The Drive: Niagara-On-The-Lake, Ontario Miles: 224 Napa of the North: Anytime is a fine time to cross the border, but the Niagara Wine Festival, Sept. 21 through 30, offers extra buzz for your buck.
Montebello Park is a gorgeous, one-block-square green refuge with stately old trees, stone walkways and a formal rose garden in downtown St. Catharine, Ontario. During the 10-day Niagara Wine Festival, it’s so packed with people you can’t even see the grass. The perimeter is a sea of white tents and in each one, Ontario wineries and area restaurants set up shop, offering samples of their best and an opportunity to chat with chefs and winemakers.
The annual toast to local food and drink attracts more than 300,000 visitors to the region. It began in 1952 with a parade to celebrate the fall grape harvest, and has grown to include 100 events and activities including cooking demos, wine seminars where you can learn how to sniff out the difference between a peachy dry riesling and a buttery chardonnay with a pineapple nose, and nonstop entertainment. There’s lots of live music — it’s always hot, but happily the weather is not.
A festival highlight is the mayors’ invitational grape stomp. If a barrel of monkeys is fun, barrels of men are better. Don’t miss the sight of nine normally dignified Canadian officials, bare legs exposed, climbing into casks full of squishy purple fruit and competing to produce the most juice.