104 Bolton Rd | Harvard, MA 01451 | 978-415-WINE (9463)

Apple Wine Blog

Govenor Deval Patrick Likes Wine

 The Massachusetts Wine & Cheese Trail is 48 Businesses Strong

From sparkling apple ice wine from Still River Winery to a decadent, chocolate-infused wine, Deval Patrick celebrated with wine makers across Massachusetts the growing number of wine and cheese producers in the state.

Margot Holtzman was delighted to represent Still River Winery and got to chat briefly with the govenor and thank him for his support of the growing Massachusetts Wine & Cheese Trail.
As reported in the Telegram.com, Patrick described his satisfaction with the number of jobs wine and cheese producers are bringing to the state:
“We're listening hard to farmers and others who are in the agricultural industry. It's a big industry here; it employs a lot of people.”

The expansion of the state's wine and cheese trail is being promoted on the state website, www.mass.gov. There, anyone  can get a wine passport, visit the wineries listed and mail it in to win a free cellar full of Massachusetts wines.

The trail now has 29 wine and 18 cheese businesses statewide open to visitors. For anyone wanting to visit Still River Winery this fall, give us a call and we will set up a time and look forward to welcoming you!

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The Harvard Press

Freeze & Thaw Turns Apples into Eiswein

Take a sip of Still River Winery’s Apfel Eis wine and find yourself transported to an apple orchard on a crisp fall day. That magical effect has been achieved, if awards and accolades are any testament, by the Holtzman family of Harvard.

Wade and Margot Holtzman, with help from their son Leif, have made the leap from conception to perfection with their unique version of apple ice wine, which they produce at their winery here in Harvard.

As previously reported in the Press ( “Business Brief: A winery is born in Harvard,” June 2009), the Holtzman family visited Quebec a few years ago and happened to taste an ice wine made from apples. Traditional ice wine, also known as eiswein, is made from grapes that have remained on the vine past the first frost. When the grapes freeze, the frozen water crystals separate out, resulting in a juice that contains more sugar, acid, and flavor than regular wine.

If the painstakingly complex, time-consuming process of fermenting this concentrated grape “must” is done properly, it produces a deliciously sweet, if expensive, wine.

Eiswein made from apples was created by a French winemaker who had emigrated to Quebec. He reasoned that the apple was more “at home” than was the grape on Canadian soil, and would, therefore, result in a better product. He was correct.

Upon tasting the Canadian apple ice wine, the Holtzmans had a similar epiphany. If apples that were grown in Canada could produce a pleasing ice wine, didn’t it stand to reason that apples from the heart of apple country in central Massachusetts—which happens to have the most ideal soil, climate, and hours of sunlight to grow delicious apples—would produce a remarkably better one? They returned home determined to give it a try.

After researching the methodologies for creating ice wine and obtaining raw pressed apples from local cider producers, the Holtzmans produced a small batch to try with friends. An enthusiastic response over the taste and quality of the wine convinced the Holtzman family they were on to something that deserved serious pursuit.

The challenge was to create a process to separate the water crystals from the cider before it began fermentation. They settled on a separation process that reduces five gallons of cider to one gallon. The five-gallon glass containers (called carboys) are a far cry from the 250-gallon tanks used by commercial producers, and the glass allows one to see what’s going on inside the bottle.

“We concentrate by freezing,” said Margot Holtzman. “Freeze and thaw, freeze and thaw, freeze and thaw, each time removing the clear ice, which is water.” When asked about the difference between the frozen juice and frozen water, she explained that it’s a property of physics that when the juice is thawing the clear ice (water) stays frozen longer than the juice, so they can just physically take it out. Then the cider goes into the carboys, where it gets inoculated with the yeast, which acts on the natural sugars to create alcohol.

“Any other sweet wine, such as a Riesling, has sugar added to it,” she said. “We don’t need to do that, because it’s so concentrated.”

Holtzman added that it is not even legal to add sugar to wines labeled as ice wines.

After the fermentation is on its way, the carboys go into a cold room for a long slow fermentation, which preserves the natural flavors. When this step is complete, 10 carboys at a time are combined to create a consistent product, as each one individually is a living thing and therefore a little different.

