This time of year in Ontario is marked by early winter nights bringing deeper frosts, followed by sunny and above-zero crisp days. These frosts and thaws do magical things to the grapes in Niagara, a region in Ontario's Greenbelt that has created a name for itself in ice wine production.
A new product has been creating a name for itself in these icy vineyards, one that many will find novel but very familiar. Steve Murdza, owner of company Sweet and Sticky, has found another use for the sweet and frozen grapes used for ice wine; the soon-to-be-iconic Ice Syrup.
Murdza has a long history working with grapes, and his name is one that is known well in the wine biz. His family was one of the first to grow higher-quality grapes for wine production in the St. Davids area. He currently co-owns Coyotes Run Winery as well as Sweet and Sticky. Murdza has been working on perfecting the technique for his innovative idea for 10 years now, and has released his final product.
The process of making Ice Syrup is similar to that of ice wine, with grapes kept on the vine until a consistent temperature of -8⁰C. After pressing the vitis vinefera vidal and cabernet franc grapes, the fruit’s liquid is kept as pure juice and is then slowly evaporated until it has a thick and viscous consistency, not unlike maple syrup. There is no heat or fermentation used in the process, so the product is not caramelized or alcoholic. The clean evaporation process and lack of any additives, processing, or refinement means all grape flavours, creating a large taste profile.
The result is a very fine product that mimics and morphs the taste properties of wine, with multiple fruit flavours, a desirable sugar/acid balance, crazy versatility, and a taste that improves with age. Ice Syrup is steadily gaining recognition in the foodie world for its many culinary uses. It can be used in drinks, appetizers, non-alcoholic Aperitifs and digestifs, various entrees, and many desserts. It can even be substituted for other flavourings, such as sugar, salt, spices, vinegars, oils, glazes, and butter.
"There's no strict use for this syrup, it has multiple uses and when you talk to a foodie person, right away they start to bring their own ideas to it," says Murdza. "And that's what I think it'll take for this product to really take off -- people adopting it for their own use and own creations."
With such a taste profile and chefs like Susur Lee touting its culinary worth, it’s no wonder the product is getting features in magazines like Canadian Living Magazine, House and Homes, and Wine Spectator. As ice wine sales level off, Murdza and his team are hoping that Ice Syrup will provide new market opportunities for grape growers in Niagara and the other wine regions of Ontario.
If you want to taste the hype for yourself, Loblaws is carrying Ice Syrup under their own President’s Choice label in 100mL bottles. Try out some recipes to get a better idea of Ice Syrup’s vast repertoire.
Start with this glorious Fig and Chèvre Pate as a festive appetizer this holiday season!
250 g Chopped Figs
300 g Chevre (fresh goats’ cheese)
60 ml Vidal Ice Syrup
3 tbsp Fresh Tarragon
2 Green Onions, Chopped
½ tsp Fresh Cracked Pepper
Salt to Taste
Place all ingredients in a food processor, and pulse until all ingredients are smooth. Pate can be served warmed in a crock, or at room temperature. Serve with additional fresh tarragon, a drizzle of Vidal Ice Syrup, and buttered crostini.