Bruce Nicholson became the senior winemaker at Inniskillin Winery in Canada in 2007 where he continually crafts some of the most sought after and highly awarded ice wines in the world. Inniskillin was named by Drinks International as one of the Top Fifty Most Admired Wine Brands in the World, and one of the Top Ten Most Admired Wine Brands in North America. Though they produce still and sparkling wine, it is Icewine that is their flagship product. 

Describe the fundamental difference between authentic Icewine and “other” versions on the market.

Authentic Icewine benefits from the freezing, thawing and natural hydration allowing the flavours and concentrations of the grapes to maximize. Artificial freezing does not allow this. (According to Canadian law ice wine grapes cannot be harvested until the mercury drops to 8° Celsius, 17° Fahrenheit). This is the optimum temperature to achieve the highest quality, allowing the perfect balance between natural sugars and acidities. With grapes being mostly water the cold temperatures need an extended time to ensure that all the water has become ice crystals.

Icewine is not cheap. How do you justify the expense of Icewine compared to other wines?

Icewine is always a risk dependent on the legal temperatures (minimum of minus 8 Celsius) set by our VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance). Volume is always extremely low about 5% to 10% of the natural yield; and birds are ravenous and can reduce quantities very quickly even with nets and bird bangers; it is a very labor intensive procedure. 

How did you get into winemaking, if not wine, what do you think you would be doing right now?

I helped my father make homemade wine when I was young and I also felt that living in wine country inspired me to do something involving the local environment. If I wasn’t a winemaker, I might be a teacher of history especially British history, especially the Tudor era. 

With Icewine being a relatively expensive wine, how can wine lovers incorporate more of it into their wine drinking routines?

Icewine is not just for dessert. If you think texture, you can apply it to cheeses, pates, rich seafoods, as well as fruit based desserts and others. 

Icewine has lots of counterfeits, specifically coming from Asia. How can the public know they are getting a true, authentic ice wine?

Look for VQA on the Canadian Icewines and read the label thoroughly looking for obvious spelling mistakes. 

Icewine has been in Europe since the 1700s, but only really came to prominence in North America in the early 1990s. Why do you think it took so long for this migration to happen?

After Inniskillin won the Grand Prix’d’Honneur at Vinexpo, Bordeaux in 1991, there was great focus put on Canadian Icewine. It had been “anointed” by the French and the international wine world. It clearly resonated with wine lovers in other countries so much so that it made sense to them that Canada could make Icewine. Everyone believed we were the land of ice and snow, extreme winters and ice hockey so why not a product called Icewine from Canada! 

There’s an old adage that ‘people talk dry, but they drink sweet.’ Why then are sweet wines so maligned as not being “serious” wines?

Luckily that is an old adage as wine lovers now are much more open minded. Icewine has gained a serious reputation as people realize it should not be labeled as sweet, but rich and concentrated. As more people understand cool climate winemaking the idea of a well balanced “sweet” wine becomes obvious as the natural sugar and natural acidity is in perfect balance. 

How has Inniskillin harnessed the power of social media to promote the wines?

Our use of Facebook and Twitter allows for immediate releases and updates from everything from our fluctuating temperatures while waiting for the harvest to unique pairings. We have also held specific Icewine chats. 

Is there any danger financially and in terms of market share in making what might be considered a niche product?

Initially in the first 10 years, it was a niche market however clearly it developed into a strong category so it has established its viability. This viability came through identification as a prestige/luxury category and expansion of the product through the type of grapes used (white varieties such as Riesling, Vidal Blanc; red varieties such as Cabernet Franc and Tempranillo); styles (oak versus non oaked; sparkling versions) and a strong push to relay Icewines uses beyond the most known single use as a dessert wine being paired with appetizers like soups and salads; and entrees, especially with rich seafood, cheeses etc. 

It’s late, you’ve finished up at the winery and you head home for dinner. What’s your preferred meal and wine to go with it?

Lobster and my Montague Vineyard Chardonnay.