Fermentation itself takes place over months, at very cold temperatures, to preserve delicate flavors and aromas that would disappear if fermentation occurred more quickly at warmer temperatures

The Holtzmans found that using a special yeast that can withstand very cold temperatures allowed them to ferment the wine over long periods in small batches, an important aspect of not having to add sugar (which is typically added to most wines and ciders made from apples) either before or after fermentation.

After cold fermentation is complete, each carboy is taken out to “sit on its lees (sediment) for a few weeks.” Sulfites are added to stop the fermentation, but the amount is only a fraction of what is normally added to a fruit wine.

The small size of the carboys allows for careful transferring to a tank (leaving most of the sediment in the containers). From there the wine goes through a series of “plate filters,” (sheets of cellulose) which filter out the finer particles. First the wine passes through 15 sheets of large- to medium-grade filters, then again through 15 sheets of medium to fine filters. This process is called “fining,” and in a large-scale commercial production, it would be done using a clay-like substance called bentonite to “scrub” the wine and only the large particles would be filtered out.

Here the Holtzmans have added another layer of filtering for a very pure product; just before bottling, the wine goes through an “ultra-sterile cartridge.” Margot Holtzman explained that the pores in this cartridge are “.2 microns, so no bacteria can get through; no stray yeast cell can get through.”

The reason for this extra precaution is so they can use a very small amount of sulfites and not worry that any yeast will remain to act on the sugars, which would create a much higher percentage of alcohol.

In September 2008, the Holtzmans took their creation to the Newport Wine Festival, where they received a very good reception, giving them the confidence to expand their production and look for retailers in Massachusetts while obtaining a license to distribute nationally. Since then, Apfel Eis has received several prestigious national and international awards, which are listed on their website, www.stillriverwinery.com.

When the Press first spoke with the Holtzmans, their operation was very small. There was a single cold room for fermentation, the size of a closet, and from that they were producing about 400 cases a year. Since then they have expanded their production space to accommodate two large cold rooms and several large freezers; they have quadrupled their production, and have one full-time employee outside the family.

“This is it,” said Margot Holtzman. “This is as big as we want to get; any bigger and it will just start to get like a factory, and we don’t want to do that.”

When asked if there was any interest in selling globally, she said they do get inquiries, but they don’t want the hassle of the licensing and the bureaucracy.

Each batch of Apfel Eis is made from a blend of local varietal apples, and over 80 apples go into the making of each bottle. And now the Holtzmans have created a sparkler, from the same wine.

Leif had requested the sparkler for his wedding; feedback was again positive, and now they are adding it to the product line.

“The process of carbonation does make it a bit drier,” Margot said.

Over 400 retailers now sell Apfel Eis. Harvard resident Steve Pope, wine consultant at Lower Falls Wine Company in Newton, said, “We sold quite a bit of the Apfel Eis at Thanksgiving and got great feedback. It’s local, it’s different, and it’s delicious without being too sweet. I did think it showed better nicely chilled. I had some that had warmed up a little and it didn’t have quite the pop of flavor.”

The Holtzman family is clearly proud of their enormously successful creation and have reached the level of output where they are comfortable. Wade continues to run his antique furniture repair business, and Margot still teaches.

When asked about the dynamics of running a business as a family, Margot said, “Running our business as a family is just one more bond that keeps us close, particularly for the past year and a half, when Leif has been in California. We all have very different strengths and respect these in each other. Wade is totally the hands-on guy, Leif knows about business strategy, and I do well dealing with customers.”

Despite the amount of work involved, “if we keep it at this size, it will still be fun,” said Margot, rolling her eyes just a bit.

The Boston Globe Magazine

Drink Your Apples

Entering Still River Winery’s production facility makes you wonder, for a fleeting moment, whether you have fallen down the rabbit hole. Descending the worn ramp into the basement where Wade, Margot, and son Leif Holtzman produce apple ice wine is not the typical winery experience. But neither is this a booze-in-the-bathtub operation. Here in Harvard, in the middle of apple country, the Holtzmans have outfitted a 1,500-square-foot facility with high-tech “cold rooms” and enough equipment to make a mad scientist blush; there are blocks of frozen cider thawing, vats of wine slowly fermenting, bottles being filled with the finished product. Solar panels outside supply 25 percent of the operation’s electricity.

