Special Edition: Straight out of Canada

My annual trips visiting beloved family and friends in the true north strong and free have just gotten even sweeter. Since my first trip to my in-laws’ home in Toronto five years ago, I have been lamenting the scarce selection of quality kosher wine available in the city with the 14th highest Jewish population in the world. However, what troubled me even more is the fact that Canada is world famous for its mouth-watering icewine, yet with no kosher winery in Canada, the entire kashrut-observing population was being deprived of this national delicacy. All of this was true until Avraham Gislason decided that enough was enough.

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Avraham made his way over to metropolitan Toronto, spending his days and nights exploring Jewish texts at the local branch of Ner Yisroel Yeshiva. In his years of studying, Avraham became fluent in the laws of Kashrut and began dreaming of locally produced bottles of wine bearing a kosher certification. And so, Avraham’s quest began. Cold calling (no pun intended) wineries around the Niagara region, Avraham searched for an established and well respected wine producer that would be open to the idea of a man with a long beard and yarmulke exclusively handling a line of production in their winery. After many denials and unanswered phone calls, finally the acclaimed Diamond Estates Winery, located just north of the world famous Niagara Falls agreed to host Avraham’s nascent “Tzafona Cellars”.

“I didn’t initially love icewine,” Avraham confessed, “but now, I feel like I can really appreciate it.” Unable to ignore the pile of liquid gold he was sitting on, Avraham understood that although he could make a nice Riesling from the Niagara region, icewine is what would propel his project further than he could imagine.

The production of icewine is by far one of the most fascinating vinification processes. While most grapes are harvested in shorts and a t-shirt during late summer and early autumn, grapes destined for icewine, are left on their vines until bundled up pickers harvest them on the first frozen night of winter that hits -8C. As the grapes freeze, the water in the grape turns to ice, leaving only an extremely concentrated sugary liquid to be pressed from the grapes. This intensely dense and syrupy juice ferments and becomes one of the most sought after dessert delights in the world.

“Working together with Diamond Estates has been a pleasure,” Avraham raved. “They have been endlessly helpful and completely accommodating during the entire process.” When representatives from Diamond Estates blind-tasted Avramam’s Tzafona Cellars icewine, comparing it to their own long standing production from the same grapes, the quality was identical. “Because the only other kosher icewine reigns from Austria where winters do not always reach the conditions needed to harvest properly frozen grapes,” Avraham explained, “we have become the first producer of kosher icewine that can be made annually.” Avraham’s drive and tenacity along with Diamond Estates flexible and open minded approach has given birth to a revolution in kosher wine-making.
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Tasting: Cold Climate Vidal Icewine 2014
“You need to remember that icewine is to be sipped like whiskey,” Avraham instructed me, as I peered at the slender golden bottle, “you don’t pour yourself a full glass”. Despite Avraham’s advice, when I started sipping this wine, I found it very difficult to stop. Even if you aren’t a dessert wine person, or even a wine person at all, you must try this — honey and apricot have never tasted so fabulous together. On a hot summer night with a significant other, fill up some bowls of vanilla ice cream, and pour yourself some of this icewine to sip along with each spoonful. Turn up either Neil Young’s “Prairie Wind” or Rush’s “Permanent Waves” to set the tone just right. Be sure to visit Avraham at his store in Toronto called “The Press & Kettle”.