Touring Canada’s Niagara-on-The-Lake Wineries
But for a country renowned for its beer and its beer lovers, the fact that there are large wine-producing areas in Canada may seem as strange as the some of those Canadian Football League team names.
Yet Canada not only has a wine country, it has several. And in the scenic Niagara Falls region in the southern Ontario province, there are more than 40 wineries, including one owned by hockey Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky.
Yet it is just outside of the stately town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, a Sarasota, N.Y., look-alike so cute and adorable one is tempted to hug it, that contains the majority of the wineries and wine tastings and tours.
There are 35 wineries in the immediate area and they are open year-round. Yes, even in the chilly winter months. In fact, this is when the area’s prized product, Icewine, is harvested. Icewine, for those not in the know, is a very sweet wine and it’s a very methodical process to extract just a few drops of juice from each grape.
The whites are light in flavor; anyone used to the bolder California wines will find them much more subtle, like a light beer is to a regular brew. The reds are full-bodied but not overpowering.
Visiting the wineries can be done by car (be sure and have a designated driver) or as part of a tour. SightseeingSam.com took the Niagara Airbus (905-374-8111), which is aboard a mid-sized shuttle bus fro Niagara Falls that arrives at the wineries through the scenic Niagara Parkway.
It’s even possible to do it on a bike and on nice days in the spring, summer and fall, this is a preferred method for many.
The wineries are an ideal day trip from Niagara Falls, and don’t surprised to run into small groups from Toronto playing hookey from work (and texting photos to those back at the office).
Stonechurch Reif Estates Pillterri Estates Marynissen Estates & Inniskillin Wineries
A pleasant place to start is Stonechurch Vineyards, a peaceful property that has a walking path through the vineyard to encourage people to get up close with the winery’s products. The people in the tasting room are chatty and friendly and don’t mind pouring several samples. Location: 1242 Irvine Road.
Talk about friendly, Reif Estates Winery is about as accommodating as they come in the wine business. The main building at one of the region’s original wineries looks more like a wine bar than tasting room, sometimes does food pairings and has two rooms bursting with hundreds of bottles of its wines. The reds here shine like the summertime sun. The grounds are scenic and relaxing, an ideal setting to enjoy a glass of wine. The Victorian mansion is a popular place for weddings. Location: 15608 Niagara Parkway RR 1.
One of the better wineries to visit is Pillterri Estates Winery. This is a family-run winery and guests are treated to an entertaining and informative tour, followed by a tasting. Pillterri is Canada’s largest estate producer of Icewine and exports to 28 countries. Location: 1696 Niagara Stone Road.
A highly regarded winery for reds is one of the smallest in the region, Marynissen Estates Winery. It’s a mere shack compared to its more refined neighbors, but this small family winery is a favorite of the in-the-know locals. Location: 1208 Concession 1, RR 6.
It’s the opposite of Inniskillin Wines, which has half its tasting room devoted exclusively to Icewines. Founded in 1975 as a family winery, it has quickly grown to gain international fame. It’s spacious grounds are inviting for relaxing and enjoying the wines. Location: 1499 Line 3.
For a list of all Niagara-on-the-Lake wineries, click here.
The region hosts three events annually, the Niagara Icewine Festival (Jan. 12-28), a series of events that includes a classic car show; the Twenty Valley Winterfest (Jan 12-14) a premium icewine event that’s outdoors featuring wine tasting by fire pits; the Niagara Homegrown Wine Festival (June 16-24) that pairs Ontario-produced foods with wines; the Niagara Grape & Wine Festival at Montebello Park in downtown St. Catharines (Sept. 15-30) that features tastings, concerts and seminars and one of Canada’s largest parades. Details of these festivals can be found at the Ontario Tourism website.