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Niagara wine country at centre of universe for rare total solar eclipse (a guide)

By Rick VanSickle

If anything can eclipse Nik Wallenda’s 2012 highwire walk across Niagara Falls, which drew 150,000 people to the region, it just might be the upcoming astronomic event of a lifetime.

Niagara wine

Police and city officials around Niagara are preparing for up to a million visitors to the region beginning on April 5 and lasting through April 8 when a rare total solar eclipse, a celestial phenomenon that won’t be repeated in Niagara for over a century, promises to be an out-the-world experience for those who brave the drive and expected crowds.

People across the continent will see the moon pass between the sun and the Earth on April 8, with a projected three minutes and 32 seconds of totality — when the moon fully covers the sun — starting at 3:18 p.m. In most places in North America, it will partially block out the sun. But in Niagara, the moon will fully block the star’s light, making this one of the most desirable places on Earth to be for interested viewers and die-hard eclipse chasers alike.

Ground Zero for eclipse watching is in Niagara Falls, where the city is preparing for around one million visitors over four days — its most ever — which could make getting around extremely difficult. The city says its 14,000-plus hotels were fully booked long ago and most vacation rentals were reserved up to a year in advance.

Niagara Falls has a variety of events planned, several of which will be run by Niagara Parks. It oversees the Niagara River corridor between Fort Erie and Niagara-on-the-Lake and manages attractions including the Floral Clock and the Power Station.

Niagara CEO David Adames told CBC Hamilton that while attendance is highly weather dependent, Niagara Parks sees 100,000 visitors on a typical April weekend. Many area schools have moved PA days to coincide with the eclipse, effectively giving students a long weekend, but this won’t be a typical one. Preparations include extending attraction hours and bringing in portable washrooms, Adames told CBC.

Niagara Regional Police are warning visitors to the region about anticipated high traffic congestion beginning Friday, April 5 through Tuesday April 9 as people arrive and then attempt to leave the area.

“Solar Eclipses are an infrequent act of nature,” police said in a news release.  “A solar eclipse that occurred on August 21, 2017, affected 14 states across the Unites States of America. This event saw millions of people traveling to areas in the United States that were part of the path of totality. The path of totality covered 16% of the United States. The millions of travellers resulted in significant traffic congestion.

Traffic gridlock is anticipated to be begin in the Niagara area on Friday April 5 and build until the time of the eclipse. Following the eclipse, congestion may continue as visitors attempt to the leave Niagara. The congestion will affect many local Niagara roads and provincial highways, the news release said.

Police are urging visitors and residents alike to be prepared for the possibility that large crowds could impact traffic movement and access to supplies. Visitors should be prepared and have a full gas tank, extra water, and food. While there are numerous public restrooms in Niagara, visitors stuck in traffic gridlock may not be able to access one nearby. “Local residents are asked to also plan ahead (48-72 hours in advance) by ensuring all of their vehicles are fuelled up and having extra household supplies,” the release said. “In being prepared, residents will be able to limit their need to travel to areas congested by traffic.”

While Niagara Falls is the biggest draw for tourists coming to experience the solar eclipse, every nook and cranny in the region, particularly wine country, will be impacted by the throng of people looking for a place to view the event, stay, eat, and enjoy a beverage or two. Reservations for wherever you are going are highly recommended.

Niagara-on-the-Lake has been preparing for the eclipse for months and will have emergency crews on standby for Monday, April 8. With hotels and B&Bs fully booked throughout NOTL, city officials are not encouraging any more visitors to come to the small, history Old Towne during the eclipse.

Wineries in the entire Niagara region, from Grimsby to St. Davids and everywhere in between, have gone all-in on the eclipse, like no other single event I’ve seen in Niagara. From free events (Henry of Pelham, for one) to ticketed events that include wine, eclipse viewing glasses and food (most wineries in the region), to extravagant, lavish affairs such as Vineland Estate’s themed three-course gourmet lunch, paired with premium wines, commemorative labeled wine, themed jewelry, a special keepsake booklet, and eclipse viewing glasses, at $195 per person, there really is something for everyone — and don’t forget the eclipse-themed shirts, like the one above available at Westcott, and, of course, wine! The bad news for consumers is that most of these winery events have been selling out as soon as they are announced. Consumers should call ahead before they take a chance on getting into their favourite winery on April 8.

