Ice wine usually conjures images of northern climates where early hard frosts condense the sugars of wine grapes. Canada and Germany are the two primary producers of ice wine for the whole world, and historically it’s been a risky craft. The climactic balance of growing grapes in a place that is hot and dry enough in the summer and cold enough—but not too cold—during harvest season is tough enough, but take a season where the first frost is too early or too late, and you could lose your entire crop. For these reasons, ice wine is known as a treasured dessert beverage.
Likewise, it was for these reasons that I was both curious and baffled that the Willamette Valley can boast its own local ice wine. Harris Bridge Vineyard, about 100 yards from the actual Harris Bridge in Philomath is where skill, passion and knowledge have created a new science for ice wine. In advance of accusations of hyperbole, honestly, it is only very recently that ice wine is available via small family run vineyards at all, much less in the Northwest. Harris Bridge Vineyard has found a way to formulate the ideal soil conditions for growing grapes, and have combined it with a freezing technology that takes the guess-work out of waiting for the perfect frost.
Amanda and Nathan are the founders of Harris Bridge Vineyard. They tend to a small acreage of grapes on site, and also source grapes from other framers. They grow Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris grapes and, have a line of a dozen-plus dessert wines when you include “Library Releases” and specific blends by year. My favorites were Timber—the “sweet vermouth,” and “Sarah’s Stories,” the Pinot Gris. Sarah’s Stories tasted to me like the most traditional ice wine—except without the cloying sweetness of typical dessert wines. Timber reminded me of a rich port, but with surprising nuances of what I later learned were its brandy infused herbs. Timber takes on a culinary life of its own when paired with hazelnuts and dark chocolate, and I had fun experimenting with Sarah’s Stories along-side peaches and strawberries—though both can stand alone as smooth, light, crisp dessert drinks.
You can find Harris Bridge wines at Market of Choice and the Co-Op, as well as discerning restaurants in town. My advice? Harris Bridge is a great choice when out picking something up, but be sure to visit the winery—the experience is a lot more than just the contents of the bottle. Not only are Nathan and Amanda delightful hosts, the tasting room is where you will discover the ambiance and history behind Harris Bridge wines, and have time to savor the stories behind each tasting. Hint: The wine club is called “Ivy’s Axe,” and Ivy was a real Philomath local.
By Maria Murphy