"Each frozen grape only produces one drop of ice wine."
I looked up from the bottles I had been considering to see a smiling sales assistant. She indicated a TV screen in the corner of the store which was showing the ice wine making process. Apparently, the grape must freeze naturally after it has ripened, which makes the timing rather precarious.
"Only here in Niagara and Germany can make ice wine," the assistant continued.
Wikipedia, incidentally, disagrees with this. It notes that those two are the largest producers, but also throws in Austria before mentioning other countries make some ice wine but cheat by refrigerating the grapes. Evidently, my companion had a dim view of such methods, possibly coupled with an irrational dislike for 'The Sound of Music.'
"Have you ever tried ice wine? Let me give you a sample."
I looked back at the bottles and then glanced outside. I was at the duty-free shop at the Canadian/USA boarder on Saturday morning. The land border at Niagara. The one you had to drive through. The one EVERYONE passing through that duty-free had to drive through.
"Well, um... I'm driving?"
The woman followed my gaze. On the road running outside the store was a stationary line of traffic heading over the bridge to border control. To even get as far as the shop had been a painstakingly slow journey. When I had ground to a halt behind a large black SUV, I could not even make out the start of the bridge. Quite where everyone was going was somewhat of a mystery. It was almost lunchtime on a Saturday, so the only place that you really had time to travel to for the weekend was up-state New York. I guessed they were all taking off for several weeks summer vacation. I ground my teeth. Slackers.
The sales assistant turned from the unmoving line of cars to me, "You know, dear, I don't think it will be a problem."
I wondered whether it was possible to get free samples in tankards.
"You are going to the USA?" she confirmed as I was handed a paper thimble full of liquid. "We don't sell these bottles to go anywhere else and you can't buy them at the duty-free coming into Canada."
I raised an eyebrow. At this stage, I don't think I had a choice but to cross the border, or at least attempt to, but it made you wonder about the contents of the wines. Was this part of the grand invasion plan? First we poison you with ice wine, then we march on your ice rink? I swallowed the my sample. Invasion had never tasted so sweet.
Back on the road, I eased my car across the bridge. The speed limit on this stretch was 15 km/h and electronic speed detectors were set up to warn drivers if they were going too fast. As I passed one, it flashed up a '4'. My SatNav system randomly rotated the map by 180 degrees. It seemed to be subtly hinting that diving off the bridge might be quicker. Even with the associated jail time.
"When were you last in the USA?"
I had finally inched up to a booth and the occupant guard was idly flicking through my passport, hunting for the ID page.
"It's at the back," I volunteered. "And a couple of weeks ago."
"You didn't keep your green visa slip?" he grinned, quite unnecessarily in my opinion. "You'll have to stop. Hope you brought a good book!"
I sighed and speculated that maybe the border guards were only in a good mood when they could be assured that you were about to have a worse day then them.
The journey back, however, was its usual plain sailing.
"Are you bringing anything back from the USA?"