We’ve packed this eclipse-themed post with myths, facts, celestial solar playlists, what wineries are doing for the big event, weather forecast, and out of this world wine pairing suggestions from various winemakers.

Solar Eclipse 2024

On April 8 residents and visitors to Niagara will find themselves in the direct path of totality during a historic total eclipse of the sun. This spectacular event will last for almost four minutes, starting at 2:04 p.m. and ending at 4:33 p.m., with totality occurring at 3:18 p.m.

What is a Solar Eclipse?

A total solar eclipse happens when the moon passes between the sun and Earth, completely blocking the face of the sun. People viewing the eclipse from locations where the moon’s shadow completely covers the sun – known as the path of totality – will experience a total solar eclipse. The sky will become dark, as if it were dawn or dusk. Weather permitting, people along the path of totality will see the sun’s corona, or outer atmosphere, which is usually obscured by the bright face of the sun. What you can see during a total solar eclipse depends on the weather and the location from which you view it. You need clear skies to have the full eclipse experience, with a clear view of the sun and moon. However, the eerie daytime darkness associated with an eclipse is still noticeable with cloud cover.

It is very dangerous to look directly at the sun at any time, but during an eclipse the temptation to have a quick glance can be very strong.

To avoid damaging your retinas when viewing the solar eclipse …

Do not view the eclipse at all or use a proper method of blocking the sun’s dangerous rays while viewing. Use a filter that blocks all dangerous light. To do this, you must use ISO-certified eclipse glasses from a reputable vendor that meet the ISO 12312-2 international safety standard. The manufacturer’s name and address must be printed on the product. Do not use any viewer if it has scratched or wrinkled lenses.

What to avoid …

• Ordinary sunglasses or multiple pairs of sunglasses
Neutral density or polarizing filters, such as those made for camera lenses.
• Smoked glass.
• Photographic or X-ray film (unexposed, exposed or developed)
• Eclipse glasses with a binocular or telescope
• Garbage bags, coffee cups, and any other do-it-yourself filters

Myths and Facts

MYTH: The total solar eclipse produces harmful rays that can cause blindness.
FACT: The brilliant corona only emits electromagnetic radiation. There is nothing that can cause blindness. The real danger is looking at the exposed sun without proper protection could damage your retinas.

MYTH: Dogs can go blind during an eclipse.
FACT: On a normal day your dog doesn’t try to look at the sun and damage their eyes, so don’t expect them to do it during an eclipse. There’s no reason for them to wear eclipse glasses.

MYTH: There are no total solar eclipses at the North or South pole.
FACT: There is nothing unique about these locations, and solar eclipses happen there just like everyone else on earth.

MYTH: Eclipses can harm a pregnant woman’s baby.
FACT: There is no additional solar radiation during an eclipse that could harm you or a developing fetus.

MYTH: Eclipses will poison food prepared during the event.
FACT: The solar radiation levels don’t change during an eclipse. Any food poisoning will be purely coincidental.

Ancient mythology from the Farmers’ Almanac

Myths often involved a beast trying to destroy the sun with the fate of Earth hanging in the balance — or a sun god becoming angry, sad, or sick.

For example:

• Native people in Colombia shouted to the heavens, promising to work hard and mend their ways. Some worked their gardens and other projects especially hard during the eclipse to prove it.

• In Norse culture, the gods put an evil enchanter, Loki, into chains. Loki got revenge by creating wolflike giants, one of which swallowed the sun — thereby causing an eclipse. (Another of the giant wolves chased the moon, trying to eat it.)

• In China, Mongolia, and Siberia, beheaded mythical characters chase and consume the sun and moon — and we experience eclipses.

• In Indonesia and Polynesia, Rahu consumes the sun — but burns his tongue doing so and spits it out!

• In Armenia, a dragon swallowed the sun and moon.

• In Transylvanian folklore, an eclipse stems from the angry sun turning away and covering herself with darkness, in response to men’s bad behavior.

• In India, many believe that when an eclipse occurs a dragon is trying to seize the two orbs. People immerse themselves in rivers up to their neck, imploring the sun and moon to defend them against the dragon.

