Last weekend I had the pleasure of marrying my long time girlfriend and mother of our daughter. As a quick getaway, or mini-honeymoon before we take a longer trip to Maui in October, we decided to take a few days off in Niagara On The Lake. We’ve been meaning to spend some time in the area but have just never got around to it. Growing up in Toronto, I’m kind of jaded about Niagara. The touristy falls area, the haunted houses, wax museums, and casinos = not my thing. Two years ago a friend of mine had his stag start at Hillebrand Winery, and that gave me my first taste of how beautiful the region is. The vineyards and orchards, along with the views of the Niagara River are simply gorgeous.
We booked our stay at one of the regions many Bed & Breakfasts. A gorgeous 1800’s farmhouse called Heathercroft Circa 1819. It’s nestled among peach trees and grape vines. Our hostess was Renie, co-owner of the B & B, who was very pleasant and kept everything in good order. Up for conversation, we learned about the history of the house and she gave us many suggestions on where to visit and what to do while in the area. One of which was to rent some bicycles and bike around to the wineries and enjoy some of the local trails. So after a massage and relaxing morning at the Pillar & Post Spa, we rented ourselves 2 “cruiser” bikes from Zoom Leisure Bikes, which were totally awesome. We set out on an adventure on a perfect summer day with not a cloud in the sky!
Now, I’ve never been a big fan of Ontario wines, especially the reds. After this trip, I have to say, my opinion has changed, particularly of the whites. I’m also not really partial to ice wines, but there were a couple that were very tasty. We tried to stick with the 2010 wines because last year we saw an incredible amount of sun and heat here in southern Ontario and I imagined the wines were going to reflect that.
Renie recommended we visit Reif Estate Winery because of their knowledge and high quality wines. It proved to be an excellent recommendation. The vineyard is beautifully kept, the showroom welcoming and inviting, the staff friendly, and the wines are superb. They were even kind enough to let me clip a few Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir shoots from the vines to see if I could get them to grow in my backyard. So far, they’re not doing too well, as the proper time to do that is really in the spring when the vines are most vigorous, but I though I’d give it a shot anyways. Of particular note was their 2008 Cabernet Franc Ice Wine. It was like drinking strawberry syrup and was incredible. The 2010 Vidal is also worth trying (and was on sale!)
Continuing down the Niagara parkway, we stopped into Marynissen Estates. At first I wasn’t expecting a lot. The showroom is a little small, needs a little work and felt a bit musty inside. But as with all things, you cannot judge a book by its cover and we were delighted to talked with one of the lovely women offering tastings. She shared with us the story of how the owner purchased the run down property in 1953 when he 65 years old. By talking with the neighbours and local vineyards, as well as through trial and error he managed to transform the property into a functioning winery. He was apparently responsible for planting the very first Cabernet Sauvignon vines in the region. Their 2010 Sauvignon Blanc was bursting with fruity flavour and is worth a try. We opted to buy the 2010 Fumé Blanc. It is the Sauvignon Blanc aged in oak barrels. The barrels impart quite a flavour to it. It was like drinking a smooth white wine made from vanilla bean essence. Very interesting and very delicious.
Being a big supporter and proponent of all things organic, I insisted we make a stop into Frogpond Farm Organic winery. It is an incredibly cute little farm with pear trees, chickens, goats, ducks and guinea fowl also on the vineyard. I would love to have a farm like this someday. The owners daughter was very pleasant and was happy to talk to us about organic farming practices and encouraged us to walk around the property and explore. We tried a few of their wines and decided upon the 2008 Chardonnay. I’m glad people like Frogpond Farm are making the effort to do things healthier and more sustainably.
While in the town one night for dinner, we tried an amazing 2010 “Private Reserve” Sauvignon Blanc from Peller Estates. I’ve never smelled such a bouquet of aromas from a wine. Gooseberry and melon dominated this wine wonderfully. Peller Estates is one of the biggest, if not THE biggest winery in the area, and it shows. It had a ‘big shot’ attitude that was a big turnoff for us. We got the feeling that this winery was only interested in maximizing it’s market share. All of the wines were 50-100% more expensive than the other wineries. (Compare a bottle of Ice Wine from Reif Estates at $29.95 and one from Peller at $59.95) Despite this, we hesitantly bought another bottle for $2 more than it was at the wine store in town (?) in case we weren’t able to ind it at our local LCBO. Fortunately we did, because I can’t find it on the LCBO website. It is still a local winery and I’d rather the money go to them than half way around the world to a winery I’ve never even been to.
All in all, the general peace in the air, biking through the back roads between grape vines, on the lovely paths beside the river and not worrying about driving home after the many wine tastings, I cannot wait to visit the area again!
Do yourself a favour, take a break, visit Niagara On The Lake and support our local wineries. You won’t regret it!