Gehringer Brothers Winery and Their Famous Icewine

Gehringer Brothers Winery is a must-see stop on the Osoyoos wine trail, with their famed icewine being the star attraction for sampling!

Outside the window, plump snowflakes spill from the sky in the spotlight of a street lamp. With an ear-shattering shriek, our animated three-year old races through the house with her 22-month old cousin in hot pursuit.
Their tiny feet rhythmically drum against the hardwood floor. Amidst the loud laughter at the dinner table, my brother’s four-day old baby girl sleeps snuggled in the nook of her Opa’s arm. “Why gorge on cheesecake after dinner, when you can sip icewine,” my father says, pouring a light golden liquid from a sleek bottle. Tonight is the last evening of our family’s holiday reunion. Gehringer Brothers 2008 Riesling Icewine is a sweet accompaniment to our treasured time together.
Established in 1985, Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery is one of the oldest wineries in the South Okanagan region of British Columbia. Resting on a sunny hillside on the Golden Mile between Osoyoos and Oliver, Gehringer Brothers is recognized for producing some of the best vino in North America. With a repertoire of 22 superb wines and 45 acres of thriving vineyards, Walter and Gordon Gehringer reap a fortune of medals each year. With the release of their first three Signature Icewines in 1991 — the Chancellor, Riesling and Ehrenfelser — the BC born and raised brothers have been dominating the icewine podium for decades.
On a bone-chilling cold night, a team of 30 people gathered in a frosty vineyard. Bundled in puffy jackets, wool toques and toasty boots, the gang of friends, family and employees plucked icy grapes from the vines, where they had been clinging for weeks after traditional harvest. After working through the wee hours of the morning, the last of the frozen, sugar-caked gems were harvested as the rising sun cast a pink hue into the midnight blue sky.
After a roller coaster, nail-biting growing season (a stellar, hot summer followed by excessive rain and a ferocious hail storm, which damaged 20 percent of the crop), Walter and Gordon Gehringer finally exhaled. Working between 11pm on November 20th and 8am on November 21st the viticulture veterans yielded another successful icewine harvest in 2013.
Icewine is a concentrated, sugar-packed juice that is made from grapes that freeze on the vine. Similar to high-risk investments, making icewine can be a lucrative, yet nerve-racking endeavor. You hope for the best, but ultimately your ROI (return on investment) depends on factors beyond your control. Canadian regulations for icewine production require the temperature to sink to a sustained −8 °C (17 °F) or colder (with sugar levels measuring more than 35° Brix) before the frozen grapes can be picked and pressed. This leaves grapes hanging on the vine for several weeks or even months after traditional harvest. If Jack Frost is late to the party, the grapes risk rotting. If the freeze is too severe, there’s no juice to withdraw.
Thanks to our northern country’s chilly temperatures and wine-making expertise, Canada has become the largest icewine producer on the planet. Although the majority of Canadian icewine hails from Ontario, Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery in B.C.’s Okanagan creates some of the most highly-praised sweet stuff in Canada. The winery makes three types of icewine: Riesling, Minus 9 Ehrenfelser and Cabernet Franc. (Ehrenfelser is a cross between Riesling and Silvaner.) Each year, Gehringer Brothers icewines outshine the competition at domestic and international wine events. As their website promises, “once attempted, hooked forever.”
It’s not only the judges who applaud Gehringer Brothers Icewines. Scott Swetlekoe, manager at the Grand Liquor Merchants in Nelson, BC, has a propensity for the Cabernet Franc Icewine. “It tastes like a burst of strawberry and pomegranate in your mouth,” says Swetlekoe. Jon Langille, the owner of BC Wine Guys in Nelson, lauds the Gehringer Brothers Riesling Icewine. “The acidity in the Riesling Icewine nicely balances out the sweetness,” notes Langille. “The Minus 9 Ehrenfelser is amazing too,” he adds with a smile, as if reminiscing about an old sweetheart.
Born in British Columbia to German parents, Walter and Gordon Gehringer have dedicated their lives to exceptional wine. Both brothers developed and fine-tuned their wine know-how at leading viticulture schools in Germany. Walter was the first Canadian to graduate with a degree in viticulture and oenology from the esteemed Geisenheim University. Gordon Gehringer studied at the renowned viticulture school in Weinsberg, Germany. After they returned home to British Columbia, the brothers planted their fruitful wine careers by purchasing a vineyard in the South Okanagan.
Education and commitment have ripened into juicy results. In 2012, Walter was celebrated as Wine Maker of the Year in the Indy International Wine Competition. At the same competition, the 2011 Minus 9 Ehrenfelser Icewine and the 2011 Riesling Icewine won double gold. In the 2013 Platinum Competition of the Pacific Northwest’s gold-medal wines, Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery won another 11 Platinum medals, amassing a total of 43 Platinums in 13 years, the most robust harvest in the competition’s history. These are just a few examples from a lengthy list of awards.
As the snow outside continues to fall, my dad splashes more liquid gold into our glasses. Similar to the award-winning icewine, our family reunions are memorable and sweet (especially in conservative doses). While we’ll have to wait numerous months before we can sample Gehringer Brothers 2013 icewine, one thing is for certain. Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery will continue to produce some of the best Canadian icewines in the world. And that’s a good thing. Life is sweeter when you can toast to it!
Find out more about the best wineries in the Okanagan Valley here.