A sampling of Niagara winery events

If you were lucky enough to get a ticket to any of these Niagara winery total solar eclipse events, like at Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Konzelmann Estate Winery depicted in the above photo, consider yourself one of the lucky ones. There might be a few late announcements, so follow your favourite wineries on social media and book quickly if something comes up. This is a sampling of how local wineries are celebrating the eclipse.

Vineland Estates Winery Total Solar Eclipse Celestial Celebration Luncheon

The Vineland Estates total solar eclipse lunch was sold out long ago, nearly as fast as it was announced. The winery said this about the afternoon extravaganza: “With sweeping, open sky views, the VEW is the best place to be. We will have everything you need to celebrate this spectacular astrological occasion, as well as mementos to take home with you.”

The celebratory afternoon includes a sparkling reception, a themed 3-course gourmet lunch, paired with premium wines, a take home commemorative labelled wine, themed jewelry, a special keepsake booklet, and eclipse viewing glasses all for $195 per person.

The clever solar eclipse themed lunch menu includes and appetizer of sunburst tuna duo, a main of beef-cheeky corona lobster flare and for dessert the raspberry moon pie. The meal unfolds as the eclipse unfolds majestically outside the floor to ceiling windows at the estate winery (or head to the patio for the critical point of totality at 3:18 p.m.

Eclipse at Westcott Vineyards

Westcott enjoys one of the highest viewing points for wineries in Niagara on Vinemount Ridge, looking north to Lake Ontario. “For the first time in almost 100 years, Niagara will be centre stage for viewing the eclipse. The moon will pass the sun at 3:20 p.m., creating complete darkness for a total of three minutes. Charlotte Westcott will be onsite with a fun educational component covering the effects of the sun and its movement on our vineyard,” the enticing promotional blurb said.

Along with a full complement of Westcott wines available by the glass, Avella’s will be onsite cooking up wood fire pizzas.

The $35 ticket includes:

One glass of wine, a $10 credit for the wine shop, and certified viewing glasses.

You can also buy an “Eclipse at Westcott” t-shirt for $29, which you can order now and pick up at the event on April 8. “This once-in-a-lifetime event needed something special, so we created an incredible custom t-shirt just for the occasion, with a custom graphic of our vineyard.”

Henry of Pelham free event

Catching the solar eclipse on April 8 from the vantage point on the Short Hills Bench at Henry of Pelham is the cheapest ticket in town — it’s free, and better yet … there’s still room for you!

Purchase a glass of HoP wine and you will receive a complimentary pair of eclipse glasses. Henry of Pelham says that “with ample parking and seating, it’s the perfect spot to enjoy this once in a lifetime event.” And if you spend $50 in the retail store before April 8, you will get a complimentary pair of eclipse glasses. The event takes place from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Cave Spring Cellars Total Solarbration

Cave Spring promises “a celestial celebration like no other. With the skies aligning for a total solar eclipse on Monday, April 8, we invite you to witness the spectacle in an atmosphere of harmony and balance inside our glass-enclosed tasting room at CSV. Prepare to be captivated as the moon gracefully eclipses the sun, casting a spellbinding shadow over our spectacular vineyard. Against this celestial backdrop, immerse yourself in a yin-and-yang ambience symbolized by the perfect balance of light and dark.”

Included in the event:

• Eclipse viewing: Witness this spectacle from the comfort of the tasting room, where the juxtaposition of light and shadow will be on full display in the skies above CSV.
• Solar Eclipse Glasses: Don a pair of “groovy” solar glasses for safe viewing, provided free of charge.
Wine by the Glass: Indulge your senses with a curated selection of Cave Spring wines, “always crafted to capture balance and harmony.:
• Yin-and-Yang lunch: “Delight in a lunch with flavours and textures in synch with the cosmos.”

The price is $55 inclusive per person. Indoor seating. Includes a box lunch by RPM Bakehouse, one glass of wine, and a pair of funky solar glasses. Sold out.

