The premise was a surprise date for Tatiana. We hopped in the car and drove West along the QEW. It was only after checking in at the hotel, changing, and walking to within a block of the bright lights, tents, and ice sculptures that all the pieces fell together, “oh, the ICEWINE festival!” We had wandered into one of the most gorgeous, cozy, and quaint festivals winter has ever seen.
Arriving for closing weekend, we began our experience on Friday night with the White on Ice Dinner. We quickly tossed back bubbles provided by Jackson Triggs in the frigid cold before heading inside. Details had been scant on the event, and as we introduced ourselves to a table of equally curious revelers from across Ontario, we began to sip on tasting flights provided by Reif Estates and Riverview.
We filled our bellies with delectable treats from chefs from all over Niagara-on-the-Lake. And whether it was duck confit, beef on Yorkshire puddings, or chocolate torte, the chefs seemed to get the memo on the icewine theme and made liberal use of this secret ingredient.
The wine flowed freely and after enough liquid confidence, attendees eventually took to their feet to dance the night away to the groovy stylings of the Thomas Nelson Band. As the evening came to a close, we were ushered back outside to enjoy a final night cap of icewine in ice cups under the starry sky. Though strong winds prevented us from enjoying the planned fireworks, Tat and I were able to still have some Greek-style fun by disposing of our icewine cups with extra bravado.
After a slow start to the next morning, we made our way back to town center to enjoy the icewine village in the warm January sun. We walked up and down Queen street, now littered with tents fueling festival-goers with sweet liquid gold (and ruby) just past 11am. Dodging in between a man on stilts, a bourbon-soaked jazz band, jugglers, and other red-nosed attendees, we enjoyed everything the village had to offer.
We shared samples of the latest icewine vintages from producers all around the region again alongside soups and snacks from some of NOTL’s best restaurants. Admittedly, I’m far more of a Chardonnay and Pinot Noir guy, however, I was amazed to see the diversity and complexity of icewine that each vineyard had to offer. This meticulously crafted regional delicacy, though diabetically sweet at times, is something that Ontario can and should be very proud of.
And as our fingers and toes began to grow numb, we made our way for one last walk through the village to enjoy the sun glistening off impressive ice sculptures. The cold January day made for a unique experience, however, not necessarily one to be savoured for long for fear of frostbite. I can only imagine how the poor vendors sat outside in tents all day felt; at least they had plenty of icewine around to warm them up.