Niagara Grape and Wine Festival, now known as the Niagara Wine Festival, is one of the Top Ontario Festivals, attracting half a million participants each year.
The Grape and Wine Festival, as it was called then, was a big event when I was a kid growing up in St Catharines Ontario. Every September, I remember lining up for what felt like HOURS along the side of St. Paul Street, just so we could get a good view of the Grape and Wine Festival Parade.
Photo courtesy of Chris Beard, Shaw Festival
When the drummers and dancers and baton twirlers and floats with the Grape King and Grape Queen had all finally wound past us, then it was time to line up again to squeeze into the ever-popular Diana Sweets Restaurant for lunch.
Alas, Diana Sweets is now a museum piece, but the good news is the Niagara Grape and Wine Festival lives on. The name is shorter – Niagara Wine Festival – but the festival itself is actually bigger. It has grown from a humble local fair celebrating the grape harvest to a sophisticated (even glamorous!) party attracting half a million visitors to more than 100 events including concerts, art shows, wine tastings at local vineyards, wine seminars and yes, of course, the good old parade.
It even has spin-off festivals: one in January, called the Niagara Ice Wine Festival (read my report and see my pictures at that link) and another in June, called Niagara New Vintage Festival.
The reason for all this growth is that the Niagara wine industry has exploded over the last twenty years. New vineyards have opened up and created more variety and better quality wines than ever before with the importation of European grapes. Over the past couple of decades Niagara wineries have won countless awards at international competitions.
This has spawned a whole new branch of tourism called “wine touring” in the region where people come here on vacation and spend their days visiting local vineyards, sampling the products, enjoying excellent local Niagara cuisine and live entertainment at some of the bigger wineries. You can even purchase package tours specializing in this theme.
Often tourists combine their Niagara wine tours with a different kind of “culture” as well: perhaps a play in Niagara on the Lake at the Shaw Festival Theatre, or a day shopping the art galleries of Jordan (Ninavik, a gallery specializing in Inuit sculpture is one of my favourites).
Many of the 100+ events of the Niagara Grape and Wine Festival take place at the Niagara wineries, so you’ll get a great chance to sample all the sights and tastes during this heady time of year. Maybe I’ll see you there. Cheers!
In the Neighbourhood
Want to design your own winery tour? See my article about Niagara Wineries.
Niagara on the Lake is a pretty town in the heart of Niagara Ontario.
A beautiful lakefront park, lots of great boutiques for shopping, fine dining, historic old Fort George, fantastic old 19th century architecture and of course the famous Shaw Festival Theatre. See my article on Niagara on the Lake.
Coming in January instead of September? No problem! Just go the Niagara Ice Wine Festival.
If you’re coming from out of town, try to book your accommodation as early as possible so you’ll get the best possible choice. This event is regularly one of the Top 100 North American Events by the American Bus Association, so it attracts a lot of overnight visitors!
For more information
The Niagara Wine Festival web site is http://www.niagarawinefestival.com