Helmut Gangl leaves his vineyard, situated on the border of Austria and Hungary, every winter and heads for Long Island. An award-winning ice wine and sweet wine maker, Mr. Helmut has teamed up with Joe Macari, owner of Macari Vineyards in Mattituck, to make a variety of dessert wines.
One wine, 2008 Block E White Table Wine, was served at the Governor’s Dinner at the White House last February.
Those looking to make ice wine on Long Island this winter will run into some trouble, as temperatures have yet to take much of a dip. In order to be labeled an ice wine, the juice must be made from grapes that were frozen on the vines, and that has seldom happened this winter.
If grapes are frozen in freezers, as Macari wine is, the resulting bottles must be labeled sweet wines. Mr. Gangl has made Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Cabernet Franc and Merlot sweet wine for Macari, and will make Malbec and Riesling for the first time this year.
We sat down with Mr. Gangl to ask about the process of making sweet wine on the North Fork.
A: The grapes freeze in the freezer. The water in the cells of the grapes freeze and all the aromatics, all the sugars, all the acids are frozen. When you press the frozen berries, then you get the extract sugar, rich in aromatics. Then, when it gets cold, the grapes go outside — we press outside so it must be cold. It has to be between 28 and 32 degrees. The pressing brings out the extract from the grape berries and the frozen water in the cells stays in the berries because you cannot press out the frozen things. After the pressing, the fermentation goes on. We have a long fermentation – not only 2 or 3 weeks like the dry wines. The long fermentation takes 1-3 months. After the fermentation, it’s come to maturing time which is much longer than dry wine. The maturing time is 2 or 3 years in the barrel or stainless steel tank, wherever you want to do it. Then you stabilize the wine and bottle it. You do not sell them because you need maturing in the bottle for 8 months to a year. There is no rule; you have to taste it.
Q: Why is ice wine and sweet wine typically more expensive than other wine?
A: There are a lot of costs. You do not get very much juice – you get 70 percent less juice than from dry grapes. Also, the fermentation takes much longer.
Q: How does a mild winter affect ice winemaking?
A: If the winters are too warm and I press outside, the berries defrost too fast. The aromatics and acids are not the best combination.
Q: What’s a typical profile of a sweet wine?
A: The taste of a sweet wine from the variety Viognier is like apricots. Pure apricots. Very, very intense. A little bit of honey in the after taste. Then you find exotic things inside — mango, pineapple — but not intense pineapple, a touch of pineapple. You have fresh acidity because on Long Isalnd you have a lot of good acidity in the grapes during harvest and maturing time. In your mouth, you feel an elegancy in the after taste.
Q: What is one sweet wine and food pairing you’d suggest?
A: Vanilla ice cream with pumpkin seed oil and Chardonnay sweet wine. The pumpkin seed oil is nutty. Eat that with the ice cream and a little sip of Chardonnay sweet wine. Perfect.