Our visit to five wineries left us believing that every winery is an adventure that transcends the wine itself. Go with a friend or by yourself. Taste the wine, or not. Talk to the winemakers, proprietors and tasting room associates. Talk to other visitors. Buy gifts for yourself of others (wineries typically sell other local treats – jams, cheese, honey, etc.). Study the pictures on the walls, the labels on the bottles. Fascinating details are everywhere.
To get a feel for what’s out there, you might want to participate in one of these January festivals.
• The Lake Erie Wine Country’s “Bare the Barrels” Festival is a kind of winter clearance sale. The wineries are clearing out older vintages to make room for the new. About 20 wineries in the Chautauqua area are participating, offering anything from 10 percent discounts to complimentary tastings and occasional deep discounts (say, buy one, get one specials). For a list of wineries and what they are offering, visit lakeeriewinecountry.org. Or just head to the trail and browse the wineries. There is no admission charge.
• “Frozen,” Lake Erie Wine Country’s winter celebration of ice wine and specialty wines, takes place from 1 to 5 p.m. Jan. 16 at the Grape Discovery Center (8305 Main Road, Westfield). Twelve participating wineries will be represented under one roof, offering ice wines and specialty wines, mostly sweet. Tickets are $40 at the door and include 12 wine samples, hot appetizers, live music, a commemorative glass, winery discount coupons and sleigh rides through the vineyards (wagon rides if there is no snow). Designated driver tickets are $35 and include everything but the tastings. Advance tickets are $5 less and are available until noon Jan. 15 at lakeeriewinecountry.org.
• From 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Jan. 23 and noon to 5 p.m. Jan. 24, the Niagara-on-the-Lake Icewine Festival transforms historic Queen Street into Icewine Village, a kind of winter wonderland with ice sculptures and a 30-foot ice bar. (The Canadians spell the wine as one word.) Admission is free, and you buy tokens for tastes from 26 area wineries, as well as a wide range of icewine-inspired culinary treats. Dress warm, but if you get chilly, there are lots of shops and restaurants. For $30, an Insider’s Pass includes a souvenir glass, your choice of three icewine samples and four culinary samples.
• On Jan. 30 and 31, festivities continue at Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Icewine Village with Shop, Sip, Sample and Savour. This is similar to the Icewine Festival described above, with the addition of beer and cider.
• For three weekends – Jan. 15-17, Jan. 22-24 and Jan. 29-31 – most wineries along Ontario’s Niagara Wine Trail are offering special wine and food pairings. They can be yours with a Discovery Pass, for sale at $40 at participating wineries. Buy it at the first one you visit, then use it at seven other wineries. A special Culinary Pass is available for $30 for drivers and includes food only. Dress warmly because you will want to spend time admiring the view. The Niagara Wine Trail, which reaches from the Niagara Escarpment to the Niagara River, is exceptionally beautiful.
Note: Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Icewine celebrations also include seminars, specialized tastings, dinners and other events too numerous to list. For information on these and other Ontario events, visit niagarawinefestival.com or call (905) 468-1950.
– Mary Kunz Goldman