As the temperature chills for the weekend, the Niagara-on-the-Lake Chamber of Commerce is preparing for two weekends of celebrating the harvest of frozen grapes and the nectar they produce.
It was 24 years ago that the chamber began celebrating what quickly became known as “liquid gold,” a sweet wine made by local wineries from grapes harvested and pressed while frozen, and served chilled, often with desserts.
The festival acknowledges the importance of the product to local wineries and the region- al tourism industry, but nowhere is it as valued as in NOTL, where the celebration has been named the Original Icewine Festival, now going back to its roots, says Janice Thomson, chamber president.
In past years, it had become more of a winter festival on Queen Street, with craft beer and red and white wine also being served, she said.
But the wineries decided a few years ago to revert to serving icewine only — since that was what was being celebrated.
The Sparkle and Ice gala, the Friday evening spectacular, is a celebration of icewine-makers and their VQA wines, paired with culinary tastings prepared by chefs from NOTL restaurants, which have formed a group known as Signature Kitchen Chefs.
The gala will be held at the Prince of Wales Hotel’s Royal Cambridge, with an evening finale of fireworks and an icewine toast to follow.
The Icewine Village opens to the public Saturday, Jan. 19, on Queen Street, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and again on Sunday, Jan. 20, from noon to 5 p.m. Shimmering ice sculptures stretch from King Street to Regent Street along Queen Street, which is closed to traffic, and under a dozen tents 23 wineries will serve samplings of icewine, with culinary treats again prepared by Signature Kitchen Chefs.
Queen Street takes on a completely different atmosphere Saturday evening for the Flash and Panache Icewine Cocktail Competition. Bragging rights are important to local chefs who put their skills to the test of creating new and amazing icewine cocktails, at an event which locals love to attend.
The street will remain closed between the two weekends, with ice sculptures and a dozen tents left on the roadway, said Thomson, in preparation for the second weekend, Saturday, Jan. 26, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, Jan. 27 from noon to 5 p.m. About 15,000 tourists are expected to visit the festival over the two weekends, she said.
The prelude to the second weekend will be the 5th annual White on Ice Dinner Friday, Jan. 25, again celebrating all things icewine. It begins with an outdoor reception before moving into the ballroom in the Court House. VQA wines will be served with cuisine from the Signature Kitchen Chefs, accompanied by live music and dancing.
The evening concludes with fireworks and an icewine toast under the stars.
Admission to the Ice-wine Village is free, with tokens available for purchase of food and wine tastings.
Throughout the month of January, local wineries join in the festivities by offering weekend events of icewine samplings and culinary adventures — check the chamber’s calendar of events at https:// www.niagaraonthelake. com/event-calendar for more details.