Finger Lakes Ice Wine Harvest

Riesling ice 2016

Photos from our Riesling harvest by Stu Gallagher Photography.

Once the holiday season is behind us, there is really only one other cause for celebration in our vineyard before bud break, and that is a Finger Lakes ice wine harvest.


When we recapped harvest 2016 last fall, we made the exciting announcement that Sheldrake Point would again make Cabernet Franc ice wine after a 4 year hiatus – as long as Old Man Winter cooperates. At the time, we had netted the remaining Cabernet Franc and Riesling in anticipation of making ice wine.

Here at Sheldrake Point, we have never had a year that we wanted to make ice wine and it didn’t get cold enough. We need temperatures of 17⁰F or lower, and a few nights in the last few weeks were just that frigid.

(Note: Any grapes that hang out in the vineyard after harvest and are picked on a warmer day are used to make a late harvest wine.)

“We make Finger Lakes Ice Wine because we can.”

Whitney Elrod, Wine Club Manager, and HannahXX bundled up for our Finger Lakes Ice Wine harvest.

Whitney Elrod, Wine Club Manager, and Hannah Schockner bundled up for our Finger Lakes Ice Wine harvest. Photos from our Riesling harvest by Stu Gallagher Photography.


Ice wine is a process of concentration—for example, three tons of Riesling harvested in October will produce 500 gallons of juice. Those same three tons left in the vineyard will reduce to one ton by January due to losses from birds and other risks. From that one ton in January we get 80 gallons of juice.

Dave Breeden, Sheldrake Point Winemaker, likes to say that we make ice wine because we can. The Finger Lakes is one of the few areas in the United States (along with Michigan and Washington), and on the short list of areas in the world, where true ice wine can be made with vinifera grapes. Our AVA is warm enough to have European grapes grow, but can also get cold enough to reach those proper overnight temperatures to freeze grapes.

When we say “true ice wine” we mean that the grapes freeze on the vine. Then we need a picking crew willing to bundle up and head out to the vineyard to roll back the bird netting and hand-pick the frosty clusters.

2016 Riesling: A Finger Lakes Ice Wine

At the end of December we were able to harvest the remaining Riesling for ice wine, starting at 6:00 AM with a small crew racing against the sun. Picking two people to a row is slow-going, and as the air temperature began to warm with the sunrise, we had to condense into the rows so as to not leave any rows unpicked.

Why the rush? Because brix drop as the berries begin to thaw, and it is those brix that divine a Finger Lakes ice wine.

2017 Cabernet Franc: The Return of A Finger Lakes Ice Wine

Just last week the picking crew was again in the vineyard, this time at 4:00 AM on a Monday, to pick the rest of our Cabernet Franc. Because we picked in January 2017, the wine we make from those berries must be labeled “2017”—even though the crop grew during 2016.

We had a big crew for this pick: Chuck Tauck and Fran Littin, Sheldrake Point owners; Whitney Elrod, our Wine Club Manager, and Edmond Guidault, her fiancée; Julia Hoyle, our former Assistant Winemaker and new Head Winemaker at Hosmer; Kimberly White, Sheldrake Point’s new Assistant Winemaker; Patrick Commane, who has been with us since last summer helping out in the winery and vineyard; and Hannah Schockner, who will be with us until the end of February. Together with our vineyard crew, this group made for a chilly picking party.

Armed with shears, headlamps, and hand and toe warmers, we unwrapped the netting and began clipping the bunches that ravenous, persistent birds had not eaten.

We finished just at daybreak, 7:45 AM, in time to watch a gorgeous hot pink/blood orange sunrise over Cayuga Lake. After we dumped all the lugs into the hopper, Dave Breeden took over, and we all settled down to the real Finger Lakes Ice Wine celebration—breakfast!

Until the time comes that the fruits of these labors are bottled, enjoy these examples of Sheldrake Point’s Finger Lakes Ice Wine.

Many thanks to Syracuse photographer Stu Gallagher for joining us for the Riesling picking. 

See more about winter on Sheldrake Point in our Spring 2015 newsletter.

David’s background includes four years of grapevine management at Cornell’s Geneva Agricultural Experiment Station and two years of honeybee research in Ithaca. Since 1999, his love of our vineyard is second only to that for his own farm across the lake. Dave and his vineyard crew take great pride tending the 44 acres of vines at Sheldrake Point Vineyard, maintaining the equipment, and planning and preparing for new acreage.