A sip-and-sup day out in Niagara’s wine country can be one of the most enjoyable get-aways this country has to offer and it’s not difficult to see why Niagara Region was mentioned in the “Vacay.ca 20 Best Places to Travel in Canada for 2020” list.
There are several reasons for this. Niagara Region wineries are Sustainable Winemaking Ontario Certified. This certification ensures wineries and growers are committed to enhancing the environment by using sustainable practices. Another reason why visitors are flocking to the region is to enjoy the Niagara Icewine Festival, which is running through January 26.
But planning your tasting trip can be a challenge – there are currently almost 90 wineries on the Niagara Peninsula. How to choose?
Niagara wineries fall into two highly unofficial categories – the big and the small. The big wineries offer a gamut of experiences – tours, tastings, special events, wine sales – but tend to charge for everything, and can be rather impersonal. The small operations are usually delighted that you dropped by, and you are likely to go away with great wine, and some new friends.
So here is a list of 15 smaller wineries where you will find a warm welcome, some unique and excellent wines, where the price of tasting is usually waived if you buy wine, and often, a chance to meet the owner or winemaker. Our list runs roughly west to east on the Niagara Peninsula.
Leaning Post: A quintessential small winery, housed in a restored barn, and offering excellent artisanal wines. The Senchuk family produces fine Reislings and a surprising Rosé.
Angels Gate: I once avoided this winery because of a disappointing tasting. But a 2019 return visit dispelled all my concerns – Angel’s Gate is now making some great wines, and has a restaurant patio with the most beautiful view in the region.
Fielding Estate: A true star in the Niagara firmament: superb service (they run to open the door and welcome you), knowledgeable staff, friendly owners (the Fielding family), terrific wines (Niagara-born winemaker Richie Roberts does it right). If you choose only one bottle, go with Lot No. 17 Reisling.
Legends Estates: First-time visitors to Niagara wineries can be surprised by the range in prices. At Legends, the price points are low, the wines very palatable, and you’re welcome to bring your picnic, buy glasses of wine, dine at the picnic tables, and stroll to the shore of Lake Ontario.
Good Earth: The best thing about Good Earth is the bistro, a lovely spot which opens onto beautiful gardens. The food is good, and the wines are “food friendly”, perfectly matched to your repast.
Cornerstone: A family-owned winery, Cornerstone produces terrific premium wines. You will have trouble choosing among the excellent options, including a superb Pinot Gris. The Appassimento style mean the reds are also delightful (not always true of Ontario wines).
Ridgepoint: Sister and brother Anna Gottardo and Mauro Scarsellone founded Ridgepoint more than 20 years ago, determined to bring their Italian heritage to their Vineland winery. And they have succeeded in every way. The wines are terrific; the Italian restaurant a delight. In the tasting bar, ask for their White Cab (a unique wine with a surprising, peachy flavour), and especially the Nebbiolo, an amazing red.
Greenlane: A friendly (and dog-friendly!) wine shop demonstrating the expertise of winemaker Dianne Smith, and a nice patio, right on King Street in Vineland.
Foreign Affair: This winery flies in the face of Niagara’s reputation as a white-wine-only region. Foreign Affair was one of the pioneers in the area in creating full-flavoured Appassimento wines. You will spend more than you ever imagined for a bottle of astonishing wine – and you will never regret it.
Calamus Estate: The tasting room is tucked into a barn; the site also includes an astronomical observatory with a deep space telescope. The wines are reasonably priced – and worth considerably more than the sticker price might suggest.
Sue-Ann Staff Estate: Winemaker Sue-Ann Staff’s family has owned this estate for 200 years; grapes have been grown here for 100 years; Sue-Ann has been an award-winning winemaker for 18 years. All of that history and experience goes into every bottle ¬– and comes back out as sheer pleasure.
The Hare Wine Company: The wines are excellent, but there is more to the experience than wine-tasting. Hare is all about elegance in design – the embossed bottles, the architecture of the winery. A visit here is a visual pleasure.
Caroline Cellars: In an intriguing contrast to Hare, Caroline Cellars are down-home friendly, with a rustic restaurant (The Farmhouse Café) and casual tasting room. But don’t be fooled – the wide selection includes some truly enjoyable wines.
Palatine Hills: John Neufeld’s winery is flat-out friendly. In the tasting room (once a drive shed), you can sample many fine wines, sometimes including the remaining bottle of an out-of-stock wine they think you might like to taste, even if you can’t buy it. Best buys: the highly drinkable and highly affordable 1812 Red (a perfect blend), and the frequently-on-sale Vidal Icewine.
Big Head Wines: Great wines, including unusual options like Chenin Blanc and Petit Verdot. An unusual name, a product of the sense of humour of owner and winemaker Andrzej Lipinski and his Polish family. And the highlight – the “Biggest Tasting”, a “seated tasting” including 10 wines, poured in a blind format. You make notes, you learn from your own personal sommelier, you have 90 minutes of sheer enjoyment.
There – 15 excellent choices among the 90 or so wineries in Niagara. Explore others at your leisure – but you won’t go wrong following these recommendations. Just don’t try to do them all in one day!
MORE REASONS TO LOVE NIAGARA REGION
Wine isn’t the only reason why Niagara Region is on the “Vacay.ca 20 Best Places to Travel in Canada for 2020” list. The Niagara Sustainability Initiative (NSI), a not-for-profit organization engaging and connecting businesses in Niagara in an effort to advance economic and environmental sustainability, is helping the region reduce their carbon footprint. NSI promotes opportunities to develop a mindset for an environmentally and economically thriving Niagara and works to expand its reach in Niagara by building partnerships with local organizations to measure their carbon footprint and identify reduction opportunities.
Something else to look forward to in Niagara Region is the redevelopment of Table Rock – the Niagara Parks Commission’s iconic tourism facility at the brink of the Falls. Through a multi-phase redevelopment project, Niagara Parks will fully renew its retail, culinary and attraction offerings and better enhance the true sense of arrival and experience for the millions of guests who begin their travel journeys at Table Rock each year. Niagara Parks says that the first phase of the redevelopment was unveiled in 2019, with the grand reopening of Niagara Parks’ signature culinary venue, Table Rock House Restaurant and main floor retail store. The second phase will focus on renovating and enclosing the west concourse area, which houses the entrance to the Canadian Signature Experience, Journey Behind the Falls. This phase will also include the complete redevelopment of the main floor food options with the opening of Table Rock Market. Construction is expected to be completed by May 2020.
MORE ABOUT NIAGARA REGION
Niagara Wine Festival Website: niagarawinefestival.com
Visit Niagara Canada: www.visitniagaracanada.com/