Icewine festivals sweet, winter reward
Clink, clink! They’re having a really cool celebration in Niagara wine country.
It’s time again to celebrate the frozen nectar of the vines — icewine — with a three-weekend festival.
This dessert wine, discovered by accident, is renowned for its intense flavours, rich bouquet and smoothness.
It’s cherished around the world, along with maple syrup, as an iconic Canadian product.
With the latest harvest of frozen grapes on the vine being one of the earliest in history, anticipation is growing for the festival weekends from Jan. 11 to 27.
The story goes that icewine wasn’t originally a Canadian product, but “eiswein” created in Germany in the 1700s resulted after an early frost froze the grapes on the vine.
Peasant farmers felt they had no choice but to press the grapes anyway, not wanting to lose the harvest and discovered a super sweet and pleasing wine.
Our icewine is produced from grapes left after the fall harvest once the temperature dips to -8C or lower.
Then the frozen grapes are handpicked and pressed immediately to release a thick, rich yellow-gold liquid, highly concentrated in natural sugars and acidity.
Of all the wine-producing regions in the world, only Ontario has a winter climate sufficiently cold to ensure an icewine crop in most years, with some 60 wineries now involved.
Icewine is pricey, as fruit left on the vine is vulnerable to rot, ravaging winds, hail, hungry birds and animals as well as being labour-intensive and producing small yields.
This year, temperature dipped to icewine-picking levels on Nov. 22, instead of around New Year’s Eve as is typical.
Sip and savour
Things heat up as the festival kicks off on Jan. 11 with the opulent icewine gala at Fallsview Casino Resort in Niagara Falls.
“The Grand Hall will be transformed into a Canadian landscape using masterfully crafted ice sculptures, colourful lighting displays and extraordinary installations,” said Dorian Anderson, executive director of the Niagara Grape and Wine Festival.
Guests can sip and savour award-winning VQA ( Vintners Quality Alliance) wines from 35 Niagara wineries that will be “perfectly paired” with dishes curated to highlight Canadian cuisine. “Live entertainment encourages guests to dance the night away at this extravagant evening and a Canadian-themed silent auction showcases local wineries and businesses,” Anderson said.
Along with the formal-attire gala, from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. and costing $190 a person, there are jam-packed, self-touring weekends to enjoy icewine, sparkling, red and white wines. This includes outdoor street festivals in Niagara-on-the-Lake and Jordan and exploring wine and culinary pairings along the Wine Route and in Niagara Falls that’s “truly a remarkable celebration,” said Sylvia Augaitis of the Wine Marketing Association of Ontario.
Don’t pass on this
A big part of the festival days is the discovery pass for use each weekend ($45; $35 for designated drivers).
Pass holders can choose eight wine-and-culinary pairings from more than 40 wineries along the Ontario Wine Route.
These include “indulgent wine and culinary pairings” to roasting chestnuts and icewine marshmallows at the 24th annual fest.
Other options are hot chicken wings paired with vidal icewine and spiced pear upside down cake with a riesling icewine.
Outdoor street celebrations start on Jan. 11 to 13 including Twenty Valley’s Winter WineFest in Jordan Village, followed by the Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Icewine Festival, Jan. 18 to 20 and 25 to 27, and the Niagara Falls Icewine Festival on Jan. 25 and 26.
A toast is offered to the latest vintage of icewine in Niagara.