Niagara Icewine Festival


It’s a huge misperception that Ontario’s wine regions shut down in the winter. While some Prince Edward County and Lake Erie North Shore producers are open by appointment only during the colder months, there are plenty of activities from December to March to keep wine lovers very busy while visiting all of our wine regions. The Niagara Icewine Festival is just one of these events and it’s a very enjoyable way to spend a winter afternoon in Niagara. Shawn and I enjoyed ourselves so much last year that we opted to brave the snow and attend this year’s festival in January

The Icewine Festival can be visited in two different ways. You can head to Niagara-on-the-Lake Main Street and enjoy ice sculptures and a walk-around tasting, or you can purchase a ticket that allows you to enjoy an Icewine sample and a food pairing at the participating wineries. We went that route, as I was eager to pick up some non-Icewine selections as well.

Our first stop was Vineland Estates, which is always one of my favourite places to visit. They were offering two pairings for the price of one. Shawn tried Chef Justin's hearty beef stew with Cabernet Franc (I don’t eat beef, so he kindly offered to take that one off my hands), while I sampled their vibrant and lush Vidal Icewine with a mini chocolate and Icewine tart. Served in the restaurant, Vineland made the tasting process interactive and fun – there was a knowledgeable host to talk about the wines and a chef from the restaurant to tell us about the pairing. It was a strong start to the day, especially since I was also able to taste a few other Vineland wines – including a few ahead of release that I can’t wait to purchase. Another plus about this visit? Vineland is an absolutely stunning property in the snow.

Next, we visited Creekside Estate Winery, where I indulged in a back vintages tasting and no Icewine at all! However, Shawn tried Chef J. Mark Hand's open-faced smoked candied bacon and onion sandwich and said it was one of the best things he ate all day. The Creekside tasting will be a story for another day, but it was the highlight of the trip for me.

We made a quick stop at 13th Street Winery after Creekside to indulge in some of their delicious backed goods – the bakery there is a wonderful treat – and to try their 13 Below Zero Icewine Riesling and spiced Moroccan stew pairing. While I wasn’t able to indulge in the stew, Shawn said it was quite delicious and went well with their Icewine. I had hoped to do more tasting at 13th Street, but after so many wines at Vineland and Creekside I was feeling a little wined out (yes, it happens). We will definitely rectify that on our next trip to the area, as 13th Street has some fantastic wines.

A drive through very snowy and windy road conditions led us to Pillitteri Estates Winery, where they were celebrating in full force – Beavertails with an unusual (but very good) Chardonnay Icewine? Check. Hot chocolate spiked with Icewine? Check. A back-vintages tasting of Icewine dating back to 2002? Check. There was so much to do and sample at Pillitterri that we could have stayed for hours. I highly recommend trying their 2002 Cabernet Franc Icewine if you can get your hands on some.

Our last stop was Southbrook Vineyards, where we were thrilled to see The Yellow Pear food truck serving up mouth-watering sandwiches alongside a lovely 2006 Cabernet Franc Icewine. The Yellow Pear team were even kind enough to make a veggie version of their pear, smoked ham and Montforte sheep cheddar grilled cheese for me so that I could enjoy the pairing too. If you get the chance, Shawn and I have eaten at The Yellow Pear twice now and we highly recommend them.

We also very much recommend the Niagara Icewine Festival for a fun and delicious winter activity in wine county. Kudos to the festival for continuing to make designated driver passes available. 

And what did Shawn, as our designated driver, ask for in exchange for not imbibing? Stops at Niagara Oast House and Dillon’s Distillery, which are two of our favourite non-wine vendors – we always plan a pop-in to pick up some of their great beer and spirits to take home.

For more information on the Niagara Icewine Festival and other great Niagara wine activities visit:
http://www.niagarawinefestival.com/page/icewine_home