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Everything you need to know (and more) about Niagara’s International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration

By Rick VanSickle

They were sitting around a fire in lounge chairs in Thomas Bachelder’s Fenwick backyard lamenting the fact that the coolest grape in the world just wasn’t getting its due.

They had gathered — Bachelder, his wife Mary Delaney, Harald Thiel (Hidden Bench), Ann Sperling (Southbrook) and husband Peter Gamble (consultant) — to raise a toast to the Ontario wine that had just triumphed at the 2009 Cellier Wine Awards in Montreal. A Niagara wine won the prestigious award, surpassing Burgundian and California Chardonnays in a blind taste test. The wine was Claystone Terrace Chardonnay 2005 from Le Clos Jordanne.

Niagara wine

The significance of this win wasn’t lost on those celebrating, and the wheels were turning as the glasses were swirling. These winemakers have long believed that Chardonnay — one of the most widely cultivated varietals in Ontario — was deserving of a revival. It’s resilient and refined; it can be steely or floral, complex or focused; and it expresses terroir better than any other grape grown in Ontario. And when Chardonnay is complemented with a bit of cool — cool by altitude, by latitude, by marine influence or by climatic conditions — it can create magical wines.

The outcome of that impromptu backyard celebration is a much bigger one — the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (“i4C”). Twenty-eight Ontario wineries started the not-for-profit group in April 2010, devoted to reinstating the dignity of Chardonnay. Over the past decade, this group has invited premium cool climate Chardonnay producers from across the globe to join the cause, presenting some of the finest examples of cool climate Chardonnay in the world at the annual event. In this short time, the i4C has created a home for excellence in Chardonnay — a casual but in-depth weekend celebration of wine, food and learning, with an eye to reinvigorating a seriously cool wine.

Ontario wine

The event has become the single biggest weekend celebrating wine in Ontario and has grown to include some other “cool” friends, including Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and Gamay.

This year’s event takes place July 19-21 at various venues in Niagara. It’s a wine event unlike any other that blends premium wines, Niagara’s world-class culinary scene and immersive wine education into a long weekend that absolutely overflows with fun.

Tickets are selling fast and some events have already sold out, but here is some key information to entice those still sitting on the fence.

With a grape guest list showcasing some of the most beloved vintages from the cool climate block, i4C offers a diverse range of wine, food and experiences that will appeal to wine lovers of all varietals. Whether you choose to drop by for a few hours or enjoy a complete three-day itinerary, i4C is a Niagara wine country event that simply can’t be missed.

We lay out the key information you need to enjoy the weekend.

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Keynote speaker

The keynote speaker for 2019 is Julia Harding (MW). Presented by VQA Wines of Ontario,

Harding will be making the keynote address at The School of Cool Session on Friday, July 19, and will be attending and enjoying all of the events of the i4C weekend. Harding passed the Master of Wine exams at the first attempt in

2004 and was top student in her year. By training she is a linguist and a book editor and has happily combined her first life in publishing with her second life in wine. Since 2005, she has been Jancis Robinson’s ‘wing woman’ (to quote Neal Martin).

Harding writes for and ensures the high editorial standards of, is co-editor of the Oxford Companion to Wine and co-author of Wine Grapes. She has just finished editing the maps for the forthcoming eighth edition of the World Atlas of Wine (publication October

2019). Harding lives in London, tastes and travels as widely as she can, and keeps fit and sane thanks to bootcamp in the park, rain or shine, and yoga.

Why Chardonnay?

Chardonnay is one of the most widely produced white wines in Canada and the world; yet, there are a number of stereotypes about Chardonnay within the wine world and among consumers. For some, it is an over-planted grape and one that is most familiar because it has reached the status of having its own acronym amongst its detractors – ABC, or “Anything But Chardonnay.” Among its fans, there are a large number of wine drinkers that love it for its ability to inexpensively deliver ‘easy’ white wine; wine not requiring much thought on the part of the wine drinker. The descriptors for this easy Chardonnay are: ‘fat but bland fruit, low acid, an alcoholic and a slightly sweet finish.’

The i4C event is designed to celebrate the appreciation of and appeal of Chardonnay as a wine that comes from the noblest of white grapes.

The clear distinction between the characteristics of cool and warm climate Chardonnay is not necessarily understood by most wine drinkers. Warm climate Chardonnay represents much of the wine sold of this variety; however, it does not always present an elegant and complex product. Cool climate Chardonnay, on the other hand, is celebrated for its myriad characteristics and notable versatility. The i4C event is designed to educate consumers so that they might distinguish between cool and warm climate Chardonnay.

