I really hope that I am not developing the reputation of being a bummer. I see myself (and I think many of friends, colleagues and family) see me as a positive person. I mean, my parents raised me as a Yankees fan. Despite a few lean years in the late 80s and early 90s, things have been alright. However, after a week of writing about what I think are terrible ideas in the wine world, I can’t help but write about another ridiculous idea. As I drove around today, I read via Decanter on Twitter that Spain approved a DO for Icewine. I was really intrigued. For part of the day I tried to think about a denominacion that is cold enough during the winter to provide frozen grapes for icewine production. I couldn’t think of one. After reading the Decanter piece in its entirety, I should have trusted my instinct – there isn’t an appellation that can sustain temperatures low enough for the natural freezing of grapes for icewine. Not one that has taken the risk to craft icewine the natural way, anyway.Like so many of their California counterparts, the Spanish have decided to freeze their grapes artificially with dry ice to produce “Icewine.” As David Furer wrote today, the DO Vino Dulce de Hielo is “the first European appellation to allow artificial freezing of grapes.” I really hate this idea. Do producers have to use a particular brand of dry ice or freezing equipment in order to qualify for the new DO?
What the hell does artificially produced ice wine have to offer? In the sage advice and inspiration of Tom Hanks as Jimmy Dugan in A League of Their Own, “it’s the hard that makes it great – if it were easy, everyone would be doing it.” What makes icewine production great is the below freezing temperatures at which grapes are picked not only by the winemaker, but his/her family and friends that are asked to help pick individual grapes in the middle of a harshly winter night months after the rest of the grapes have been brought in for production of other less sweet cuvees. What makes icewine great is that it doesn’t happen every year. What makes icewine great is that it captures terroir, culture and one of the most pain staking winemaking practices known to man – squeezing droplets of sugary goodness from frozen raisins that have been left on the vine to ripen for far too long. What’s next, artificial botrytis?
Perhaps I am turn into an old, cranky soul, but I believe in wines and winemaking practices that speak of people, place and perhaps most importantly – cultural personality. Does every wine in the world have to be made biodynamically, organically or sustainably. No. I have had incredibly bad wines that have been produced with the most environmentally and ethically responsible techniques in mind. There has to come a point, however, when fine wine drinkers, critics and professionals understand that wine should not be made in a lab. Whether it’s designer yeasts, pesticides, 400% new oak or freezers, these methods produce wines that are devoid of character and soul. And wine without soul isn’t worth the bottle it’s packaged in. This means that Spanish Icewine will probably be inexpensive and more readily available than its authentic German and Austrian predecessors. This also means that the average wine drinker might never take the opportunity to enjoy the treasures that real icewine has to offer. And the new Spanish DO doesn’t make the wine world more democratic, it is simply contributing to dumbing down of the wine market.