It feels very odd to be slipping on wool gloves and zipping up a parka when the temperature outside is in the upper 20s. But visitors to Peller Estates in Niagara-on-the-Lake are happy to bundle up for an iced experience, no matter what the season.
That's because ice is big these days and not just in winter. With travellers looking to tick off another box on their must-do list, iced hotels and bars are exotic and, well, chill, especially for visitors who do not have a real winter.
Now, Niagara has its own frosty experience, and it's somehow more authentic and locally grounded than many other places in the frigid bar lineup.
10Below Icewine Lounge, by Peller Estates, is designed for guests to experience the exact temperature at which icewine grapes are harvested, to explore the complexities of its production and to savour the layered flavours of the winery's three icewines – vidal blanc, riesling and cabernet franc.
There is no denying that sipping from a chilled glass of icewine, held in gloved hands while surrounded by walls of carved ice, adds sparkle to the enjoyment of one of Canada's most famous liquid exports. At 10Below, the adventure is submersive, designed to engage all of the senses.
A visit begins with dressing for the cold.
The winery provides fur-trimmed parkas (rather fetching, actually) and gloves that are smartphone-compatible, which is a different kind of cool. It's a design detail that makes a selfie set against the carved ice walls easy to post. Inside the ice room, there's an ice bar, benches and an elegant ice chandelier.
On the chilly walls there are etched graphics that spell out some of the salient facts about icewine. A sommelier will tell you a bit about icewine production and its history and then pour you a taste of the Niagara region's world famous, super-concentrated wine.
The lounge is both Canadian in its icewine theme and Canadian in execution. Designed and built by Hensall, Ont.-based Iceculture Inc., which has designed and built ice lounges and sculptures around the world, the structure was created from more than 13,000 kilograms of crystal clear ice blocks. It holds up to 15 people, and is intended as a place to sip and savour the elixir sometimes referred to as "liquid gold" but also as an opportunity to learn about the wine's production, a time-consuming and concentrated process, and one that Canada has come to own.
Canada is the world's largest producer of icewine, exporting the coveted sweet wine globally. It's a pricey tipple, but with one frozen grape producing but one drop of icewine, and because it takes 10 icewine grapes to produce one millilitre of concentrated ice wine, it's no wonder why the wine is so prized and so expensive.
10Below is the last stop on a tour of Peller Estates ($15 a person), or it can be a separate experience with tastings of all three icewines produced by the winery ($20 a person). The space is also available for private bookings – imagine a girls' night out with time in 10Below followed by dinner and a wine pairing in the winery's restaurant.
Dinner at Peller Estates can be a continued exploration of the delights of icewine. Celebrity chef Jason Parsons has developed some lovely dishes using the product – such as his icewine-braised pulled pork with peach salsa, or his icewine-poached lobster – to illustrate the wine's complexity and versatility.
For a different treatment and a bit of luxurious indulgence, try a glass of Peller's Ice Cuvée, a traditional méthode sparkling wine made from chardonnay and pinot noir grapes, with added flavour from the vidal icewine. Icewine with bubbles! It's nice to get iced in Niagara.
The writer was a guest of Peller Estates Winery. It did not review or approve the article.
Other places to shiver
Chill Ice House (82 Bathurst St., Toronto, 416-901-3330, chillicehouse.com)
This bar gives you a cape and gloves, serves drinks in ice glasses in a room with ice sculptures and glacéed booths. A heated adjacent bar allows chilled patrons to warm up. Closed Monday and Tuesday. $20 cover charge, includes one drink.
Hôtel de Glace (9530 rue de la Faune, Quebec City, 877-505-0423, hoteldeglace-canada.com)
Sleep in a room made of ice, on an ice bed, but wrapped in warm bedding. This is a quirky and entertaining way to spend a night, and each year the artistry of the ice creations seems to get better. Once is enough, though. There's also an ice chapel for those who want a unique wedding venue. $18.25 for a tour, $766 a night, 2017.
The Ice House Winery (14774 Niagara Pkwy., Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., 855-331-6161, theicehouse.ca)
This place is not iced, but concentrates on the production, history and promotion of ice wine. Try its N'Ice slushie for a cool treat.