Hare Wine Company Toast to Totality

The Hare Wine Company in Niagara-on-the-Lake says that the upcoming full solar eclipse is one of the most “breathtaking astronomical phenomena that we will be lucky enough to see in our lifetime.” The last total eclipse experienced in Ontario was in 1979 and the next one won’t happen again in Ontario until 2099. The 2024 path of totality takes us to Niagara’s wine region where the Faculty of Science will be hosting a solar eclipse viewing party at The Hare Wine Co.”

Astrophysicist and cosmologist Michael Hudson and other world-renowned researchers from the Waterloo Centre for Astrophysics will be on hand as they share the science behind solar eclipses and answer questions about the universe in which we live. In addition to using approved eclipse visors to watch the spectacle, guests will be encouraged to use an astronomy telescope they’ve positioned outside in the vineyards.

“At full eclipse totality, our chair of the department of physics and astronomy, Dr. Brian McNamara, will lead our celebration with a ‘Toast to Totality.’”

This event, like most in Niagara, is sold out.

Calamus Estate Winery

Renowned for its stargazing events, Calamus calls the total solar eclipse a great excuse for us to kick off the season early.

The “one-of-a-kind” experience will feature members from the Niagara Astronomy Club and the Johnny Rocco’s Pizza Wagon. The $59 ticket (long sold out) includes pizza and salad, solar eclipse souvenir glasses, souvenir Calamus wine glass, complimentary glass of wine, live music, NASA live stream, members of the Niagara Astronomy Club on hand for the event, and solar telescope to view the sun before the eclipse starts.

Southbrook Celestial Wonder

Southbrook Organic Vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake cleverly secured a special appearance by Pink Floyd Niagara to perform the full Dark Side of the Moon album for what it calls a “fusion of wine, music, and celestial wonder.”

The sold out, $55-per-person event, includes: 1 glass of wine, 1 pair of eclipse glasses, info stations on the eclipse, biodynamics & organics, wine by the glass for $10, and food trucks on-site.

NOTE, A few solar eclipse spots are available at these wineries in Niagara-on-the-Lake: Queenston Mile Vineyard, Peller Estates Winery, Marynissen Estates Winery, Lakeview Wine Co., Jackson-Triggs Estate Winery, Ironwood Cider House, Inniskillin Wines, De Simone Vineyards, Bella Terra Vineyards.

Wines for the end of times
(just in case we got it wrong)

We now know that the fate of Earth isn’t hanging in the balance every time a solar eclipse occurs in our world. But do we really? What if total solar eclipses ARE a sign of the end of times, and our ancient ancestors had it right all along?

We polled a few people working in the Niagara wine industry and asked them to take an ancient view of the eclipse, like back to those heady days when many felt great evil would follow total darkness in the middle of the day and choose their doomsday wine. Their assignment was to name their “end of times” wine or, conversely, their “heavenly” wine, depending on their point of view. Here’s what they picked:

André Proulx, 80x Wine Company

I chose my wine by accident. In 2018, I was in a house fire that nearly cost me my home (thankfully it did not); I celebrated lack of injury with my wife and our in-laws at 5 a.m. by opening a bottle of 2015 Civility from 16 Mile Cellars (no surprises to anyone who knows me that it will be Chardonnay). If the world ends on April 8, I will reach for a bottle of 2020 Civility in memory of the previous time I thought my world might end.”

Peter Rod, sommelier and wine professor at Niagara College

Wow, tough one. This is like the desert island wine choice. Nothing instantly comes to mind. I’d probably try to search out some 25-year-old Ardbeg (Scotch) if it was the end of the world. This is about wine, however, and I’m a glass half full guy so it would all be about celebration and positive thoughts for a bright future. I’d certainly want to share it with my wife and close friends, so I’d need something in large format. If I could get my hands on it, I’d likely go for a magnum or larger of a premium Champagne like Comtes de Champagne, Clos des Goisses, Blanc des Millenaires, Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill, or Bollinger RD. Failing that, I’d happily open a local beauty to celebrate our fine Niagara trad method bubblies: 13th Street Grand Cuvee, HoP Carte Blanche, or maybe 2027 Blanc de Blancs. Let’s hope it’s just the moon blocking the sun for a few minutes, nobody goes blind, and the togetherness of friends, families, and communities is a joyous and celebratory occasion.

