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Toast to winter, or winter's end?


March 13, 2019
As the icy grip of winter's bony hand continues its reach into mid-March, something strange occurs. A shift in the brain, a tilt in the thinking, a tingle on the tongue...

I realize it was bound to happen sooner or later, but the mere fact that it has still shocks me.

I have somewhat accidentally run across a reason to "like" winter.

Yes, I know. I know.

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I actually found myself somewhat "lamenting" over the fact that it had been quite mild in the early days of the season, and frankly feel a bit shocked by this. I have seriously thought of checking myself into rehab or something since this "longing" for winter-type weather is so inherently, well, WRONG for me. But it is there nonetheless.

I recall a radio report I heard several years ago. I was running a few minutes late for an appointment, as always tuned into Michigan Radio and hear a story so compelling I remain in the vehicle after I've arrived at my destination to finish listening to the report.

What could be so compelling, you ask? Did it have to do with the huge economic hit the state is taking due to the lack of wintery weather? The non-frozen lakes and ponds? Absence of the outdoor activities snow and ski buffs so crave?

In a word, No.

The story is more heartbreaking than any of that as far as I'm concerned.

When there is no ice, there is no ice wine. It's a tragedy. In northern Michigan and Canada, the window for harvesting ice wine grapes has been narrowing with global warming.

When the temperatures aren't consistently 17-18 degrees for the harvest, there is literally no harvest. The thousands of little grapes end up rotting on the vine. Delicious white and red grapes that are left there on purpose so they'll freeze and then be picked and squeezed into delectable ice wine sit unfrozen, shriveled, abandoned, alone.

Ice wine is so special that federal regulations dictate it can only be labeled as such if it comes from grapes that were at least partially frozen on the vine. For that to happen, temperatures have to be at most 17 degrees (the point at which the water inside the grape solidifies) or lower.

When the grapes are pressed, a highly concentrated, sugary juice is extracted—just a few tiny drops per grape—and then hopefully fermented into a delicious ice wine. It truly is an experience if you've been lucky enough to savor some. For me, it is the one and only reason I find to sort of "like" winter here in Michigan.

Michigan is among the few Midwestern states that produce ice wine. It's not a huge industry, and accounts for less than five percent of the wine made here according to the Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council. So the vineyards up north aren't going to go broke if the winter weather is milder than usual. However, it is yet another unique product created in our chilly Great Lakes State whose production relies on the winter weather.

Economics aside, the loss is more in the heart, if you ask me. The mere thought of hundreds of plump, opalescent grapes shriveling and then rotting on the vine is enough to make a wino like me weep.

Cognitive dissonance kicks in big time. I don't like to like winter, yet ice wine—often referred to as the Nectar of the Gods—offers up a reason to change my way of thinking.

More often than not, I like Mother Nature's mild springlike caress...especially in December and January and February and March; so actually being okay with temperatures not even making it to the mid-teens for days on end feels more than a little bit "off" inside my head.

And it is with more than just a bit of cold irony that a nice big glass of delectable ice wine would make all those conflicting thoughts disappear.

Then again, so would a nice glass of shiraz or chardonnay...wintertime temperatures not required. Okay. Problem solved.

Here's to the end of winter, please! Salut!

Email Catherine at cminolli@pageone-inc.com.

Catherine Minolli is Managing Editor of the Tri-City Times. She began as a freelance writer with the Times in 1994. She enjoys the country life, including raising ducks and chickens.
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