Ice gold in Ontario: highlights from the 2011 Icewine Festival

January 24, 2011

Leave it to the Canadians to create something magical out of a frozen grape.  Like the frigid denizens of St. Paul, who celebrate the negative windchill with an annual Carnival, the home of Canada's icewine industry makes the most of a barren season by eating and drinking with gusto for two weeks every January. The epicenter of the country's icewine industry is in the picture postcard town of Niagara-On-The-Lake, about 20 minutes up the river from the famous Falls. More than two dozen wineries pack the bucolic main street downtown, setting up tasting tents and holding nighttime icewine cocktail contests (of which yours truly served as a judge for on Saturday night).

Unlike the "noble rot" grapes or late harvest wines from Europe, icewine requires a lot of patience. The grapes (typically vidal, but just as frequently riesling or even cabernet franc) must totally freeze on the vine. They're not picked until December or January, and have to be harvested by hand.  The yield is incredibly low, which is part of the reason the wines cost much more than most dessert wines.  If you've got a roasted apricot/pineapple/peach dessert in mind, however, a small glass of icewine is as good a food and wine pairing as you'll find.

I was actually working this past Saturday, helping out with a pig roast in a Caja China box, so I managed to capture some of the atmosphere and talk to a few of the smaller winemakers. Hope you enjoy the video.