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Still River’s Apple Ice Wine

Wade Holtzman must be a jinni to be able to cram the concentrated essence of šŸ˜Æ apples, nearly a bushel, into one little bottle. Abetted by his wife, Margot, and son, Leif, he manages that feat 96OO times a year at the family’s Still River Winery in Harvard, Massachusetts.

The Holtzmans make just one wine, and it’s a pip: apple ice wine, called Apfel Eis, German for “apple ice”. Just as the wine is a concentrated joy, so it takes great concentration of effort and attention, as well as ingenuity, to produce it, as we’ll see. From conception in January, 2OO8, through its debut that September, to its deservedly bemedaled status now, it has grown to an annual production of 8OO cases of twelve 375s, and placement at food-and-wine events, fundraisers, and respected shops and restaurants.

It all began as a byproduct of a vacation in Quebec. Wade and Margot brought home a bottle of Cidre de Glace (“Ice Cider”), also called Apple Ice Wine, a curiosity that caught their attention. When they and Leif tasted it, it also caught their palates and hearts. With the meager background of Wade and Leif’s home-made beer and hard cider, the Holtzmans set out to emulate the Quebecois. Taste their Apfel Eis and you’ll agree they’ve more than accomplished their goal. They took the name, Still River, from a nearby village of the Town of Harvard.

Cidre de Glace was invented in Quebec in 199O by Christian Barthomeuf, employing the same principle as grape (often riesling) ice wine produced in Germany and in Canada’s Niagra Peninsula and Okanagan Valley. Apple ice wine has become a popular product of cideries in the eastern townships of Quebec. Diluted watery solutions freeze before more concentrated solutions, so one can separate juice richer in sugar, acid and flavor by pressing frozen grapes. But, as described by Wade Holtzman, pressing frozen apples is like trying to squeeze billiard balls, an obstacle finessed by the short detour to be described. Another problem is that the sugar concentration of apples is far lower than that of grapes, usually requiring addition of enough sugar to dilute flavor. The concentration process by freezing avoids the need to add sugar.

Apple ice wine is the nectareous end product of selected cold-pressed, non-pasteurized fresh apple juice, thrice concentrated by freezing, cold-fermented slowly for three months to preserve aromas and flavors. Let’s look at the process.

Harvard is a town of 6OOO in the midst of apple country, Massachusetts’s Nashoba Valley, 32 miles northeast of Boston. The Holtzmans obtain their juice from Carlson’s Orchards, just down the road, perhaps the largest purveyor in New England. It is mostly from McIntosh and Red Delicious, with other varieties for tartness. The juice is frozen by Wade in five-gallon lots, then allowed to partially thaw, dripping the concentrate for 24 hours. The five gallons are thus reduced to 1.O to 1.5. The more dilute still-frozen residuum is discarded. The freeze/thaw concentration process is repeated two more times. The juice, which started at four percent sugar, now contains about 32 percent. After a small dose of sulfite to inactivate natural yeast, the concentrate is inoculated with a cold-tolerant yeast, and set to ferment at 5OºF for three months. The pH and sugar concentration are monitored during the process. Malolactic fermentation is prevented. The alcohol fermentation is stopped at the appropriate point by judicious addition of sulfite. The wine is sterile filtered, but not fined. The original juice, which started at four percent sugar, zero alcohol, has been transformed into a wine with twelve percent each. At a final pH of about 3.6, addition of acid has not been needed. Once pressed, the transforming juice spends its entire life in glass. It sells for $25/375ml, in a very attractive bottling, $27O per case of twelve.

Wade, an antique furniture restorer, concentrates on wine production. Margot, a special education teacher, sells the wine. Leif, who works in online marketing, sees to business matters, marketing strategies, media outreach, and finance. They overlap as needed.

Enticing complex of apple aromas.
Perfectly balanced sweetness.
Comforting texture.
Remarkably long finish.
Very fine.
Still River Winery
1O4 Bolton Road, Harvard, MA O1451