Wasn’t I (and all of Niagara) surprised to wake up to 19° summer-time weather on the day of the Twenty Valley Winter WineFest?! Especially in mid-January. I guess this is just another reason that Niagara is called the ‘Banana Belt‘.
Contradictory to our Banana Belt label though (and considering it was -15° when I woke up the morning I started writing this piece) – it does get cold enough in Niagara for us to produce some incredible icewine. And, that is exactly what the Winter Wine Festival, organized by the Twenty Valley Tourism Association, was created to showcase.
According to JD Pachereva, Executive Director of the Twenty Valley Tourism Association, this year there were around 7500 people who visited the festival on the Saturday alone – a great turnout.
Did you know that in order to make icewine we need to see consecutive nights with -8° temperatures? And, it’s in those sub-zero temperatures that many men and women of the wine industry (and others borrowed by the wine industry) head into the vines, likely wearing the best of their long underwear, to collect the little frozen delicacies that will be turned into the sweetest most delicious drink on the planet (if you ask me).
That said, sweater in hand, hubby and I drove the short distance from our home to Main Street Jordan where we found a slew of activity in celebration of this sinful syrup. Food trucks, a main stage, music, a kitchen stadium and tents full of winery booths with their chefs, winemakers, sales reps and other supporters. Some people might have called this lively festival a sight for sore eyes and wanting palates.
We got our hands on two wine glasses and some tokens and headed into the tents. Each winery had a booth set up – much like a tradeshow – and were showcasing a small selection of their wines – mostly icewines. For a certain number of tickets you could indulge in a taste, other booths – like chef Frank Romano’s from the Inn On The Twenty – were serving up food.
This year I tried to make it a point to visit some of the booths of the wineries that I have never visited before but I also couldn’t help visiting some of my resident favourites. At the suggestion of Chef Romano we paired our Wild Game Chili, Lemon, Thyme and Rosemary Polenta with some Cave Spring Cellars 2010 Pinot Noir. The suggestion was well received by me but my husband is always looking for something stronger than Pinot Noir so he was happy when our next stop was Kacaba Vineyards (one of our favourite wineries) for some ‘secret’ 2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (shhh … don’t tell) and their 2011 Cabernet Franc Icewine. The Cab Franc icewine is especially to my taste; it is not too sweet or syrup-like and is very smooth.
Next we visited Hernder Estate Wines – one that I have never been to nor tasted before. ‘The Craig’ was there to serve us and tell us all about the property’s refurbished barn from the 1800’s and that they are the #1 wedding winery in Niagara. [Within the week I would visit this winery in person and I will agree that their property is stunning!] Here I tried the 2007 Estate Bottled Vidal Icewine.
What I like about Vidal Icewines is their intense sweetness; it’s like the sugar-fairy wound up and flung herself into your mouth.
Our next booth (and the end of our 12 tokens) was the Italian inspired Foreign Affair Winery, another that I have not had the pleasure to visit as of yet. There we tried their 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Icewine – typically Cab Sauv icewine is my favourite. This one was quite nice, much like the Cabernet Franc but a little more rare (which means a little more care needs to be put into making it — or so I’ve been told). This, too, was smooth and fresh – not too intensely sweet and would go just perfectly with the deep and rich dark chocolate raspberry mousse that I love to make in the winter. I was ready to purchase a bottle until I found out that none of the wineries were selling at the Winter Wine Festival because it was against some law or regulation, etc … Well, you can bet that I was disappointed but now I have a very very delicious reason to visit this winery in the near future.
Now, it’s worth mentioning that, although it is in my pictures, I did not actually taste the 2010 Vidal Icewine from Vineland Estates Winery. I took a picture because I knew that the winery was featuring this wine for patrons visiting their location with Icewine Festival Discovery Passes. And, considering I had passes I took the picture in anticipation of what was to come. You can read all about that in an upcoming post — something for you to anticipate.
Although out of tokens, our pockets weren’t quite empty yet so we headed out to the main stage and food trucks to see what other goodies we could find. As it turns out, our timing was perfect because the Winemaker Wine Barrel Rolling contest – called Roll out the Barrel – was in its final stages. With three rollers left we had the pleasure of watching new champion, rookie and Aussie, Tim Wilson, Assistant Winemaker at Angel’s Gate Winery beat out two year reining champion Dan Stouck, Assistant Winemaker at Malivoire Wine. But, he couldn’t be awarded the infamous Golden Blunnies trophy because it went missing on Saturday night, you can read more about the Golden Blunnies in the St. Catharines Standard article written a few days after the festival.
The win came down to a little more than a tenth of a second with Tim taking the win with a time of 14.72 and Dan taking second with 14.87 – it was close!
Once the crowds cleared a little I noticed that some of the food trucks on site were familiar to me like Dobro Jesti and ElGastronomo Vagobundo. Speckled between them was the Petite & Sweet – Sugar Stars Sweet Tent (from Toronto) where their colourful display was sure to catch anyone’s eye. On one side of the bar they had french macaroons and on the other jars filled with homemade marshmallows and burners to roast them over. How could I resist? I choose the Espresso marshmallow (as I was craving coffee) and roasted away. The marshmallow was soft and chewy and roasted to a perfect golden brown. The lemon lime cookies and toffee pretzels were also delicious – too bad they did not last any longer.
With chili, wine, icewine, marshmallows, cookies, music and barrel rolling under our belts, it was time to head home. There was one more demo by Anna Olsen happening on Sunday that I could have waited for but I decided against it – hubby and I were heading to a Christmas party later that night and there’s only so much that any Lux can fit into a day. Had I done things differently, I think that I would have gone on Saturday instead of Sunday because of the lineup in the Kitchen Stadium.
That said, I would like to share with you this YouTube video of part of the Kitchen Stadium Demo with Chuck Hughes that happened on the Saturday. It is pretty funny and a great way to end the blog — I must give credit to Naturally in Niagara for taping and then posting this on YouTube for everyone to see.
Be sure to come back and let me know what you think of the video. I would have liked to have been there – and it would have been especially nice to enjoy it with a glass of icewine in one hand and a roasted marshmallow in the other (of course). Oh, and would it have been too much to ask mother nature for a little bit of snow – it was the WINTER WineFest afterall.