.
Calin Lechtinen, cellar supervisor for Ferrante Winery, said grapes were harvested by machine on Saturday. Other wineries were picking grapes by hand on Saturday as well.
There are advantages to each method, according to Gene Sigel of South River Winery, which is also in Harpersfield Township.
Sigel is the owner of South River Winery and vineyard manager for Chalet Debonne. The two wineries also partner with Grand River Cellars, in Madison Township, and Cask 307 to make ice wine.
Wine specialists said the start of the ice wine grape harvest went well Saturday, but will continue in the days to come if the weather cooperates. “The sugar was wonderful and the grape clusters were very plump,” said Grand River Cellars Owner Cindy Lindberg.
She said the lack of wind made the experience a lot more pleasant than when winds are whipping across the valley.
Sigel said about 20 winery workers and volunteers worked an area where the four wineries share grape vines to make the ice wine. He said the picking and pressing of the grapes are likely to continue on Monday and Tuesday as the temperatures allow.
Sigel said South River Winery does the pressing for about six wineries in northeastern Ohio. He placed a glass under the press to catch some of the early juice as it poured from the machine on Saturday afternoon.
“I’m tasting where we are at,” Sigel said of his tasting of different flavors that come from the juice that will ferment into wine. “It is partly quality control,” he said.
Sigel said he likes hand picking the grapes because of higher yields in the grape picking process.
“We sell a lot of ice wine,” Kosicek said.