The event will feature Chardonnays that are:

  • From warmer climates, yet ‘Cool by Coastal Effect’ (including inland fresh water)
  • From some hotter climates – areas that make Chardonnays that are ‘Cool by Continental Effect’ – really the flip-side to Coastal
  • Some Chardonnays that are ‘Cool by Altitude’
  • Chardonnays that, like Burgundy, are ‘Cool by Latitude’

What will unite all these wines at i4C is the fact that they are all ‘Cool by Attitude’. No matter where one grows Chardonnay, the attitude of the wine grower affects the grape. The management of the vineyards’ soils and the grapevine canopy, the picking date, the handling in the winery and cellar can all contribute to the retention of freshness of acidity, and that minerality and dense yet silky texture that mark all of the world’s truly great Chardonnay wines.

Quick facts about i4C

  • 2019 marks the 9th Anniversary of the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration
  • 50 Ontario wineries are members of the i4C Association
  • Over 210 wineries from 38 cool climate wine regions have participated including some of the world’s most eminent producers: Louis Jadot, Drouhin, Taittinger, Champy, Laroche, Torres, Kistler, Ramey, Kumeu River, La Crema and Hamilton Russell
  • Over 14,500 consumers have celebrated in the heart of Ontario’s wine country
  • 885 different cool climate Chardonnays and Blanc de Blancs have been poured
  • Industry support from all key stakeholder groups in the industry: LCBO, VQA Wines of Ontario and Wine Country Ontario, Wine Marketing Association of Ontario, Grape Growers of Ontario, CCOVI at Brock University, Niagara College, and numerous industry suppliers
  • The i4C is not a competition; rather it is a celebration of exceptional cool climate wines
  • The i4C mandate states that a minimum of 50% of the annual participants are from outside of Ontario to ensure a true exploration of the nuances of cool climate Chardonnay

Key events


The School of Cool

  • Industry Sessions presented by VQA Wines of Ontario and The Grape Growers of Ontario
  • Keynote address by Julia Harding, MW
  • 8:30am – 5:00pm
  • White Oaks Conference Resort & Spa
  • $150 +HST | 350 guests. Parking at Niagara College (shuttle provided)

Flights of Chardonnay

Your ticket to explore Chardonnays from all corners of the globe, poured by their makers.

Sip incredible vintages in one of the coolest venues in Niagara while watching the sun set over the runway.

Features five of Niagara’s best restaurants. A selection of delicious food items are available for purchase for $10 or $15 each.

Your ticket includes samples of premium VQA Ontario and International Cool Climate Chardonnays or craft beer (beer available after 9:00 pm only). 

  • 7:00pm – 11:00pm
  • Niagara District Airport
  • $65+HST, food for purchase available | 700 guests


Explore Wine Country Ontario

  • 11:00am – 2:00pm
  • Wineries across Niagara
  • Visit the i4C member wineries across Niagara for special Chardonnay tastings, winemaker experiences or luncheons.
  • Visit here for event details.
  • Events require pre-booking through the host winery. Ticket prices vary by venue.

Kick the Dirt

Kick off your fancy shoes and come dressed to kick the dirt with a grape grower who grows the wines you love!

For the second year in a row, the Grape Growers of Ontario want to show you wine country from their perspective on an amazing tour through the vines.

Discover grape growing up-close and KICK THE DIRT with local grape growers.  Your exclusive, behind the scenes journey will follow the grape to the glass by visiting a local vineyard, followed by a winery tour. Meet the passionate grape growers who tend the grapes, the winemakers who craft the wine, and taste the Chardonnay made from the grapes grown right there in the vineyard.

  • Presented by the Grape Growers of Ontario
  • 12:30pm – 4:30pm
  • Includes a guided bus tour, a visit at one of Niagara’s premier vineyards with a wine and food pairing and a guided winery tour, before returning to Niagara College.
  • $90.00 plus HST | 27 guests.
  • Parking at Niagara College (shuttle provided)

The Cool Chardonnay
World Tour Tasting and Dinner

  • Presented by VQA Wines of Ontario and the LCBO/Vintages
  • 6:00pm – 12 midnight
  • Canadian Food & Wine Institute at Niagara College
  • $75.00 + HST | 700 Guests, ticket includes entrance only into the Cool Chardonnay World Tour Tasting
  • $175+ HST | 500 guests, ticket includes entrance into both the Cool Chardonnay World Tour Tasting & Dinner
  • New this year: The i4C is thrilled to embark on an exciting new partnership with the Canadian Food and Wine Institute (CFWI).
  • The Cool Chardonnay World Tasting and Dinner will unfold with an outdoor tasting in Niagara College’s garden courtyard with the entire showcase of Chardonnays featured.
  • The evening’s experiences will be offered in two distinctive tiers. Seven hundred tickets will be available for the outdoor Grand Tasting, which will be followed by a more intimate indoor-seated dinner experience for 500 guests.
  • Guests will have the option of purchasing an event ticket for the World Tour Tasting experience alone or the combined experience of both the World Tour Tasting and Dinner.


