Niagara Icewine Festival brings cheer


The annual Niagara Icewine Festival is a celebration of the bounty of grapes that makes the award-winning dessert wine. The festival runs on weekends in January. (Julia Pelish/

Story by Waheeda Harris Senior Writer

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE,ONTARIO – For winemakers in the Niagara Region, winter isn’t a time of reflection — it’s harvest time for Icewine.

Produced in Ontario since 1984, the province has become as well known for its Icewine as maple syrup — a sweet by-product of bitter winter temperatures. In 1991, Inniskillin submitted its 1989 Vidal Icewine to Bordeaux’s Vinexpo, where it was awarded Grand Prix d’Honneur, and captured the wine world’s notice. Now, the majority of Niagara wineries make Icewine.

Ontario VQA Icewines are made with Vidal Blanc, Riesling or Cabernet Franc grapes, with smaller batches now made with Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Gewurztraminer.

The grapes are protected from birds in the last months before harvest and then it’s time for patience, for the grapes to hit the 35 Brix of sugar needed for this dessert wine. In December, January and February, Icewine grapes are poised for picking, an old-fashioned by hand harvest that occurs when the temperatures hit the sweet spot of between minus-10 and minus-12 Celsius degrees (about 10 Fahrenheit degrees).

Icewine Fills Niagara with Festive Atmosphere

But there’s still an element of mystery in any form of winemaking. According to Klaus Reif of Reif Estate Winery, “A winemaker is not a chemist. (He’s) a caretaker of the wine.”

DID YOU KNOW? – It takes three kilograms of Vidal Icewine grapes to make one 375-millilitre bottle? The same amount of grapes would make six to seven times the amount of table wine.

The annual Niagara Icewine Festival, with tastings and events held throughout January, is a perfect time to experience wine country as well as taste some amazing culinary creations by local chefs.

The festival kicked off with the Ice Queen Ball in Niagara Falls on January 10 and with Twenty Valley Winter Wine Fest on January 11 and 12 in the nearby Village of Jordan. Today, January 19, Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Queen Street was filled with wineries, local chefs, food trucks and entertainment. Next week, on January 25, St. Catharines’ Winterfest in the Market Square will feature Icewine tastings, local cuisine, food trucks and music from Jonesy.

But if you want to wander the wine route, over 30 wineries have unique icewine and food pairings. Some of the highlights to discover include:

Coyote’s Run Estate Winery – Chef J. Mark Hand pairs 2008 Riesling Icewine with coconut curry chicken with kaffir-scented jasmine rice.

Diamond Estates – Have fun on the 100-foot skating rink before indulging in Cabernet Franc Icewine with Eastdell Black Cab chili.

Hernder Estates Wines – Winemaker Lydia Tornek chose custom-made kettle corn drizzled with white chocolate, cinnamon and brown sugar to complement Cabernet Franc Icewine.

Marynissen Estates Winery – Chef Tom Wellman offers pan-seared scallops or candied beet with arugula, Niagara pear, blue cheese, finished with Icewine-infused oil and a sampling of 2004 Riesling Icewine.

Riverview Cellars Estate Winery – Fresh fruit skewers and housemade cranberry cinnamon biscotti dipped in Belgian chocolate fountain and served with Cabernet Franc Icewine.

Trius Winery at Hillebrand – Chef Frank Dodd’s maple-brined peameal bacon sandwich with onion marmalade is served with Vidal Icewine.

(photo illustration by Julia Pelish)

More About the 2013 Niagara Icewine Festival

Discovery Pass Experience: Pass holders can visit eight different wineries to taste Icewine vintages and culinary pairings for $40, and can be used on the next two festival weekends. New this year, the Driver’s Discovery Pass includes eight mocktails and pairings for those designated not to drink for $30. During the Icewine Festival, special tastings are priced at $10 at each winery. Events are free admission with tokens for sale for wine and food tastings.
Notable Activities: All You Need is Cheese seminars are hosted by Dairy Farmers of Canada’s Deborah Levy. Each seminar pairs Niagara wine and cheese at different Niagara wineries on weekends, $20 per person. For more information and to reserve a spot, click here.
Festival Website:

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A Toronto-based freelance journalist since the beginning of the millennium, Waheeda has been lucky enough to visit every continent. She's always happy to travel, especially when she can swim in the sea, taste locally-made cuisine and spend an afternoon in an art gallery.

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