By: Sandra Ozkur
The Niagara Icewine Festival just keeps getting bigger and better, with an ever-increasing variety of events and activities that celebrate this 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. This is an accomplishment worth celebrating, and every January, people come from all over the world to be part of this month long celebration of Icewine.
Niagara is the heart of wine production in central Canada. Due to its unique location between the two Great Lakes, Erie and Ontario, Niagara’s climate remains moderate enough to allow grapes to flourish throughout the region. The red and white wines that are produced here are highly regarded around the world. But Niagara takes wine growing one step further: Although the area is hot in the summer, it consistently experiences freezing temperatures in winter. It is this yearly cold spell that is the magic needed to produce the exotic Icewine for which Canada has become famous, so much so that Niagara’s wineries now use Icewine as their brand name for Icewines produced in Canada.
January has become the season to celebrate Icewine, when the harvest is in full swing. Each year the festival is kicked off with the Icewine Gala, which is hosted at the Fallsview Casino’s Grand Hall in Niagara Falls. This elegant affair is a sparkling wonderland of glamorous people, food and Icewine. Throughout the Hall, wineries present their best wines alongside culinary delights served by local top chefs. The highlight of the feast is the dessert extravaganza at the far end of the hall, where you will always find a large crowd gathering amongst the towering displays of mouthwatering decadence.
The man behind those ingenious, sweet works of art is the Casino’s charismatic head Pastry Chef, Pradeep Dharmawardane. Pradeep was raised and educated in Sri Lanka and honed his craft while working at high-end hotels in Dubai, Toronto, Washington D.C. and the Bahamas, where he regularly catered to the palates of diplomats and celebrities.
One of Pradeeps favorite events is the Icewine Gala, where he gets a free hand at designing and creating desserts to wow the guests. Each year he comes up with new items to tie in with the festival theme. With the use of theatrical lighting and decorations, he builds a set where he displays his edible art. Last year’s Bacchus theme was evident in the rows of vines that led to his colourful display. Changing coloured lights moved and shimmered along the 15 ft. glass-like structure made of sugar. With a focus on women’s beauty, Pradeep created edible makeup: pink chocolate lipstick, chocolate eyeliner pencils, and blush compacts made of macaroons with Icewine centers to delight the ladies in the crowd. Nearby was a display of miniature cola bottles with chocolate straws, Icewine shooters with raspberries and Icewine lollipops. The chocolate section was overfilled with Icewine filled truffles and chocolate dipped fruit. Pastry lovers indulged in decadent cakes, Icewine Brule, panna cotta, profiteroles, croquembouche and Icewine cheesecake. If that wasn’t enough, there were interactive stations where one could make funnel cakes with Icewine syrup, roast Icewine marshmallows or create Icewine parfaits. It was playful and fun and the grownups were like kids in a candy shop.
Every year Pradeep lets his imagination run wild, “I totally love the look on people’s faces when they see and taste my creations. Their delight and satisfaction is the most rewarding part of the job. I always try to come up with something completely new every year. One year, I created a European fruit market, where I made crates of miniature fruits, mini éclairs and strudels, as well as a full array of Icewine treats. Another year, I created a chocolate workshop where people could dip and temper their own chocolates. This year, the festival will be celebrating 20 years and the theme will be Chinese New Year. I am very excited for this year’s event. I start about three months in advance to sketch the items, develop the recipes and execute the new concepts. There is a lot of trial and error before I achieve the exact results that I see in my mind,” Pradeep said. “My inspiration comes from inspiring others; that is my ultimate satisfaction.” Pradeep has certainly whet my appetite for the next Icewine festival. I can’t wait to see what this year’s creation will be.
Dress up for a classy evening of food and wine at the Icewine Gala or at the Sparkle and Ice Party.
Dress down in your snow gear and saunter through the Icewine Villages on the streets of Jordan and Niagara-on-the-Lake, where you can sip and sample your way through a carnival of Icewine, food booths, music and ice sculptures.
Drink Icewine from an ice glass at Canada’s longest ice-bar.
Watch winemakers compete in the annual wine barrel roll or mixologists compete for the Icewine cocktail trophy.
Laugh your boots off at the Icebreaker Comedy night.
Buy a discovery pass that gives you access to events at over 30 wineries that create their own in-house celebrations.
This year, the festival continues for a third weekend of fun in Niagara Falls, January 23rd- 25th, staged at the ScotiaBank Centre
For full schedule and more details about activities related to the Icewine, visit: niagarawinefestival.com