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Apple Wine Blog

The Passionate Foodie

Wine Battle Royale

It was an epic contest, my own Wine Battle Royale. A head-to-head competition between Apfel Eis, of Massachusetts, and Neige, of Canada, both apple ice wines. Which would prevail? Would the local wine defeat its foreign competitor? When the tasting was over, who would emerge the victor?

I first encountered Apfel Eis at the Boston Wine Expo, where I also tasted some Neige, though I did not taste them together. At the time, it seemed that the two apple ice wines presented somewhat different styles and flavors. Yet I wondered how the two dessert wines would compare if tasted together and tasted blind. I was not sure the Expo really gave me an accurate comparison of the two wines. So I arranged my own private taste test.

The set-up: Two identical shot glasses, marked on the bottom. I filled each glass with the two different apple ice wines and then had someone else mix them up so I would not know which was which. And then I did the same for my drinking companion.

Both wines looked the same so I could not differentiate them by their color. I then tasted both wines, trying to detect their differences. To my surprise, they were nearly identical in taste except that one may have been slightly tarter than the other. My drinking companion came to the same conclusion, except felt that the other wine was slightly tarter. We both agreed though that the wines tasted essentially the same. I have tasted the two together a couple more times since then, comparing and contrasting them again, and with the same results.

So does that mean the Battle Royale was a tie? No, it does not because there are other factors, besides their similar taste, to consider. First, there is price. The Apfel Eis is $24.99 but the Neige ranges from $27-$30. As the Apfel is less expensive, it gains a bonus. Second, the Apfel is made locally in Massachusetts as opposed to Neige which is from Canada. If you are concerned about buying locally, or supporting local companies, then the Apfel gains another bonus.

So, weighing in those other factors, I consider the Winner to be the Apfel Eis.

As I have previously successfully paired the Neige with various apple desserts, then I have no question that the Apfel Eis would do equally as well with such desserts. I have also recently paired with Apfel Eis with various cheeses, crackers and agave nectar. It paired very well with the cheeses, especially the firmer ones like Manchego though it was delicious with Cheddar too. So instead of pairing a white or red wine with your cheese plate, why not consider the Apfel Eis instead?

Harvard Magazine

Alumni Focus: A New England Farmer Winery

The Holtzmans:  Entrepreneurs, apple ice wine makers

“Want to try the sparkling version?” It is 10:30 in the morning as Wade Holtzman flips the lid on a bottle of carbonated apple ice wine he has carefully tended and fermented for three months in his family’s basement, now home to Still River Winery, in Harvard, Massachusetts. “Oh yes,” say his son, Leif ’05, and wife, Margot, Ed.M. ’72, happily holding up their empty glasses.

The Holtzmans have been making apple ice wine since 2008, when they first tasted a bottle of cidre de glace brought home from a trip to Quebec. “We all fell in love with it,” says Margot. “And we thought, ‘Why not make this ourselves?’”

The beverage was invented in Quebec around 1989, using the same techniques that yield the grape ice wine typically produced in Germany and Canada. Made right, the wine is not overly sweet and has a satisfyingly earthy flavor; it carries the same alcohol level as a glass of white wine—12 percent—and is typically drunk chilled before or after a meal. (It pairs especially well with pork, poultry, lobster, and sharp cheeses.) Leif says the carbonated version, which the family produced just for his then-pending wedding, “is a little like apple soda. Because you can’t taste the alcohol, it can sneak up on you.”

Traditional ice wine uses grapes that have frozen on the vine, but the Holtzmans begin with unpasteurized apple juice fresh-pressed from the nearby Carlson Orchards, a 120-acre farm that grows 14 varieties of apples and has been in business since 1936. The liquid is frozen in containers, then allowed to drip-thaw for 24 hours. This process, repeated three times, separates out the watery residue and concentrates the apple juice to its richest state of sugar, acid, and flavor. A five-gallon jug of juice yields about one-and-a-half gallons of concentrated appleness, and the sugar content shifts from 9 percent to 32 percent before fermentation. Once yeast has been added, the concentrate is left to ferment for three months at 50 degrees until the wine is ready for bottling.

Wade, who runs his own business as an antique furniture restorer from another part of the house, is the primary winemaker. Margot, a learning specialist at Cambridge Friends School, takes care of the administrative work; Leif, who studied psychology and economics at Harvard and has worked in online advertising, has overseen business strategy and marketing. Although he enrolled at Stanford Graduate School of Business this fall, he plans to remain an integral part of expanding the winery.

