Twenty Valley’s Winter WineFest

January can be a strange time of year, can’t it?

It’s the start of the new year, so on one hand you feel motivated and inspired, thinking that this will be THE YEAR that everything magnificent happens to you. But a couple weeks later, when the new year’s champagne dreams have faded and it’s back to the grind, all things magnificent can seem farther away than you thought.

Then there’s the weather. Canadian winters can be so brutal.

This year’s been a tad different though, and our weather has been extremely unusual. In Niagara, we’ve had a few brutally cold days (boo!), but very little snow and ice (hurrah!). Currently, our weather has us at about 5-7 degrees celsius, which is crazy but awesome. I can’t really complain about how the weather has treated us so far this year, but the grey and the gloom and the drizzle can still bring those typical January “blah” feelings.

I don’t like to wallow in the blahs when they come – I like to try and find ways to make them better if I can. So someone suggested that to cope with the grey and the gloom, I should look up the concept of Hygge.

(If you’re wondering how to pronounce it, it’s HUE-gah. I walked around calling it Higg-ah until I was corrected. Ahem.)

A quick search online will show you there are a lot of cutesy, cozy stereotypes about Hygge out there. For this time of year it usually involves pictures of snowy log cabins out in the middle of nowhere, roaring fires, fuzzy but fashionable slippers, and cups of mulled wine at the ready.

Yes, mulled. Always mulled. Definitely not appealing to me.

Anyway, if you dig into Hygge a bit further, you’ll find that it’s a bit different from what those sterotypes show you. It’s not just a cutesy “let’s-embrace-snowy-winter-with-mulled-wine-in-hand” thing. I rather like this definition of it – A ritual of enjoying life’s simple pleasures.

That’s an idea I love, and can be done any time of year. Even in those grey days of winter, I suppose.

One of my January rituals that helps me embrace some of those pleasures is Twenty Valley’s Winter WineFest. It’s one of my favourite events – of the whole year, actually – to celebrate good food, fantastic wine, and the lovely people of wine country.

I went to the Wine and Culinary Village that was part of the WineFest last week. It was my second year attending, and I already know there will be a third. This is definitely a must-do on your personal Niagara event list. A fantastic weekend full of fun and festivity to banish those January blahs.

Yep, a whole weekend. Here’s some of the things you could do.

First, the Wine and Culinary Village was open the whole weekend. You could spend your Friday evening, and all day Saturday and Sunday tasting delicious food and wine, and watching all the entertaining activities. When it closed down for the day, there were a couple of ticketed after parties in the cellar at Cave Spring. But that’s not all. Celebrity Chef David Rocco was a special guest for the weekend, featured at the Sparkling Dinner on Saturday, and the Brunch on Sunday. I saw him walking around the Village on Saturday too. He seemed so very gracious, happily posing with fans for many, many photos, and MC-ing for a couple of events.

But if you couldn’t make it to the after parties or dinner, no fear. There was still a lot happening in the Wine and Culinary Village to keep you happy.

Like the annual barrel-rolling competition.

This always draws a big crowd every year. Several Niagara winemakers and representatives from wineries duke it out to see who will take home “The Golden Blunnies”

For the race, a barrel is rolled along a course down main street. Contestants must keep the barrel rolling, and the one who does it the fastest wins.

This year’s winner? Yvonne from Creekside.

With her super fast time score of 18 seconds!

After watching all this hard physical effort, we started to get hungry, so we bought tickets for the judging of the One Pot Challenge. Tickets were $10 each, and proceeds went to Community Care of West Niagara.

Five local chefs were competing against each other to be declared this year’s One Pot champion. The aromas coming out of the tent were amazing.

Not only that, the guys seemed to be having a great time together too.

The judging got underway, hosted by David Rocco, and Kristen Eppich of House and Home Magazine.

What a tough job they had. How to pick the best of five different and delicious creations?

After the judges sampled, it was our turn. The people’s choice and the judges’ seemed to be exactly the same.

Chef Steve Davison, representing Inn on The Twenty, for his tasty rabbit stew.

But of course, all the chefs were champions that day – not only for their wonderful creations, but for their support of a good cause.

Hearing the music outside, we were beckoned back out into the Village.

There was more good food and wine to be discovered…

….and more good times to be had.

We were having such a good time, we stayed until darkness fell. The Village looked especially pretty at night.

A great day with great friends.

I think Niagara’s got its own version of Hygge happening – and the Winter WineFest sure helps with that.

Congratulations to all the hardworking event staff and volunteers for another fantastic year. You sure helped me beat those January Blahs.