The Niagara Region is not only a tourist mecca thanks to the beauty of Niagara Falls but also because of the abundance of wine. There are more wineries in Niagara than you can visit in one weekend! Many of them also dabble in the realm of icewine. As Canada’s largest producer of icewine, it won’t come as a surprise to find out that there’s a festival all about it! If you’re a fan of this version of liquid gold, you won’t want to miss the Niagara Icewine Festival every January.
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What is Icewine? How is Icewine Made?
Before we begin, you might be wonder what is icewine? A dessert wine, icewine (also spelt ice wine) is produced by harvesting grapes while they’re still frozen on the vine. While the water content freezes, the sugars and other solids do not which creates a more concentrated juice. These grapes are then pressed, resulting in a small amount of liquid creating a concentrated, very sweet wine. Unlike other dessert wines, grapes are frozen before they’re fermented in icewine.
Icewine production is actually a risky business as they need to be harvested in a timely matter when the conditions are perfect. If the grapes don’t freeze before they rot, the whole lot can be lost! Icewine grapes need a ‘hard freeze’ of at least -8C or lower to occur once the grapes have ripened. This means icewine grapes may be on the vine for months before the harvesting date. However, if the grapes are too frozen (yes, that’s a thing!) then no juice can be extracted… meaning no icewine.
You might be wondering if wineries can artificially freeze the grapes. In Canada, it is law that the grapes must freeze naturally to be considered icewine. This is the case in Austria, Germany and the United States as well. In other countries, some winemakers use a mechanical freezing technique called cryoextraction. This simulates the winter frost so these winemakers can harvest the grapes sooner.
While icewine originated in Germany, Canada is the world’s largest producer. We produce more than the other countries combined! Since Niagara produces approximately 90% of Canada’s icewine, it’s no wonder there’s a festival dedicated to Niagara icewine.
Niagara Icewine Festival
The Niagara Icewine Festival has grown since its humble beginnings a quarter of a century ago. Now spanning three weekends in January, it consists of a number of events. Every year more is added so plan to return again and again!
Similar to the Niagara Wine Festival (formerly known as Grape and Wine), you can purchase a discovery pass. This gives you 8 food and wine pairings to use at participating wineries across the last three weekends in January. Each pairing is specific to the winery so you’ll want to do your research in advance! While the participating wineries can vary, the majority of the wineries join in the fun every year. Discovery passes are $45 plus tax and can be purchased online or at any participating winery.
INSIDER TIP: Do you have someone who is looking to participate responsibly? A designated driver’s pass is available for $35 so they can enjoy the eats along with a non-alcoholic alternative at each stop.
Although I’ve never tried the discovery pass during the icewine festival, I have enjoyed it twice previously. Once during the Grape and Wine Festival in September and for Taste the Season in November. For both Grape and Wine and the Icewine Festival, you’re limited to just 8 pairings. This means I recommend selecting wineries that are close enough to walk between so you can enjoy responsibly. I have the perfect round-up of stops if you wish to explore Vineland’s wineries with your discovery pass! As for Taste the Season, you can use your pass once at every participating winery across all four weekends in November.
Twenty Valley’s Winter WineFest
Bundle up and head outside as Jordan, Ontario is decked out for some winter wine fun! The Twenty Valley Winter WineFest is a three-day event that celebrates the region has to offer. Consisting of Beamsville, Jordan in the Town of Lincoln, and Vineland, the area covers from Grimsby to the edge of St Catharines. With over 50 wineries in the area, you know there will be plenty to explore and enjoy!
This event is fun for all ages and is family-friendly while also being the perfect date night getaway. Like the majority of the icewine festivals, the event is free to attend – all you pay for is your indulgences! Inside the wine and culinary village, you’ll find tastings from over 20 wineries, the annual Jordan Village Merchants Fashion Show, Icepuck Puck Shoot Out and more! The festival also features information sessions with their ‘8 Below Series’ so you can learn more about the ins and outs of icewine. Don’t forget the after parties at Cave Spring Cellars!
As you can see, the Niagara Icewine Fest has a number of moving parts. Every year new events are being added to repertoire giving you more ways to celebrate icewine! Here are a few more special events to keep an eye out for.
The Niagara Icewine Gala is a celebration of Canada’s liquid gold with 35 wineries represented from across Ontario. These delicious wines are paired with sensational culinary creations from the top chefs from Niagara’s casinos. While it is held inside, you’ll be stepping into a winter wonderland of ice sculptures, interactive icewine-themed activities and more! This is a fancy affair so if you’re looking for an excuse to dress up, this is the place to go with your gown and tux in tow.
There is also Sparkle & Ice which celebrates Niagara-on-the-Lake Icewinemakers with a fancy almost black-tie affair. Get your tickets and enjoy reds, whites and sparklings paired with icewine-inspired tastings inside one of the beautiful ballrooms of the Old Courthouse in downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake. Cap off the night with an icewine toast as fireworks light up the sky above this historic area.
Added to the icewine festival 2020 repertoire is the Snowglobe Soiree where you can enjoy dinner in a dome at the edge of the falls. This one-of-a-kind wine and dine experience treats guests to Niagara wines paired with a three-course meal prepared by the region’s most celebrated chefs. The icing on the cake? You’ll enjoy unforgettable views of the Horseshoe Falls from within your very own snow globe.
Niagara Icewine Village
Are you looking to enjoy a number of icewines from wineries across the region all in one place? What if I told you there are a number of delicious foodie treats too? If this sounds right up your alley, head to downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake for the Niagara Icewine Village.