Still River’s annual capacity as a farmer winery (its official classification) is 1,600 cases per year, or 19,200 bottles; the Holtzmans have made a small profit so far selling in four New England states (check stillriverwinery.com for retail locations). In 2011, they plan to take advantage of a new Massachusetts law that allows farmer wineries to sell at farmers’ markets. That personal touch, Leif agrees, is crucial: “Locally grown, natural products are associated with better health and a smaller environmental impact, which is what people are looking for.”

The Holtzmans, for example, still fill and seal one bottle of ice wine at a time, using labels Leif designed. His parents fully expect him to fly home from Palo Alto for the annual marathon bottling session and hope he will cultivate relationships with California wineries for possible future partnerships. Leif laughs at this, but says he will do what he can. “It is a unique, gratifying experience to be able to hold something in your hand that you made and that people enjoy,” he says, looking around the basement, then at his parents. “And that we all enjoy ourselves.” Salud.

The Harvard Post

An Interview with Leif Holtzman

Two years ago, Wade Holtzman and his son Leif, who both tinkered with brewing beer, decided to make a batch of apple ice wine on a whim.

A trip Wade and wife Margot took to Canada introduced them to the concept of ice wine, which usually uses grapes that have frozen on the vine to produce an intense flavor. Deciding to use a plentiful local crop instead, the Holtzman family started out with one batch of apple ice wine, or Apfel Eis, launched it at a wine show and have not looked back.

Introducing this unique wine to the public has been an exciting process for the Holtzman family, who produces the wine from their basement facility with apple cider from Carlson Orchards.

According to Leif, Wade acts as the “mad scientist,” mom Margot specializes in distribution and sales, and Leif works on marketing and business strategy. Leif spoke with the Post about the family business, Still River Winery, before his recent marriage to Alyssa Meyers. He will head to Stanford’s Business School for his MBA with a focus on entrepreneurship this fall, taking him away from the business, but sharpening his skills to focus full-time on the winery’s projected growth when he returns.

Leif will continue to work on winery business from California.

Still River Winery recently added a Double Gold Medal from the International Eastern Wine Competition to their roster of 44 other accolades.

For information visit stillriverwinery.com.

Q When did you all start this?

A The idea came in summer 2008. My parents had gone up to Quebec for a vacation and heard of apple ice wine. So my dad came back and told me about it because we had been brewing beer.

It was his idea to experiment with making apple ice wine, given the local orchards and the apples we have around. We tried it on a whim and it turned out to be pretty good.

Q Did that first batch take a long time?

A The length of time hasn’t really changed — it took about four months. We had friends and family who tried it and they thought it was pretty good. So that is when the light bulb went off that this could be more than a hobby. This could be a small business.

Our soft launch selling this was through the Newport Wine Festival in fall 2008. It was a way to test the waters. Now that we were in front of more sophisticated wine drinkers, we wanted to get their take on it. We got a really positive reception.

Q What did you think after that?

A We were not expecting it at all, and we were getting this positive feedback. That was really exciting. We met a distributor in Rhode Island and that was the first time we started selling. They got us into 10 stores down there.

In Massachusetts, if you are a farmer winery producing less than 5,000 gallons annually, you can self-distribute within your state, so we started going after local liquor stores and restaurants.

Q Did you have to have labels ready to go?

A Yes. We had everything lined up prior to that show — the bottles were designed, the labels were approved.

Q Did you design the label?

A I did. I had done some computer graphics in the past. I do the packaging and the marketing.

Q What do you like about this whole process?

A I come at this from a different angle from my dad. My mom is a teacher and my dad restores antique furniture, so he is very good with his hands. He is a craftsman. He enjoys the process of making wine and everything that goes into it. It is an art with that kind of wine; it is not mass produced.

But my background is in business, so I enjoy the process of actually increasing our productivity, making things more efficient without sacrificing quality. What I like about this is you are creating a physical product that you can hold and see the fruits of your labor right there.

Q How long did rehauling your basement take?

A Since 2008 we have been buying freezers and tanks. We haven’t expanded the basement as much as taken stuff out to add everything in.

Q What do you like about your product?

A For starters, ice wine is pretty unique, but apple ice wine is a fraction of ice wine. Most people who have heard of ice wine have not heard of apple ice wine. So it tastes good and is unique and memorable. It is not what you would expect from a wine.

The fact that we make it all from locally grown apples and from a fruit that Harvard and Massachusetts is known for is a big selling point.

Q Is there one thing you really enjoy doing?

A My favorite part is really drinking it, and thinking, “I made this.”