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Icewine festivals: puttin' on the sweet

By Margo Pfeiff

Like drops of frozen liquid honey, Icewine is a rare sweet gift of Canadian winters. The consistent cold guarantees an annual crop of frozen grapes that produce a luscious dessert wine that has become a Canadian icon. We are the world’s icewine capital, the biggest producer of nectar that has scooped awards in Italian, French, American and British competitions. Though we didn’t invent Icewine, we perfected it after a vintner named Walter Hainle brought the 18th-century German creation to British Columbia in 1978.

To make Icewine, grapes are left to freeze on the vine until temperatures fall below -8C (17.6 F). Hard as marbles, the grapes are crushed to drip out a concentrated juice containing 35-45% sugar. With the frozen water removed, it takes five to 10 times more grapes to make a bottle of Icewine than table wine: each grape produces roughly a drop of Icewine, the reason it costs about $50 for a 375 ml bottle.

Icewine is produced in several wine-growing regions across the country, primarily British Columbia and Southern Ontario. But there are also pockets of producers trickling out the liquid gold in Southern Québec and Nova Scotia. Here are three places to celebrate this winter ambrosia at Icewine festivals:

 

Nova Scotia

Who knew Nova Scotia was producing award-winning Icewine and celebrating with the annual Nova Scotia Winter Icewine Festival from Feb. 2 to 12, 2012? In Halifax and surrounding wine-growing valleys there are 40 events including Icewine tastings and pairings with local cuisine – everything from appetizers to gelat. Sample Icewine with cheese at Domaine de Grand Pré winery and with chocolate at the Gaspereau Vineyard then finish up the evening with an Icewine martini.

 

Ontario

The 17th Niagara Icewine Festival is a 10-day salute to Ontario Icewines – which make up 75% of Canada’s production – from Jan. 13-29, 2012. There are Masquerade Gala evening toasts, chestnut roasts, Icewine dinners and ornate ice bars. Get outside on winery tours, hop a carriage ride along Niagara's wine route and take part in late night Icewine grape picking. Thirty Ontario wineries including Pillitteri, Inniskillin (Canada’s largest maker of Icewines) and Reif Estate will present more than 100 award-winning Icewines, making it Canada's biggest public Icewine tasting.

 

British Columbia

From Jan.14-22, 2012, the Winter Okanagan Wine Festival showcases the province’s award-winning Icewines made by the likes of Jackson Triggs, Mission Hill and Hainle, the vineyard that started it all back in 1978. The event takes over the pedestrian lanes of the Sun Peaks Ski Resort near Kamloops and includes an Icewine seminar as well as tastings during the festival’s signature event, the Progressive Tasting where guests wander through the snowy alpine village stopping in at restaurants and hotel lobbies where more than 20 wineries have set up. Then everyone heads outside to stroll and sip while listening to live music.

Photo© Niagara Icewine Festival/Tourism Niagara

Icewine festivals: puttin' on the sweet