Ice Wine generally requires the grape to remain on the vine through a freeze or at least hard frost. To quote from Wikipedia “There are two main approaches to producing ice cider: cryoconcentration and cryoextraction. Cryoconcentration involves harvesting the fruits late in season and leaving them in fresh storage until late December, when they are pressed and the fresh juice is left to freeze naturally. In January, the concentrated juice begins the process of cold fermentation. Cryoextraction (not the same as the cryoextraction of wine) is similar to the traditional method used to produce ice wine: apples are left on the trees, at the mercy of the weather, until the end of January. They are picked when the temperature hovers around -8°C to -15°C, and then pressed and left to cold ferment for months.” See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ice_cider.
Our climate and apple varieties do not generally allow the apples to stay on the trees much past the first good hard frost much less the temps found up here in January. So we follow the cryoconcentration approach. As an aside, while we like to have the sweet cider pressed in late December, the outside temperature controls this as well. December 2011 was way too warm for the sweet cider to freeze and we didn’t finish the pressing until well into the New Year. We combine the different varieties of apples, or if pressing for a single variety limit to only that particular apple, as we grind and press the apples. This assures us that the sweet cider is already melded to achieve its best flavor. The sweet cider is stored outside until frozen solid. It is then brought back inside where it is defrosted. The high sugar concentrate melts first and is collected for Ice Cider processing. Fact: one gallon of sweet cider will yield approximately two 375ml bottles of Ice Cider. For an understanding of what we do with the rest click here. Once the juice is ready for fermentation we use a standard wine fermentation process. Because the sugars are so high we follow a different “feeding of yeast” routine than a standard wine maker would follow. Fact: nothing less than sweet cider concentrate of 32 brix is ever used in our Ice Cider. We stop the fermentation process by putting the Ice Cider back outside to kill any remaining yeast. As another aside March 2012 was way too warm to easily to do this. We age our Ice Cider for different periods of time. We are always searching for the right taste and have found some blends are best when aged for a long time while others are ready sooner.
Our fruit is processed in hydraulic water bladder presses. They are great presses, sized to give us good flexibility with volume Fact: these presses also do all the sweet cider production for the orchard. We can press as little as 15-18 gallons at a time. However, depending on the amount of cider produced daily, between 40 and 900 gallons of water can flow through them. We have built a close loop water system in which water is pumped from a separate holding tank to the presses. Then when the press is complete, instead of the water going out as waste, it is pumped back in the holding tank. An added benefit to this is the pumping out of the press allows for a press faster cycle.
After the pressing of the ground up apples, called pumice, we’re left with quite of bit of crushed apples with no juice in them. Fact: it takes about one bushel of apples to make 2.5 – 3 gallons of sweet cider and we make a lot of sweet cider. This used up pumice is generally spread back out in the orchard. The deer seem to like it a lot and it attracts them. Since the deer also like to eat the new buds off the apple trees we’re always looking for folks to take the used pumice away. Pigs seem to like it as well. Call us if you want some of the pumice.
The Ice Cider has to start fermentation with juice with no less than 32 brix. This is about 15% – 20% of the sweet cider we spend all of December making. That leaves a lot of left over cider. The next 20% or so actually has more sugar than the pre-frozen sweet cider right off the press. We have made a very nice table wine using this “second melt” juice. In the past it has kept the family well supplied but as the volume grew it became clear this would be a new product for us and in 2012 we began selling Iced Apple Wine.
Our son-in-law Joel has been experimenting with hard ciders for a while and began to use this “second melt” juice. We’re so pleased with those results that we began selling Iced Hard Cider in 2012.
Both of these products began their fermentation process at such high brix levels that nothing but yeast and nutrients are added. Both use the cryoconcentration approach to concentrating the sugars of the juice.
After we’ve melted the original sweet cider twice there still is a lot left. The “third melt” can have as much sugar as sweet cider right off the press. This is sometimes used as late season sweet cider.
After the “third melt” the ice that is left is pretty much all water. We spread this back onto the orchard.