Discovering Ice Wine on Niagara’s Wine Trail
There’s a lot of charm to the Niagara region. Vineyards stretch out for miles, picnic tables scatter all along the Niagara River and historic homes rest everywhere in between. It’s a step back from the hustle and bustle of city life of Toronto and Ottawa and things tend to move at a slower pace. Here, the focus is on the land where winemakers are patiently waiting for their vineyards to grow and for their grapes to become sweet. That wait is even longer when it comes to the creation of icewine, yet so worth it and celebrated every year at the ice wine festival. Being the wine lover that I am (hence the blog’s name) I decided to explore the ice wine on Niagara’s wine trail.
Please note some links in this article are affiliate links which means at no extra cost to you, I earn a small commission. All opinions expressed are my own.
The History of Icewine
Icewine making has a long history which dates back to the late 1700s in Germany. It is said, an early frost got to the grapes before they were harvested. The winemakers decided to continue with production anyway and press the frozen grapes. This is how the first icewine accidentally came about.
A few hundred years later, German immigrants brought icewine to Niagara, Canada, which was introduced in 1984. There are very few places in the world that can produce icewine, but in Ontario the cold Canadian winters are optimal and Ontario’s wineries have gained the recognition of being among the greatest icewine producers in the world. Icewine made in Ontario can be found in the Niagara Peninsula, Prince Edward County, and Lake Erie North Shore regions. Today, there are approximately 60 wineries that produce the sweet tasting wine. Many in Niagara receive international recognition, like Inniskillin, Trius, and Tawse just to name a few. The most popular type of icewines produced in Ontario are Vidal and Riesling for white icewine, and the Cabernet Franc for red icewine.
Ice Wine Niagara
Making icewine is a difficult process. Winemakers will leave their grapes out past the normal harvest season of September-October to wait for the first freeze. This allows the grapes to ripen, even more, creating a more concentrated juice. The grapes can only be harvested when the temperature has reached a minimum of -8°C (17.6°F). This usually occurs between December-February.
Harvesting Ice Wine
It normally takes at least 6 hours to harvest the grapes. Harvesting is often done during the cold of night where the grapes will stay frozen. If they were to harvest in the day there is a risk of the grapes dethawing. So in the winter the grapes are harvested and pressed while still frozen, leaving the icy water of the grape behind and producing only a very small amount of concentrated, sweet juice.
The yield of icewine is far lower, with 3-3.5kg of grapes producing one 375 ml bottle of icewine, compared to 6-7 bottles of wine.
Since the yield is much lower, but more labour intensive and risky, the price of icewine is significantly higher. On average, prices range between $25-$75 for a 375 ml bottle. However, I find that sweet stuff irresistible and have come to learn that icewine is more than just a dessert wine!
The Ice Wine Festival
For three weeks every January, the Niagara region hosts the ice wine festival to celebrate Canada’s beloved icewines. The festival takes place in Twenty Valley, Niagara-on-the-Lake, and the Niagara Falls regions, which each host their own events. The flagship event is the Ice Wine Gala which has one of Canada’s most luxurious wines paired with amazingly tasty and beautiful dishes by top chefs.
I was lucky to receive two discovery passes to visit eight different wineries and sample icewines with delicious food pairings. I loved the idea of this event so much, I even bought two discovery passes on my own for my mom’s birthday. Being the Canadian that I am, I thought it was my duty to learn about the icewine. So I packed my suitcase, husband, and parents, and went on a 7-hour road trip to visit Niagara’s wine trail for a weekend of icewine.
My Niagara Wine Trail
It was very difficult to choose just eight wineries to visit from a list of over 35 premium wineries! So I let my taste buds lead the way by selecting the wineries with the most interestingly sounding food and wine pairings. Here are the highlights of my Niagara wine trail itinerary.
We started our experience on the Niagara wine trail by visiting the winery that had been creating icewine since 1984. On the menu was a sparkling Vidal Icewine paired with southern fried chicken. The chicken sits atop a vanilla waffle with a cocoa Icewine hot sauce. Sounds good, doesn’t it? It tasted amazing! This was one of my favourite dishes, and one of the best ice wines of the weekend.
Peller Estates Winery and Restaraunt
This was by far, the largest winery we visited. A vineyard which was first started by the grandfather, Andrew Peller in Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, came to Niagara-on-the-Lake Ontario in 1969.
On the menu were icewine marshmallows.
Yes, let me say it again, icewine marshmallows paired with a Cabernet Franc Icewine. I had so much fun roasting an icewine marshmallow over an open fire. The marshmallow was huge and took several roastings to eat, which I absolutely loved!
PondView Estate Winery
Pondview is an Italian, family-owned winery. Traditions of growing grapevines and producing wines have run in the Puglisi family for generations. This winery had the best service! You could tell that the people that worked there had great pride in their wines. Even though it was very busy, we felt welcomed from the moment we stepped in. The staff really took the time to explain their food and wine pairings.
