January is Icewine Festival time in Niagara. As Canada will celebrate its 150th birthday this year, 2017 marks the 22nd year in which the popular festivals attract wine lovers and foodie fans to celebrate winter's sweet, delectable charms that will be spread throughout 38 participating wineries - 19 in Niagara-on-the-Lake, 7 in Beamsville, 6 in Vineland and 3 each in both St. Catharines and Jordan.
How popular are the festivals? Sylvia Augaitis, Executive Director of Marketing for the Wine Marketing Association of Ontario, says "Niagara's Icewine Festivals attract over 40,000 visitors to Ontario's wine country each year."
The Icewine harvest started early this year with Niagara wineries picking grapes last week as temperatures dipped below minus 8° Celsius. The festivals take place over three weeks in January, kicking off on Friday, January 13th at the Fallsview Casino Resort with the extravagant Xerox Icewine Gala featuring this year's theme - Sugar & Spice...Everything Ice.
Outdoor celebrations start the same weekend, leading with the Twenty Valley's Winter WineFest in Jordan Village from January 13th - 15th, followed by the Niagara-on-the-Lake's Icewine Festival from January 21st - 22nd and then in Niagara Falls, the Niagara Icewine Festival from January 27th - 29th.
My usual strategy is to acquire a Discovery Pass which allows participants to choose eight wine and culinary pairings from the list of 38 incredible VQA wineries. It's also an excuse to drive around Niagara and to check out what's new. The Gretzky venue is not quite ready in NOTL, but The Hare Wine Co. is, located on Niagara Stone Road.
Each winery offers a pairing of Icewine and food. Here is what's available in St. Catharines:
13th Street Winery bills their combo as "Sweet, Salty and Sinful!" They suggest that you "Dive into a house-made tart filled with bacon, apricot, caramelized onion, candied walnuts and blue cheese drizzled with vanilla infused honey." Their chef/sommelier paired this tart with their unique 13 Below Zero Riesling; fusion of Icewine and dry Riesling with notes of honey, apricot, apple and sweet blossoms. This is normally my first stop. I appreciate the way that they have integrated art and sculptures into their format. It's always an exciting and rewarding visit.
Hernder Estate Wines theme is borrowed from Marie Antoinette, Queen of France prior to the French Revolution - "Let them eat Cake!" They suggest that you "enjoy a sinfully decadent vanilla bean cake pop engulfed in a robe of dark chocolate. Gold leaf sprinkles add to the indulgence. Served alongside our award winning Cabernet Franc Icewine brimming with aromas of strawberries and red cherries."
Rockway Vineyards boldly declares their offering to be the "Ultimate Indulgence." They recommend that you "treat your sweet tooth with Chef Stefan Olk's decadent creation: Salted Caramel Peanut Brittle paired with our "Best in Show" winning 2013 Vidal Icewine. This delicious indulgence is sure to leave you wanting more!"