With vineyards in B.C.’s Okanagan Valley expecting their biggest-ever icewine harvest this year, it will come as welcome news to producers that a new national standard is in the works to prevent icewine fraud.
Given the prevalence of fake icewines, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is developing a national standard for the dessert wine as part of its commitments to the World Wine Trade Group, which works to influence the regulation of the international wine trade.
Designed to help prevent the sale of fraudulent icewine, the internationally recognized standard will require the product to be made only from grapes naturally frozen on the vine.
With no control over fake production, a national standard will bolster the reputation of Canada’s icewine both at home and abroad, says Miles Prodan, executive director of the B.C. Wine Institute.
“We consider a national definition as an important step for protecting Canada’s icewine reputation and really ensuring that consumers can rely on the term icewine to mean authenticity,” he says.
Prodan notes that although the country’s icewine-producing provinces—B.C., Ontario, and Nova Scotia—already have provincial standards, a national standard was also needed.
“We’ve been actually lobbying for it, mostly because there’s a lot of fake or counterfeit icewine in the market, and we want to ensure that any product that comes from Canada meets a national standard,” he says.
“Because technically, if it doesn’t meet the national standard of having to be -8°C or below and harvested from the vine, it’s not considered to be Canadian icewine.”
Authentic icewine is highly dependent on the vagaries of the weather. Icewines produced in the traditional way require a hard freeze—in Canada -8°C or colder—to occur sometime after the grapes are ripe, which means the grapes could remain on the vine for several months.
If a freeze does not come quickly enough, the grapes may rot and the crop will be lost. If the freeze is too severe, no juice can be extracted.
Authentic icewine cannot be frozen artificially, and the alcohol must result exclusively from the natural sugar of the grapes without the addition of other sweeteners.
‘Liquid gold’ in China
Because of its rigorous production standards and low yields, icewine is expensive—prices can go as high as $300 a bottle—and in limited supply. This, along with its status as a luxury brand, has given rise to an abundance of fake icewines in the world market, much of it originating from China, where it is known as “liquid gold.”
Randy Dufour, export director at Inniskillin, one of Canada’s largest icewine producers with wineries in Ontario and B.C., told Wine Spectator magazine last February that in his estimation, at least a third of the icewine he sees on retail shelves is counterfeit.
We’ve been actually lobbying for it, mostly because there’s a lot of fake or counterfeit icewine in the market.
—Miles Prodan, B.C. Wine Institute.
Not helping matters is the fact that some Canadian and German icewine producers sell bulk, unbottled icewine to unscrupulous Chinese importers who add sugar water or other ingredients to stretch it further and sell it as authentic icewine.
“Everyone who is selling in bulk to China has to understand [the buyer] will not bottle it pure,” Marcus Stumm, executive chairman of the Hong Kong and Guangzhou-based importer SeaverCronberg, told Wine Spectator.
“They mix it with other things. Then they have a product of Canada, because there’s Canadian icewine in it. Even when the government here asks, they say, ‘We have the invoice and customs declarations. We are importing Canadian icewine. We’re just bottling it here.’ That makes it difficult for the government to do something about it.”
Counterfeit icewines can negatively impact producers if consumers are turned off the product after spending a lot of money on what they thought was the real deal, Prodan says.“If it’s not authentic it’s not going to taste authentic and that just really can end up hurting the producers, because they put a lot of time and effort into their brand and into the production process to ensure it meets the standard, and to have someone provide an inferior product just hurts our industry.”
In Canada, consumers can be assured they are buying authentic icewine by looking for bottles displaying the Vintners Quality Alliance label.