On the menu, we got to try a blue cheese stuffed meatball with raspberry balsamic glaze. This was paired with a Vidal Icewine. We also had a bonus pairing which was a salted Mexican ganache tart and Riesling Icewine. Both were amazing and ended up being our favourite pairings of all the wineries we visited. This was also one of the places we chose to buy some ice wine while in Niagara on the Lake.
Reif Estate Winery
Another family-founded winery, Reif produces wines from vineyards that were first planted in 1977. There we tried the spit-roasted porketta with apple icewine sauce on a bun with a Vidal Icewine.
Trius Winery and Restaraunt
Another large winery, this estate has been producing wine for over 30 years. We got to sample outside, next to a cozy fire and had a piggy pulled pork with a sweet Trius Vidal Icewine.
Vineland Estates Winery
This winery is located on a very interesting property. Buildings have been restored which date back to the 1840s. The farmhouse is now a restaurant, and the wine shop and tasting bar were once a barn for farm equipment.
I chose to visit this winery because I was interested in finding out what a dark chocolate pate would taste like.
The answer is decadently delicious! Paired with Cabernet Franc Icewine, this was also one of my favourite pairings on the trip.
This winery is run by two siblings Anna Gottardo and Mauro Scarsellone. They have brought their Italian traditions of family, friends, food, and wine together. They own a 20-acre property in the town of Vineland. Here we got to sample two pairings. The first was the butternut squash ravioli with a pancetta and cream sauce and a Riesling Appassimento. The second was a chocolate truffle with caramelized sea salt and a 2011 Cabernet Merlot Ripasso.
GreenLane Estate Winery
The final stop to our Niagara wine trail was to Greenlane Estate which is located on 22 acres of land in Vineland, and has been producing wines since 1990. We had a 2015 Late Harvest Riesling with a walnut date phyllo cup with blue cheese and candied bacon. As this wasn’t an icewine, the taste was less sweet but went nicely with the phyllo cup.
Final Thoughts on the Niagara Ice Wine Festival
Overall, our journey exploring the Niagara wine trail was a delicious learning experience. You could tell that all the wineries put a lot of hard work and love into every bottle. Canadians love their icewine so much that when it comes to harvesting the grapes in the cold, many are just volunteers who want the experience first hand.
Best of all we learned that icewine pairs so nicely with savory dishes like chicken and waffles, or blue cheese stuffed meatballs!
In fact, we loved the two dishes so much, we tried to replicate them as soon as we got home (along with some icewine we bought).
What do you think of our chicken and waffles topped with whip cream and an icewine barbeque and maple syrup sauce?
Experiences in Niagara
It’s never fun being the designated driver, luckily there’s a lot of great tours options to explore the wineries and do some wine tasting all year round. Also, don’t miss seeing the falls with these amazing experiences!
Best Hotels in Niagara On The Lake
If you are looking for a wine-filled getaway, Niagara-on-the-Lake is a perfect area to stay. There’s plenty of hotels and charming b&bs that are around a 30-minute drive from Niagara Falls. You’ll also be in wine country with plenty of wine tours and tastings to go on. Buildings here date back to before the founding of Canada, and you’ll find many beautifully restored properties.
A charming waterfront property voted as one of the top 25 Hotels in Canada by Trip Advisor. All rooms come with a king sized bed, feather filled duvets, gas fireplaces and either a whirlpool tub or double showerhead. There’s also a complimentary breakfast with Niagara’s best produce and baked goodd and an afternoon wine sampling.
85 Melville Street, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada
Established in 1864, staying at this Victorian mansion is like taking a step back in time.
6 Picton Street, P.O. Box 46, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada
A 4 diamond boutique hotel since 1824 that overlooks Lake Ontario. Some rooms come with a fireplace, and all guests are offered a complimentary continental breakfast. They also have an outdoor swimming pool, outdoor hot spring, spa and a four-diamond restaurant on-site.
160 Front Street, P.O. Box 94, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada
What started as one of the region’s leading flouring mills in 1904, was later struck two times by fire and has now been converted into a boutique hotel and restaurant with a rustic charm.
6080 Fallsview Blvd Niagara Falls, ON L2G 3V5 Canada
What started as a farm in 1860, has been repurposed into a school, then apartments, art gallery, and now a 21-room Georgian Inn. The property sits on 17 acres of land and even has a vineyard.
16104 Niagara River Parkway, P.O. Box 1560, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario Canada L0S 1J0
Overall, my discovery passes were a great introduction to icewine. It’s amazing how many great wineries there are in Niagara and I’ve only just scratched the surface. With my new found love of icewine, I’m sure I’ll be back for more tastings, tours, and festivals! Where would be your first stop at the ice wine festival? Comment below!
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Thanks to Niagara Icewine Festival for arranging my Discovery Passes. As always, all opinions and travel tips are my own.