The Moveable Feast

This perennial favourite with Chef Matt Payne (Ravine Vineyard Restaurant) in partnership with local artisan producers and the culinary team will present a classic brunch menu highlighted by regional flavours that pair perfectly with Cool Climate Chardonnay. This is the final event of i4C weekend and the last opportunity to break bread with our international friends.

Your ticket includes a sumptuous brunch served at food stations in Ravine’s beautiful vineyard marquee, and a selection of International & VQA Ontario Chardonnay, sparkling and VQA Ontario Rosé.

  • 11:00am – 2:00pm
  • Ravine Vineyard
  • $89+HST | 250 guests

Wineries of i4C 2019

  • 13th Street Winery, ON, Canada
  • 2027 Cellars, ON, Canada
  • Adamo Estate Winery, ON, Canada
  • Arterra Fine Wines, ON, Canada
  • Bachelder Niagara, ON, Canada
  • Benjamin Bridge, Nova Scotia, Canada
  • Bodegas Catena Zapata, Argentina
  • Borthwick Vineyards, Wairarapa, New Zealand
  • Cantina Bolzano, Alto Adige, Bolzano, Italy
  • Cave Spring Cellars, ON, Canada
  • Champagne Fresne Ducret, Champagne, France
  • Château des Charmes, ON, Canada
  • Chartron et Trébuchet (François et Trébuchet), Burgundy, France
  • Cloudsley Cellars, ON, Canada
  • Coldstream Hills, Yarra Valley, Australia
  • De Wetshof Estate, Robertson, South Africa
  • Domaine Laroche, Chablis, France
  • Domaine Queylus, ON, Canada
  • Esk Valley, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
  • Gérard Bertrand, Limoux, France
  • Hãhã Wine Company, New Zealand
  • Hahn Family Wines, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County, California, USA
  • Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery, ON, Canada
  • Hidden Bench Estate Winery, ON, Canada
  • Icellars Estate Winery, ON, Canada
  • Inniskillin Niagara Estate, ON, Canada
  • Jackson Triggs Niagara Estate, ON, Canada
  • La Maison du Vigneron, Jura, France
  • Leaning Post Wines, ON, Canada
  • Liquid Farm, Santa Barbara County, California
  • Maison Roche de Bellene, Burgundy, France
  • Malivoire Wine, ON, Canada
  • Moillard (François et Trébuchet), Burgundy, France
  • Paul Cluver Wines, Elgin, South Africa
  • Peller Estates, ON, Canada
  • Penfolds, Adelaide Hills, Tasmania and Tumbarumba,   Australia
  • Quail’s Gate, Okanagan Valley, Canada
  • Queenston Mile Vineyard, ON, Canada
  • Ravine Vineyard, ON, Canada
  • Rosehall Run Vineyards, ON, Canada
  • Southbrook Organic Vineyards, ON, Canada
  • Stratus, ON, Canada
  • Strewn Winery, ON, Canada
  • Tawse Winery, ON, Canada
  • Te Awa, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
  • The Farm, ON, Canada
  • Thirty Bench Winemakers, ON, Canada
  • Trius Winery, ON, Canada
  • Two Sisters Vineyards, ON, Canada
  • Viña Echeverria, Molina, Chile
  • Westcott Vineyards, ON, Canada

Four Niagara Chardonnays
to wet your whistle

Henry of Pelham Estate Chardonnay 2016 ($22, 90 points) — From estate vineyards on the Short Hills Bench with aging in a combination of European and North American oak barrels, a third of which are new barrels. A bold nose of spicy pear, baked apple, buttered toast, nutmeg and cream. It’s round and supple in the mouth with pear, mature apple and lovely spice notes through a juicy and lifted finish. Try this with grilled pork ribs or grilled lobster.

Stratus Weather Report Chardonnay 2017 ($27, 91 points) — This can be referred to as the “second” label from this Niagara-on-the-Lake producer. It’s a more reserved expression of Chardonnay on the nose with lovely apple, pear, lemon, cream and refined spice notes. It has a lovely creamy texture on the palate with rich orchard fruits, apricot, exquisite oak spice notes and length and finesse on the finish.

Thirty Bench Winemaker’s Blend Chardonnay 2017 ($20, 88 points) — From a blend of Niagara Chardonnay, this is a more forward expression of the grape with tropical fruits, some pear and creamy/spicy accents on the nose. It’s round and ripe and expresses summery Niagara orchard fruits, generous spice, vanilla toast and citrus accents on the finish.

Chateau des Charmes Chardonnay 2015 ($29, 92 points) — This Paul Bosc Estate Vineyard St. David’s Bench Chardonnay is aged in 100% French oak with regular lees stirring. It has a beautiful nose of elegant pear, butter, baked apple and generous spice notes. It has a creamy/spicy profile on the palate with ripe pear and apple, toasted vanilla and just a hint of citrus to keep it on point through the finish.