Niagara Falls draws millions of people throughout the summer who come to enjoy the scenic beauty and majesty of the Falls, but few people realize that one of the best times to visit Niagara Falls is in the winter. As the temperatures plunge, the cascading water freezes and forms unusual ice sculptures, while the rising mist encapsulates the trees and branches in frozen layers of ice that turn the area into a crystal fantasyland.
This icy wonder is not limited to just the Falls. There is another ice marvel to celebrate during Niagara’s winter —Icewine, a national treasure. Canada holds the title as the largest Icewine producer in the world and is renowned for the quality and selection of this rare and wonderful dessert wine. Because the city of Niagara Falls is located so close to wine country, it is appropriate that Niagara Falls has joined in the celebrations of the annual Niagara Icewine Festival. Held every January, this is a three-week celebration of Ontario food and wine and one more reason to visit Niagara in winter.
Niagara boasts over 75 wineries on a small geographical strip of land situated between the two Great Lakes of Ontario and Erie. The microclimate is warm enough to grow premium vinifera grapes in summer and cold enough to produce grapes suited for Icewine in winter. So, when the temperature plummets, there is excitement in the air and a reason to celebrate as the Icewine harvest begins. During the festival, winemakers pop the cork and share the wonders of this glorious wine with their guests. Visitors arrive from all over the world to take part in the many events, which give them the opportunity to sample Icewines from local producers.
Icewine is so special because it is difficult to produce and requires the co-operation of Mother Nature. In order to make Icewine, the grapes are left hanging on the vines long after the fall harvest is complete, waiting for the freeze to arrive. During that time, the sugars in the berries intensify as the grapes dehydrate on the vine. This maturation process gives the grapes very unique flavours. When the temperature finally drops to minus 8 degrees, the frozen grapes are ready to be picked and pressed. This happens very quickly, while the grapes are still frozen, allowing only the concentrated juice to be collected for the production of Icewine. This extremely sweet grape juice is then fermented and the final result is a delicious dessert wine.
You can find Icewine made from several grape varietals: Vidal, Riesling, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, each one with its own unique flavour profile. White Icewine has aromas of tropical fruits, and red Icewine has intense berry aromas such as raspberry and strawberry. Wine enthusiasts return time and time again to sample each season’s new delights. To appreciate the complexity of this intense wine, it needs to be savoured in small amounts. So, take your time over the course of the festival to fall in love with this cherished wine.
During the Icewine Festival which runs January 15-31, participating wineries host their own individual events in conjunction with three weekend festivals held in different communities within the region.
The kickoff to this year’s festival begins Friday, January 19th with the Icewine Gala, which is held in the Grand Hall of the Fallsview Casino. This is a glamorous evening where representatives of local wineries fill the hall and offer samples of some of their best red, white, and Icewines. Food stations are scattered throughout the ballroom with a stunning variety of culinary treats to pair with the wines.
The next day, the Wineries of Twenty Valley host a fun-loving street festival in Jordan Village. This scenic village is packed with people who gather to cheer on winemakers competing in the annual barrel-rolling contest. The main street is closed to traffic, so pedestrians can enjoy the food, wine and entertainment as they stop to warm their hands at the many bonfires along the way.
On the second weekend, the festival moves to Niagara-on-the-Lake, where an Icewine village is set up between the quaint shops that line the main street. Crowds meander through this carnival of winery booths, food vendors, ice sculptures and musicians. Be sure to have your picture taken while sipping Icewine from an ice goblet at Canada’s longest ice-bar made of real ice. And, if you really like to party, stay to watch the mixologists compete for the Icewine cocktail trophy, after which you will have a chance to taste their imaginative concoctions.
This year, the third weekend celebration will be held in Niagara Falls. Just a short walk from the Fallsview hotels, the Scotiabank Convention Centre will host the wine and culinary celebration in its state-of-the-art facility. Immerse yourself in sweet sensations as you sip and sample your way through the best food, wine and Icewine in Niagara. Top chefs from local restaurants prepare and serve up culinary creations that pair perfectly with the wines being poured. Representatives from a variety of wineries are happy to discuss their wines and educate you about Icewine.
Last year the Icewine Festival at Niagara Falls was a resounding success, says coordinator Anthony Annunziata. “People were raving about how much fun they had. Over 7000 people enjoyed the event and we are expecting to double that. This year’s three day event will be even better, with more vendors, a variety of new products, outdoor bonfires, bigger ice sculptures and of course great music!”
Every year the Niagara Icewine Festival continues to evolve and now that Niagara Falls has joined the list of venues, it is easier than ever to take part in one of the best winter festivals in Canada. So, there is no need to hibernate during the month of January. It is a great time to get out and celebrate winter by attending the many activities that are sure to warm your heart and take the bite out of winter.
For detailed information on Festival schedules, tickets, discovery passes, and hotel packages visit these web sites:
Written and photographed by Sandra Ozkur