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Things You May Not Know About Late-Harvest Wines

by | Oct 20, 2017 | Wine Industry

Every winemaker in the world knows the exciting facts about Late Harvest Wines. Also, every wine lover knows that the end of the summer is the most important time of the year: Harvest Season.

Wine Grape Harvest Season is the great time of the year for winemakers all over the world. August, September, and October represent the peak of the annual grape harvest for most wineries in North America and Europe. However, located below the equator, Australia, New Zealand, South America, and South Africa, typically harvest from February to April.

Harvest Season is probably the most exciting step in the fascinating winemaking process. It surely represents the busiest time of the year for a winery. Festivals and events are focused around the excitement of the annual grape harvest keep the tradition in full bloom. Nevertheless, every harvest includes different stages. In early August grapes for sparkling wines are the very first to be picked. Next, most of the white wines make their way from the vineyard to the crush pad. For red grape varieties harvest continues through late October or sometimes early November as they take a bit longer to reach full maturation.

What is a Late-Harvest Wine?

Late Harvest Wines are made from grapes that are left on the vine even after they have reached their peak ripeness. With more time on the vine, berries become riper and consequently sweeter. They also begin to lose water through evaporation, further concentrating the natural fruit sugars. Late harvest grapes (typically picked 1-2 months after the regular harvest time) are used to make a wine that contains both higher residual sugar and higher potential alcohol than standard table wines.


What exactly is an Icewine?

  Icewine is an extreme version of the Late-Harvest Wine. The grapes are usually picked in December or early January, during the first sustained drop in temperature. Shrivelled berries are harvested and gently pressed while still frozen. The water component remains trapped inside the skins as ice and gets discarded. The flavourful juice is still fluid and seeps out into the fermenting vat. That superconcentrated juice goes on to yield icewine, an extremely sweet, syrupy nectar.

Which grapes are usually picked for Late-Harvest Wines?

Technically, any wine grape can be harvested late (Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Noir, etc.). Nevertheless, is common to see certain grapes due to their ability to process exceptionally high-quality late harvest wines.

Riesling is one of the most popular varieties used to produce late harvest wines. It is an ideal grape for this style of wine because of its naturally high acidity (grapes lose acidity as they hang on the vine). The very best late harvest Riesling wines come from cool climates including Germany, Northern France, New Zealand, and Washington State.

Vidal Blanc is a hybrid species of European grapes crossed with American ones. The result is a very cold-hardy white grape that makes beautiful late harvest wines. Because of the vine’s weather tolerance, the grapes are often left on the vine to suffer through winter’s first freeze and are later used to produce incredible ice wines. You’ll find Vidal Blanc from upstate New York to Minnesota, and also in Canada.Sauternes is a wine style named after a region in Bordeaux called Sauternes, which is a blend of mostly Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon grapes. The secret to the Sauternes region is its proximity to a particularly foggy section of the Garonne river. The fog engulfs the vineyards and causes the grapes to be infected with a necrotrophic fruit fungus called Botrytis cinerea. Despite how icky the grapes look, the mold actually sweetens the grapes and makes for a dessert wine with exceptionally high sweetness.

Some ways to enjoy a Late-Harvest Wine

Choosing a good wine is just the first step, but remember that controlling the right temperature will be your best friend. Riesling is surely the perfect pairing for a spicy Asian cuisine, whether it be Thai, Indian, or Szechuan. 


Some amazing ways to enjoy a nice glass of Vidal Blanc is pairing it with nutty cheese and apricot macaroons. The stinkiest cheese you can find will fit Sauternes magically.  Also, vanilla pot de creme makes an excellent choice. You don’t need to get fancy with Icewine, a cheesecake will do it.

How to drink a Late-Harvest wine like a pro

Most late harvest wines are served cold, around 45–55ºF (7–13ºC), and poured in 2.5–3 oz. (75–90 ml) portions and served in small dessert wine glassesIf you do not have dessert wine glasses, simply use white wine glasses instead.