Jeff Moote, Divergence Wines

I think that historically, but now more than ever, the eclipse hype is too much for a regular, natural occurrence. That said, I’ll never pass up an excuse to drink great wine. I would probably want a serious and mature sparkling wine. Vintage Champagne, if you have something good in the cellar (as you should for just such an occasion), but searching current availability of Niagara wines I’d go with Trius Showcase Brut Nature or Tawse Quarry Road Spark 2015 for some well-made sparkling with 5 and 7 years on lees respectively.

Alison Oppenlaender, Liebling Wines

If it is the end of times, I definitely want to go down in style, and what’s more stylish than sparkling? I’ll be daintily sipping (who am I kidding, it’s the end of the world, so I will be chugging) Divergence’s 2020 Brut Nature. A dry sparkling with apple, pear, citrus notes and fresh acidity.

Marc Pistor, Fogolar wines

During the day I’m drinking Riesling, probably Cave Spring Adam’s Step or HoP’s Dry River and in the evening Bella Terra Cabernet Franc. I considered sparkling but end of days is going to have to be Riesling and Cabernet Franc.

Somebody had to do it

You just knew that at least one winery would bottle a commemorative solar eclipse wine. So, “diving into the celestial celebration,” Pillitteri Estates Winery recently unveiled its “exclusive Solar Eclipse Wine Collection, in honour of the awe-inspiring solar eclipse gracing the skies over Niagara-on-the-Lake on April 8, 2024. This limited release captures the cosmic spectacle in a bottle, offering an otherworldly experience from the comfort of your home. Available for online purchase, our collection features meticulously crafted white and red wines, each telling its own story of the cosmos. Choose between the vibrant Solar Eclipse White, the profound Solar Eclipse Red, or indulge in both with our mixed pack option — perfect for every palate and occasion.”

Priced at $78 for 6 bottles, the series includes the Solar Eclipse White, that shows “celestial freshness, packed with flavours of peach, lemon, and pineapple, underpinned by a refreshing acidity and clean minerality. It’s a tribute to the lighter side of the cosmos, perfect for toasting to the brilliance of the eclipse,” or the Solar Eclipse Red, offering “a journey through the darker, more mysterious flavours of the universe, with notes of black cherry, currant, and a hint of sweet tobacco, all balanced with a bold yet sippable character. It stands as a bold companion to the eclipse, enriching your experience with every sip.”

You can purchase the wines here.

And what’s a total solar eclipse
without a great playlist to go with it?

How about you start with Eclipse by Pink Floyd from the Dark Side of the Moon album? It’s moody, dark, hopeful, magical and will musically take you from light to dark and back with moving lyrics and the tight sound these 1970 progressive rockers are known for.

Have a listen here .

Need more suggestions? How about these classics:

• Total Eclipse of the Heart by Bonnie Tyler
• Sun Giant by Fleet Foxes
• She’s Only Happy in the Sun by Ben Harper
• A Place in the Sun by Stevie Wonder
• Towards the Sun by Alexi Murdoch
• Bad Moon Rising by CCR
• The Killing Moon by Echo and the Bunnymen
• Fly Me to The Moon by Frank Sinatra
• Black Hole Sun by Soundgarden
• Ain’t No Sunshine (cover) by Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Des’ree
• Paint It Black by The Rolling Stones
• Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash
• Here Comes the Sun by The Beatles
• Follow the Sun by Xavier Rudd
• The Sun is Shining by Bob Marley
• I Can See Clearly Now by Johnny Nash
• That’s Amore by Dean Martin

If you want a complete playlist for the memorable day, Spotify has put together a dandy. Go here).

In the end, it’s all about the weather

You’ve booked the hotel, managed to snag tickets to your favourite winery for the blessed solar event, you are prepared for the traffic nightmare, we’ve given you a great solar playlist and end of days wine suggestions, so there’s only one thing remaining to make April 8 a perfect day, and it’s a biggie — the weather.

As of this writing, AccuWeather is calling for a high of 12 C and mostly cloudy skies. The norms for April in Niagara are an average of 12 C with 10 days of rain. Here’s the good news: I’ve never met a 14-day forecast that you can count on, so let’s all cross our fingers for a bit more sunshine as the big day draws closer.

For a historic look at weather on April 8 in Niagara back to 1943, go here.