Hundreds of visitors converge across two weekends for Canada’s original icewine festival! Enjoy the gorgeous views of historic NOTL as Queen Street from Regent to Picton is transformed into a pedestrian mall of tents and fire pits. For $30 you’ll receive a signature icewine glass and 5 tokens. Each token will get you either an icewine sample or a culinary treat. From sweet to savoury, there is no shortage of items to tickle your tastebuds!
INSIDER TIP: If you’ve attended the icewine fest before, bring your glass. They’re the same glasses so you can use that $5 towards a sample instead!
Take a walk through the event to check out all of the offerings as they change from year to year. I have a few favourites such as Inniskillin and Konzelmann, however I try to use festivals like these as an opportunity to try new wineries! There were only a few I didn’t recognize but many I hadn’t visited in years.
I’m normally a fan of the whites, though I couldn’t resist trying Ferox’s 2017 Dornfelder Icewine. This rich, deep red had hints of cherry and is a true after-dinner treat. I’ve never had anything quite like it! I then indulged in a local favourite, Small Talk Winery’s 2015 “Dessert Anyone?” Cabernet Sauvignon. This one again has hints of cherry, however the strawberry-rhubarb flavour dominates as if you’re having a slice of pie. If you get a chance to visit while in town, Small Talk Vineyards is a super fun winery with icewine, reds, whites and cider too! I rounded out my tastings with Lailey’s 2015 Riesling. I can’t go to a wine festival without having at least ONE riesling! This one is a little more on the tropical side with hints of pear and peach along with some apple undertones.
Don’t forget to save a few tokens for some eats. You won’t be able to resist once you smell what’s cooking. I’ve previously enjoyed Tiara’s Potato Gnocchi and it’s seriously to die for. These tasty little morsels are in a late harvest cream with double-smoked bacon and devil’s rock blue cheese. It’s rich, hearty and the perfect warm-up food on a chilly winter day.
This year I indulged in Masaki Sushi’s Japanese style beef stew or ‘Hayashi Rice’. Hearty beef simmers with onion, carrot, mushrooms and more in a savoury stew that’ll keep you warm. I capped off my visit with Noble’s icewine infused mustard glazed carved ham hoagie. Try to say that five times fast! Don’t worry, you won’t because your mouth will be full with this heavenly sandwich. Looking for more delicious eats? All of these restaurants are located in downtown so you can go for a full meal!
If you plan to do this as a day trip, please do so responsibly. Have a designated driver so that you can get home safe and sound. As for parking in Niagara-on-the-Lake, everything close to the downtown core is paid from 9:00am until 8:00pm and rates are $2.50 per hour. I have been unable to find free parking thus far. However if you are staying for the weekend, it may be possible to leave your car at your accommodation. That way you don’t have to worry about finding a spot to park!
While the Icewine Village ends at 5:00pm, you’ll want to return once the sun sets for the Flash and Panache Cocktail Competition. From 9:00pm-11:00pm one Saturday evening, you’ll get to indulge in brilliantly crafted icewine cocktails created by some of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s signature chefs. With live music and plenty of great cocktails to go around, this makes the perfect after-dinner activity in NOTL. Yes, your tokens from earlier can be used here too!
Make it a Weekend in Niagara-on-the-Lake
While you can come for the day, there is so much to see and do in the area that it’s easy to make a weekend of it! Here are some ideas of things to do in Niagara-on-the-Lake on a winter weekend:
- Expand your wine weekend by winery-hopping at some of the best wineries in the Niagara Region
- Pay a visit (or just admire) one of the oldest hotels in Ontario, the Prince of Wales
- Treat yourself to a spa day at one of the beautiful hotels in town
- Do a little shopping at one of the adorable establishments in the heart of Niagara-on-the-Lake
- Visit one of the historic sites in NOTL like the Niagara Apothecary, Fort Mississauga National Historic Site, Fort George National Historic Site and the Butler’s Barracks National Historic Site
- Hit up the outdoor skating rink at Wayne Gretzky Estates
- Go hunt for a few waterfalls across the region
- Take in the views along the Niagara Parkway
- Head into Niagara Falls for some winter fun (don’t miss out on my insider tips for Niagara Falls!)
- Or head to my post about all the incredible things to do in Niagara-on-the-Lake for even more ideas!
If you’re not sure where to stay, I highly recommend the Cobblestone Bed and Breakfast. Shelley is a wonderful host and she’ll make you feel right at home. Out of the kindness of her heart, she upgraded me during my stay to ensure I was warm over the chilly winter weekend. And no, she had no idea I was a blogger! It just shows how caring and thoughtful she is. Book your stay at the Cobblestone Bed and Breakfast or take a look and see what others have to say about their experience. If it’s booked during your visit, take a look at the map below for additional Niagara-on-the-Lake accommodation options.
Missed Out on the Icewine Fun?
This is a time-sensitive event so if you’re reading this once January has come and gone, don’t be discouraged! You can still enjoy Icewine all year round by visiting many of the wineries across the Niagara Region. Here’s a list of some of the Niagara wineries with icewine:
- Château des Charmes
- Inniskillin Wines
- Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Winery
- Konzelmann Estate Winery
- Lakeview Cellars
- Peller Estates Winery
- Pillitteri Estates
- PondView Estate Winery
- Reif Estates
- Small Talk Vineyards
- Southbrook Organic Vineyards
- Stratus Vineyards
- Strewn Winery
- Trius Winery
Additionally, there are a number of events and festivals that happen throughout the year! Seriously though, this is a destination you’ll come back to again and again, no matter what time of the year it is.
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