Written by Sandra Ozkur
Throughout the summer, wine country is bustling with tourists who come to take part in the numerous events, festivals, and celebrations that happen throughout Niagara. But, when the weather cools down, things begin to heat up again in wine country. There is no shortage of activities during the winter season in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The wineries, restaurants, and community events continue to offer programming throughout the winter months to brighten the days and cheer the spirit.
December signals the official kick off to winter with the annual Candlelight Stroll. It has become a tradition dear to the hearts of the citizens of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Townspeople and visitors gather together in front of the historic courthouse, where the town crier heralds in the festive season. The crowd becomes a sea of lights as each hand-held candle is lit, one from another. Together, the procession winds its way through the old town, singing, sipping cider, and reveling in the joy of the season. Period costumes, horse drawn carriages, and an authentic St. Nicholas are all on hand to bring this post card picture to life. A Santa Claus parade and the ongoing events of the War of 1812 make for a very active Christmas season this year.
As the cold winds of January blow through the town, the Icewine Festival begins with a furry. Galas, street festivals, winery events, and culinary competitions all celebrate the season when the frozen grapes are harvested and turned into that luscious sweet nectar known as Icewine. The Icewine Festival Gala, January 10th, ushers in the month long celebration. It is an opportunity to dress up for an elegant evening of food and wine. Spend the evening sipping and sampling your way through the grand ballroom of the Fallsview Casino Resort, where an array of Icewines, gourmet cuisine, and decadent desserts are yours to enjoy.
The Icewine festival keeps rolling with the Discovery Pass. Purchase this pass, which allows you to participate in food and wine experiences at participating wineries. The pass is good for three weekends throughout the month of January, so plan to stay overnight at one of the local inns in order to complete all eight experiences. On the third weekend of January, the main shopping street of Niagara-on-the-Lake is transformed into an Icewine village. Ice sculptures, jazz music, wine and food, pairing seminars, comedy acts, and great music are all part of the festival. In the Icewine Village, local wineries and restaurants gather under tents to offer up their delectable wares. The hardy winter food and sweet Icewine will warm you from head to toe while you mingle among the crowd during the day and party at night when the popular Slash and Panache cocktail competition kicks into full gear. Taste some outrageous creations as mixologists vie for the trophy, given for most original Icewine cocktail.
When the month-long Icewine parties subside, Niagara-on-the Lake welcomes in the month of romance. Throughout February, several events are featured at wineries, shops, restaurants and spas. The Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake put on their Days of Wine and Chocolate. This touring event allows you to visit 27 wineries which pair VQA wines with chocolate-infused dishes. By the end of your tour you will be an expert in chocolate pairing and a raging chocoholic!
Niagara-on-the-Lake has some of the best spas and inns in the province so planning a romantic weekend getaway is easy. Customize your weekend by combining several offerings—wine and chocolate tasting at the wineries, a massage and mineral bath at a spa, then dinner at your favorite restaurant followed by a romantic horse & carriage ride through the historic town.
Foodies will not want to miss Fabulicious— this gastronomic extravaganza takes place at the end of February. It is a week long event hosted by Signature Kitchens, a culinary group of local restaurants celebrating the joys of local, seasonal and artisanal cuisine. Niagara-on-the-Lake has become known as the ‘culinary capital of Canada’ and this popular event gives people the opportunity to try out new restaurants. Participating restaurants offer a three-course menu for lunch or dinner, at a very reasonable price.
For the wine aficionado, Cuvée takes place February 28th to March 2nd. Now in its 26th year, it highlights the stars of the wine and culinary industry at The Grand Tasting Gala. Here you will sample the best of the best, and have the rare opportunity to talk directly to the winemakers and chefs about their personal creations. For those who take wine tasting seriously, this is the perfect place to pick the brains of some of the greatest winemakers in the country. Later, shake it up to a live band at the Après Cuvée dance party.
The regular theatre season in town may be over, but the Shaw Festival is by no means dark. The Shaw presents its Festival Film Series throughout the winter months. These specially selected films run on the big screen in Shaw’s Festival Theatre from November to March. Each Saturday, a sell-out crowd gathers pre-show around the food trucks, to chat with friends and get a bite to eat before heading in to see the afternoon flick. It is a very popular weekly gathering, which brightens those dreary winter days.
Winter is never boring in wine country for there is always something to see and do in Niagara. Check out individual websites for more details on these events and what is happening in and around Niagara-on-the-Lake.