And what comes out of this place is bliss in a glass. With a pristine flavor that is not quite cider, not quite apple juice, and not quite apple wine, the Holtzmans’ Apfel Eis is sweet and tart without the fire of apple spirits like Calvados or the tang of hard cider.

Having made their first batch only three years ago, the Holtzmans and their one full-time employee, Ted Sawyer, are making inroads quickly. Their wine, which retails for $25 per 375-milliliter bottle, is sold in more than 400 stores and restaurants in New England.

Returning from a trip to Quebec’s Ice Hotel in 2007, Wade and Margot stopped at a duty-free shop for a bottle or two of eiswein (made from grapes purposely left on the vine to freeze), which they had enjoyed for years. They also noticed cidre de glace, a Canadian specialty wine made from frozen cider and developed in the 1990s; they took a couple of bottles home.

“We fell in love with it,” Margot says. Although neither is sure which of them first suggested they make their own apple ice wine, the quest began. As home beer brewers, Wade and Leif (now studying for his MBA at Stanford) tried every method of production, even freezing whole apples, before research and trial and error brought them to their current recipe, which calls for a proprietary blend of cider from Central Massachusetts apples, about 80 of them per bottle; they now produce 19,200 bottles a year. An antique furniture restorer, Wade says he’s a tinkerer by nature and truly delights in the process. “Everyone wants to be the boss and not the worker,” he says. “I am the other way around.”

Each week, year-round, the Holtzmans haul 150 gallons of unpasteurized pressed cider from Box Mill Farm in Stow. Every 4½ gallons of juice goes into a 5-gallon plastic jug, which is frozen and then slowly defrosted.

“What drips first is the very rich concentrated juice,” says Margot. The process is repeated twice, reducing the initial 4½ gallons of juice down to a single gallon. Unlike hard cider or other fruit wines, Apfel Eis has no added sugar. Concentrating the juice concentrates the sweetness. The concentrated juice is poured into 5-gallon glass carboys and inoculated with yeast, which converts the natural juice sugars to alcohol, then placed in one of three cold rooms that maintain an ideal fermentation temperature of 50 degrees. It takes about three months to bring the alcohol level to 12 percent.

Finally, the cloudy, cider-colored fermented juice is ready, and sulfites are added to stop fermentation. The juice “sits on its lees” – that cloudy matter, actually yeasts and tiny bits of ground apple from the cider-making process – for two weeks to develop a deeper flavor before being transferred to 50-gallon stainless-steel tanks. After three to four weeks there, it is filtered twice to achieve a crystal-clear gold color. The bottling and corking is done one bottle at a time at least three times a month. Labels, designed by Leif, are attached.

“We are at a perfect size right now,” Margot says of the 1,600 cases they produce each year. “We could do tons more, but we couldn’t do it the way we do it. Everything is necessary to make the wine what it is.”

The winery is part of a statewide trend. According to the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, the state is now home to 44 licensed farmer wineries, more than triple the number in 1994. The state’s wineries handcraft and bottle wine and hard cider from fruits including grapes, apples, blueberries, and cranberries.

State Agricultural Commissioner Scott Soares is not surprised that consumers are supporting new local products like apple ice wine. “The Commonwealth is known for its great agricultural soils and regions,” he says. “We are a small state, but the diversity in products is fabulous.”

The Holtzmans may be content with the size of their winery, but not the status quo. Having created a sparkling version of Apfel Eis for Leif’s wedding last year, they hope to get the sparkler on their retailers’ shelves before Thanksgiving. Recent legislation allows licensed farmer wineries to sell at farmers’ markets, so they participated in 14 this summer (and plan to continue at several winter farmers’ markets, including Natick’s), adding another layer to their work of juggling orders, distribution, and winemaking. But with summers off from her full-time job as a learning specialist at the Cambridge Friends School, Margot enjoyed interacting with customers and witnessing the connection of raw material, product, and consumer.

“Being part of the local community,” says Leif, “using local resources, and taking part in local fund-raisers and farmers’ markets is an extremely important part of Still River Winery. Our hope is that fellow New Englanders appreciate the fact that our wine is produced so close to where they live, with 100 percent of the fruit grown in local orchards.”