Word out of New York this week is that Empire State lawmakers have approved legislation to exempt from the state's liquor-control laws ice cream made with wine. According to comments by New York legislators and winemakers, the demand for wine ice cream is rising. If so, it must be only in New York.
While ice cream made with wine isn't unheard of in California, it's more obscure novelty than trend here. Dr. Bob Small, a recently retired professor of wine and business in the school of hospitality management at California Polytechnic State University, Pomona, knows both ice cream and wine. For one, he's proprietor of the Dr. Bob's line of hand-crafted gourmet ice creams of Upland. He's also the longtime director of the Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition in Pomona. A few years ago, he teamed up with Don Galleano, proprietor of the historic Galleano Winery at Mira Loma in the Cucamonga Valley, to make an ice cream based on the old California style of wine called angelica.
Small also has made ice cream with a gewurztraminer ice wine from Canada, an ice cream with prune armagnac, and a sorbet with Champagne. He's also been experimenting with batches of tequila ice cream. Nevertheless, he doesn't see such ice creams going mainstream. He does them for special events and a handful of specialty stores and restaurants. He's learned that the best wine-inspired ice creams come from highly sweet and concentrated dessert wines, which are among the more expensive wines, thus boosting substantially the price of ice creams made from them.
He doesn't know of any California winery or ice-cream company making wine ice cream commercially, nor does the trade group Wine Institute. State alcohol-beverage-control and food-and-agriculture officials have yet to respond to my inquiries.
Small sounds more interested in completing a wine book he's writing than pursuing wine ice cream as anything more than a sideline. He's wary of producing a product that seems like it could invite censure because of ice cream's traditional association with children.
New York authorities also anticipated that reaction. According to news reports, wine ice cream isn't to contain more than 5 percent alcohol by volume, it isn't to be sold to anyone younger than 21, and labels and menus are to include warning statements.