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We're at Ontario's annual Niagara Grape & Wine Festival (2024 dates: September 13 to 15, 20 to 22 & 27 to 29). Strolling through St. Catharines' Montebello Park Experience, with thousands of food- and wine-lovers, we spot the Chocolate Expressions booth.

Chocolate-covered strawberries
Chocolate-covered strawberries
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Jean Molloy, master chocolatier, is arranging a display of chocolate-covered strawberries. "I ran out of chocolate desserts on parade day," he says. The Grande Parade (2024 date: Sept. 28), which began in 1952, attracts 200,000 people with its wine-themed floats and marching bands.

Wine pairing

We snare a table and join couples and families watching on-stage performances. Food and wine beckon from tents, arranged in a U-shape around the lawn. Venison honey garlic sausages. Bison burgers. Chocolate caramel pecan delight.

Konzelmann Estate Winery stand
Konzelmann Estate Winery stand
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Vendors use a touchless, tokenless payment system for food and drinks. Visitors can buy it with cash or debit cards.

"Each restaurant is paired with two wineries," says Mike Pillitteri from Riverview Cellars. "We're matched with Fresco's, which makes great crab dumplings. Before the festival, I met with Fresco's to decide whether our Chardonnay or Baco Noir best complemented the dish."

Niagara Wine Festival's Wine, Cheese & Food Experience is part food, part wine, part entertainment and (surprise!) part education.

Wine seminars

We learn about wine tasting from Jamie Evans, assistant winemaker at Strewn. A speaker at the festival's Vines Magazine Wine Seminars, he trains our palettes to identify grapefruit, rose, peach and apricot nuances in a Riesling.

Mouth-watering aromas draw us to the Niagara Culinary Institute stage. Greg Willis, chef at Twelve, shows us how to make a white wine mustard sauce for pastrami-cured salmon. All attendees get samples. Yum!

Vines Magazine Wine Seminar
Vines Magazine Wine Seminar
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Winery events

Montebello Park's activities are appetisers for culinary events at Niagara's wineries. "Konzelmann has a Harvestfest Barbecue with Oktoberfest sausages and sauerkraut," says Bruno Reis, from his stand. "To entice people into Wine Country, wineries can serve only one white and one red in the park."

Wineries also tempt us with food and wine pairings. Chardonnay and camembert at Coyote's Run. Icewine with Cabernet Franc Icewine chocolates at Inniskillin. A three-course Forager's Feast at East Dell Estates Winery.

Tastings are free or discounted for visitors with a Discovery Pass. Designated drivers are essential.

Niagara Wine Route Map
Niagara Wine Route Map
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Wine tasting tours

Using Wine Route Maps and Winery Touring Guides, we view lush vineyards, meet winemakers and chefs, and sample their wares. The number of culinary events, celebrity luncheons, five-restaurant walking and dining tours, and VIP four-course VQA wine-and-dine extravaganzas, overwhelms us.

Unfortunately, we planned only a two-day visit. There's so much to see, do and taste.


Niagara Grape & Wine Festival: www.niagarawinefestival.com

More things to see and do in Ontario:

Niagara Falls Helicopter Tours

Niagara Falls Honeymoon and Romantic Getaway

Icewines from Niagara Wineries for Icewine Festival