|Red Raspberry Chardonnay pints being packaged at Mercer's.|
Problem was, they couldn’t get it to work.
The idea was wine ice cream. Not the wine-flavored variety, mind you; that’s nothing new.
The folks at Mercer were talking about rich dairy ice cream that contained 5-percent-alcohol wine.
“We were at the annual Farm Day in New York that Sen. (Hillary) Clinton revived,” said Roxaina Hurlburt, Mercer’s marketing director. “While there, we were set up next to some wineries. We were giving out cups of our vanilla ice cream, and some people were putting their samples of wine on top of it. Jim Trezise (president of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation) said to me, ‘why don’t you make wine ice cream?’”
Fast forward to today, and Mercer’s wine ice cream is a treat known worldwide. Mercer’s Dairy, which has produced premium 12.5 percent butterfat ice cream since the 1950s, sells its wine ice cream in France, the Netherlands, Dubai, China, Aruba, Canada, Singapore, Ukraine, Estonia, Haiti, Japan and its newest entry — Cambodia.
Hurlburt said his team is working with Australia, Cypress, Malta and Mexico to get the product into those countries.
“People from Mexico came up and toured our plant recently,” she said.
The difficult thing about making wine ice cream was developing just the right process so that the ice cream stayed creamy and frozen while the wine maintained its alcohol content and taste. Certain wines didn’t work — not enough flavor, Hurlburt said — or didn’t taste right in the ice cream.
“We probably worked a whole year on it,” she said. “We weren’t even sure it was going to work.”
But work it did — finally.
“It’s a unique taste,” said Mercer’s wine ice cream lover R. Patrick Corbett, of Rome. “You know that you are eating ice cream, but the wine taste comes through crisply. You have to try it to understand.”
He said his favorite flavors are Cherry Merlot, Port and Chocolate Chardonnay.
Officials would not say which vineyards supply the wine, but they do try to buy from the same wineries to maintain consistancy in taste in the ice cream. And they try to buy from only New York wineries.
Mercer’s is one of only two establishments in the nation that make ice cream containing alcohol. The other is a Los Angeles-based company making frozen ice cream bars called BuzzBar. Those bars have from 0.65 of a percent to 2.81 percent alcohol, while Mercer’s ice cream contains 5 percent alcohol.
Because of the alcohol content, Mercer’s had to work with the New York state Legislature to pass a law so that the wine ice cream could be sold in New York. Hurlburt said no one could figure out whether it was a frozen food or an alcoholic product. A bill finally passed the Legislature in 2008, limiting the alcohol content to 5 percent, putting regular alcohol warnings on the label, and limiting buyers to ages 21 and older.
In years past, Mercer’s was owned by a group of nine farm families from Lewis and Jefferson counties. But in 2013, Hurlburt and a niece bought out the other partners and now own the company.
Mercer’s wine ice cream has been featured on MTV, The Real, NBC and in more than 40 publications, including Time, U.S. News & World Report, Woman’s World and The Sun (in the United Kingdom). It also has won numerous food contests.
Hurlburt said production of the wine goodie varies from week to week and month to month. But after it has been featured on a national TV show or in a news article, “things just go wild here.”
For more information, go to Mercer’s website at www.mercerswineicecream.com or call (866) 637-2377.