Niagara Grape & Wine Festival: Wine, Food and Astronauts
By David DeRocco
As far as local flagship festivals go The Niagara Grape and Wine Festival exists in a stratosphere all its own. So it’s kind of appropriate that organizers this year have invited an astronaut to deliver their keynote address.
Canada’s own space oddity Colonel Chris Hadfield will be at the podium during the 34th annual Grape Growers of Ontario celebrity luncheon at Club Roma September 13th, part of the unofficial kick off to the 66th annual Niagara Grape and Wine Festival. And according to outgoing Executive Director Kim Hundertmark, this year’s festival and parade is shaping up to be one of the best in recent memory.
“We’re in really good shape this year,” said Hundertmark, who is leaving after serving in the role as Executive Director of the Festival for the past eight years. “We have an incredible team and we’ve been doing this forever. I’m excited about this year’s programming seeing that we’re blending in the Canada 150 celebrations with our Strong, Proud and Free stories.”
The Strong Proud and Free initiative is a series of five videos featuring a cross-section of Niagara residents telling their passionate stories about life in Niagara and their love of being Canadian. The project began in April with a call for submissions that were vetted by a panel and eventually put into production. The videos will be screened during breaks in the programming at Montebello Park and should not be missed according to Hundertmark.
“Mitchell Riley Pictures has put together these stunning pieces each about three minutes long that will be played in the park. The panel went through submissions very carefully and chose five very powerful people and stories. Wait until you see them. I get goosebumps even talking about them. I think people are going to be blown away.”
There is certainly lots to look forward to at this year’s Grape and Wine Festival, as over 40 wineries are committed to participating in events both in Montebello and in their own vineyards. The Niagara Wine Festival Discovery Pass is already on-sale, which offers wine lovers three great weekends of discovery at wineries across the region. Music programming remains a huge part of the activity at Montebello Park, with both weekend schedules packed with a variety of local artists.
The big event for many casual Wine Festival revellers is of course parade day, the unofficial “homecoming” event for ex-pat Niagara residents who use the day as a way to catch up with friends, family and progress in the heart of downtown St. Catharines. Hundertmark says parade coordinator Pamela Seabrook has done an incredible job on this year’s parade, which has received more entry requests than ever before.
“The challenge for Pam right now is to try to satisfy all the interests and to make sure the parade is not too long or too fast. It really is an incredible feat she undertakes every year. It takes a special person to be able to do that. You have to have the right mix of art and culture and organizational skills. The stuff that goes into the planning, knowing where the horses go versus where the bands go versus the floats versus the walking group versus the Community Care bus collecting food. It’s crazy what she does but it looks great every year.”
Given that this is her swan song, this year’s festival will no doubt be bittersweet for the St. Catharines born Hundertmark. However, she’s happy to have played a continuing role in the resurgence of the Niagara Grape and Wine Festival.
“I honestly think the fact that the community has embraced the festival again,” said Hundertmark when asked what’s her proudest takeaway having served in her role with the festival. “There was a period of time when (the festival) was almost contentious a little bit. I feel that we accomplished great things and have made this a flagship event for Niagara. It’s truly a homecoming. I was a St. Catharines girl born and bred and thought I’d live here until my last breath. Things change. It’s nice that this is part of my legacy, leaving it in a healthy position. I’ve done everything I can to make it truly a really great festival for Niagara and a key destination driver for the region.”
And where will she be watching on parade day?
“I think right in front of City Hall is pretty spectacular because you see the Chief of Police and the Fire Chief accept the salutes. That’s my favourite place.”
For a full listing of Niagara Grape and Wine Festival events check www.niagarawinefestival.com.