Lonely Planet Writer

Toronto gets ready to hit the beach and cool down with a cocktail at the Wine and Spirit Festival

After a frigid Ontario winter, Toronto is ready to hit the beach and warm up with a cocktail. Entering its eighth year, the Toronto Wine and Spirit Festival brings seminars, music and, of course, the chance to sample some of the world’s finest wines and spirits to Toronto’s Sugar Beach. Running 16-18 June, the festival is Toronto’s first and only outdoor wine and spirit sampling event.

Toronto's Sugar Beach
Toronto’s Sugar Beach Image by David Cooper/Getty Images

Signature events include the Hogtown Smackdown or the Cocktail Cage Match, in which cocktail crafters compete to create the best drink and festival goers choose the winner. Other highlights include trying something new in the ‘Introducing’ area, in which festival goers try drinks that haven’t yet appeared in stores; having a smoke and a drink at the Whisky & Cigar Lounge; or listening to Toronto’s top musical acts on the Main Stage.

Try something new at Toronto's Wine and Spirit Festival.
Try something new at Toronto’s Wine and Spirit Festival. Image by Gabriel Amadeus / CC BY 2.0

The festival began when festival co-founder Scott Rondeau started Toronto’s Festival of Beer in 1996. Festival vendors would often provide Scott with beer ‘perks’ which he would give away to family and friends. After selling his shares in the Beer Festival, Scott’s mother told him, ‘you know what?  Although I appreciated the beer you always gave me, I drink more wine now than I do beer…you should start a wine festival.’ In 2009 he and his partner Emma Brown started the Toronto Wine & Spirit Festival.

But the origins of the festival go back even farther. Scott says, ‘While I was in college I started an annual blender party to celebrate the kick-off to strawberry season and the first day of summer.  I called it Scottie’s Strawberry Social.’ To continue the celebration, Scott revived the summer event. ‘…[W]hen we started the Wine & Spirit Festival it just seemed like a no-brainer to bring the party to the event.”

Sugar Beach is a Toronto City Park, so it isn’t closed off to the public; all ages are welcome, but in order to sample the tipples and attend seminars, guests must purchase a wristband. Advance tickets are $25, $35 at the door.