Guest Post – Queen of the Ice Wine: South River Vineyards and the Ice Wine Festival

I came to the sad conclusion a while ago that I’m incapable of exploring everything in Northeast Ohio. Case in point, I was really disappointed to have to miss the Geneva Ice Wine Festival this past weekend (and the coming weekend since I’m going to be in Chicago for this).

Fortunately, Clue Into Cleveland guest contributor Kate Galo was happy enough to enjoy a day of wine tasting for me. Enjoy her writeup of the experience and be sure to check out the Ice Wine Festival this Saturday, March 19th (your last chance this year!).

— Amanda


I find that there are certain proposals that could be made to me that I will always say yes to.  Would I like to bring some food to a dinner party?  Would I mind asking that embarrassing question so my friend doesn’t have to?  Would I like to go drink some wine?

A bottle of South River's Karma wine in their cellar

The answer will always be an emphatic YES.  So when Clue Into Cleveland was asked if we’d like to go to South River Vineyard and maybe try some ice wine, I said YES.  (And maybe threatened to knock Amanda and Elizabeth out of the way so I could go.)  I was already planning on making my way to Geneva and had no problem with visiting South River Vineyard first!

I learned from Gene Sigel, owner of South River Vineyard, that this is the 8th year of the Ice Wine Festival for the various wineries around Geneva and Ashtabula, and that the three weekends in March are some of the busiest times of their year.  He chalks it up to cabin fever, and I agree with him, but I’d also say it has something to do with the fact that ice wine is delicious and sweet and gives you a feeling of doing something special in the end of winter when last weekend you were wearing 5 layers of clothing in your house and debating whether or not you could stand to get out from under the blanket to feed your stupid pets.

Gene Sigel of South River using a wine thief to draw wine from a barrel.

Learning more about ice wine just highlighted how little I know about wine making, and chemistry in general.  Ice wine is a specialty in places like Northeast Ohio since it needs to b 18 degrees Fahrenheit for the grapes to freeze, the grapes have to picked (sometimes by hand!) when they’re frozen, and pressed when they’re frozen in a giant bucket press.  If the grapes get warm, they get squishy (technical term), and then the chemistry changes and the kind of wine changes.  South River picked their grapes last December and made a Concord Ice and a Blush Ice wine.  The Blush Ice wine is fantastic!  Not too syrupy or overly sweet, it was clear and sweet and had very clear cherry and berry and lilac aromas.  The Concord Ice was very “jammy” as Gene put it, and he’s right – it was as if I had taken a bite of homemade grape jam.

First Runner-up Amanda Wight, Ice Wine Queen Stephy Gorgeny, Second Runner-up Sara Galbreath

And this was the first year for the Ice Wine Queen!  Gene and his wife and co-owner Heather put together this event for the first time this year.  Contestants learned about the Ice Wine Queen from their website,, and from the winery’s Facebook page (, and were asked to answer a few questions, including one very challenging one: “What is your favorite wine?”

Ice Wine Queen Stephy Gorgeny described her answer as very detailed (from vine to wine!), and chose Gewurztraminer.  First Runner-up Amanda Wight took this as an opportunity to do a lot of reading on the grapes, and went with a Riesling.  Second Runner-up Sara Galbreath, who journeys from Erie, Pa. once a quarter to the area, just picked her favorite, a Pinot Noir, pointing out its versatility and ability to be paired with so many things.  All three winners were very excited to be a part of the first Ice Wine Queen contest.  Queen Stephy (I don’t know if she’s made people refer to her as “Queen Stephy” from now on, but you shouldn’t miss the opportunity, girl!), said that she has always been a fan of South River and finds it so beautiful, and was happy to be able to help promote our Northeast Ohio wineries.  Second Runner-up Sara agreed, saying that South River’s history and grounds and wines make it a place she really loves.

I did spy all three winners later in the day at some of the other wineries with their crowns and sashes, and I have to say, it really inspired myself and my drinking buddies to plan for next year’s Ice Wine Queen.  My favorite wine?  Um… will be… delicious?  I will prepare more over the year!  And I would also recommend a talent portion – hand the contestants a wine and tell them to pair it with a meal!  Blind taste test to see if they can pick up the notes in the wine!

A selection of South River's white wines

I did not stick with just ice wine, because who could?  I got the chance to taste South River’s Dry Riesling, Semillon, Creation, Temptation, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc wines as well (I also ate a small loaf of bread, and spread those out over two visits, so I was fine to drive!).  Let me break it down:

  • The Dry Riesling tasted to me like a very classic dry riesling – not too sweet, crisp and light.  The boyfriend was very pleased with this, as he actually does not much care for overly sweet wine.
  • The Semillion is a buttery, smoother wine, and one of the most planted grapes in Bordeaux, France.  Because I don’t know what figs taste like exactly, I could not say for sure that I tasted the fig honey, but I did note that it was really creamy and smooth.
  • The Creation and Temptation wines were my new best friends!  The Creation is South River’s blend of Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay, and Temptation is a blush wine made from Cabernet Franc and Riesling.  They were both excellent.  I really loved Temptation, but I have a tendency to go towards slightly sweeter, edging into dessert wine territory wines that don’t necessarily have to be parried with things.
  • South River’s 2010 Pinot Noir was made from Dijon clones from France, and their Cabernet Franc was actually a pleasant surprise for Gene, who typically uses their cabernet francs to blend with their other wines.  The 2010 year however turned out really well and was bottled on its own, and as a person who doesn’t know all that much about Cabernet Franc, I would say that yes, it is a really fresh, almost peppery wine and I could see how it would mix really well with other blends.

Whew.  And people, this was only my first stop of the day.  I went on to Debonne, Grand River Cellars, Ferrante, Laurello, and back to South River.  Judging by seeing the Ice Wine winners and a number of familiar faces at all the stops, making a day of the Ice Wine Festival is very much the thing to do in March.  Saturday March 19, 2011 is the last Saturday for this year’s Festival, so strap on your drinking snow boots, and enjoy!

South River Vineyard

About the Guest Author: Kate Galo
Long long ago, Kate Galo was a professional blogger at the now-defunct  Her writing style has vastly improved over the years, and she’s excited to sharing her thoughts about this city with the loyal readers at Clue Into Cleveland!

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  1. Pingback: Guest Post: Market at the Foodbank Recap « Clue Into Cleveland

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