Fireworks, wine and food celebrate return of Icewine Festival

Sparkling, ice and everything nice.

Friday night’s Sparkle & Ice Gala at the old Court House in Niagara-on-the-Lake kicked off the Icewine Festival in true NOTL fashion – some good food, delicious wine, dancing and fireworks.

After two years of pandemic restrictions, the Icewine Festival has returned for two weekends in January to celebrate all things icewine. The party continues this weekend.

“It’s our first time in the old Court House and it’s an absolutely beautiful building to come to,” said Peter Chapman, who was at the gala with Raelene Stockmans from London, Ont.

In two separate rooms, tables were stacked with a variety of wine and culinary options for guests to enjoy. Sandy Vine and the Midnights band played a variety of tunes in the larger ballroom where guests sat around tables and mingled.

The smaller room had a quieter atmosphere, but guests could still hear the band’s melodies drifting in through the open doors.

“The food is excellent. The variety of cuisine is really nice,” said NOTL resident Wendy Higgins, who was attending with her husband, Ben.

Their favourite wine was the sparkling Riesling from Reif Estate Winery.

Sixteen wineries and 10 restaurants were featured at the gala.

Lakeview Wine Co. shared a table with its sister company, Queenston Mile Vineyard. Many guests flocked to the table to taste Lakeview’s sparkling Riesling from its Twenty Bees collection.

This Riesling has a more pronounced fruit flavour, with “more bubbles on the palate,” said Caitlin Williams from Lakeview.

She said the wine pairs well with items like seafood and, surprisingly, popcorn.

Masaki Sushi was only a few tables down — and it was a hit among the guests.

“Anything sparkling is good for starting before you have dinner to cleanse your palate,” Williams said.

About 175 people attended the gala, which is a comfortable number for the space, said Andrew Niven, chair of the Chamber of Commerce and Tourism NOTL.

After talking to other tourism businesses, Niven said there seems to be a “nice economic spin up.”

Many of the hotels were full and restaurants were packed with dinner reservations, he said.

By 10:30 p.m., guests made their way outside to grab an ice cold glass to fill with some of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s finest icewine to kick off the weekend’s festivities.

By 11 p.m., fireworks lit up the sky over Simcoe Park.

“Oohs” and “Ahhs” greeted each bang that painted the night sky.

Catch the last two days of the festival this Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 28 and 29, including the Icewine Cocktail Competition on Jan. 28.

On Saturday, the Icewine Village will be open between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m., and on Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.

While entry to the village is free, guests can purchase individual tokens for $6, an icewine glass for $5 or a festival pack for $35.

The cocktail competition will run from 7 to 10 p.m. Tickets are $75 per person.

Somer Slobodian, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report