4 little-known wineries you must visit in romantic Niagara-on-the-lake.
Looking for the perfect getaway destination rich in culture, good wine, food and picturesque landscape?
Imagine yourself wandering in a suspended-in-time small historic city filled with a relaxed tone, a delicate spicy note sprinkling from the shady trees touching your nostrils, delicious farm-to-table restaurants to go to, lovely boutique shops to explore, a rich calendar of cultural events to participate in and of course traditional and unique townhouses from the past well renovated that are just a joy to look at.
Picnicking in the shade of tall oak trees, savouring a refreshing dry floral Riesling after a hot morning spent at a winery nearby. Enjoying the quiet of the place and the view over a shining and well-maintained golf course where a few skilful men are playing.
And of course, at the end of the day, experiencing with your mouth hang open among the sweat of a touristic crowd the impressive Niagara falls from the modern and superficial town of the same name.
The oldest wine region of Ontario is certainly to add on your bucket list! Nevertheless, the many wineries around the area don’t make it easy to know which ones to visit when you have little time. Here are my choices that you can easily explore on a weekend.
1- Blind taste wine by the barrels at Big Head, a winery where talent is in every wine.
When I arrived at Big Head, a winery advised by Jacopo an Italian guy I met at Nomad Winery, I was taken aback by the look of the place. Nothing fancy, nothing beautiful nor stunning, a big sign displayed at the entrance of the facility like if it was the backdoor of the winery where all the tanks and barrels lay, and, after getting in, I was right!
I was startled, when inside, being greeted by Monica a lovely lady seated cheerfully behind a little counter, letting me know warmly all the options that I had. I was hooked by the feel of the place, the relaxed atmosphere and the quirk of the experience itself. After all the wineries I’ve had visited in my life, and I have visited many, I’ve never had the opportunity to get the wine bar and the big tanks in one place!
After paying a fee of 10$ for tasting, Monica led me to another room where red concrete tanks laid next to a large bar with 2 persons tasting joyfully some wine and 2 other serving on the other side. When hearing my French accent they started teasing me with the man behind the bar Andrez.
I discovered a few minutes afterwards that he was himself the winemaker. I spent a great time there with Andrez checking in with me every 2 minutes if his wines were “suitable to a French palate”. It was fun! He made me taste all the wines that I wanted and I was impressed by the varieties of grapes he’s working with.
Every wine was very well made and balanced. The winery doesn’t own a vineyard and the grapes they buy are not organic but the wines are really worth trying. You will taste there a Cabernet Franc made by the passimento method and some great Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that have nothing to envy to the French. You will feel like you’re traveling the world tasting all these different kind of wines or maybe it’s just the wine geek in me who felt that way…
I loved the feel of the winery and the fun they create in winemaking .
Andres is from Poland originally and immigrated to Niagara 29 years ago to join is brother. Life circumstances led him to wine. His story is quite unusual: after spending a few years working in construction building wineries, he found himself naturally making wine! This is that simple.
To my point of view, the man is talented and can work with any kind of grape. He’s proud to tell that he’s the only one in Niagara making Savagnin, a variety originally from Jura in France. You will discover once there that each winery you visit “has something special that no one else is doing”, it’s kind of the trend around there…
The winery is very young, started only 6 years ago. Andres told me that he will be opening soon a new winery in Hamilton with a total new concept.
If you have 1 hour and a half, do their blind tasting, you will be discovering 10 wines. This is the best way to learn about wine and to discover which grapes are your favourite (25$ per person).
2- Delight in a romantic garden at Frog Pond where wines are genuinely produced.
You will love picnicking beside the frog pond surrounded by the quiet and beauty of a simple garden lavishly decorated with majestic fruits trees, flowers and the warbling of little cute birds.
This winery became in 2001 Ontario’s first to produce certified organic wines due to a man, the owner and winemaker, Jens Gemmrich, who believes that creating harmony in nature is a prerequisite for crafting authentic wines.
Jens arrived 20 years ago from Germany with his family, choosing this land as the perfect homestead to raise its children and I agree with him, what a better place to do just that!
The winery was named for the pond full of frogs that you will be able to explore by yourself in their romantic garden.
You will have to pay 1$ per wine tasted.
I’ve really enjoyed their Chambourcin (15.95$), a red wine ideal for a summer hot day, that you will love chilled, very refreshing. They are the only ones in Ontario to make this kind of wine, so a must-try!
Their orange wine (19.95$) and white wines (Riesling dry (17.95$), Vidal (14.95$)) are good and well balanced.
What I loved about Frog Pond are the simplicity of the place, people and wines.
3- Enjoy a relaxing and delectable lunch at Ravine vineyard made of only fresh and delicious regional produces.
On my arrival at Ravine vineyard, I’ve run into Marty, one of the winemakers of the estate. A big, tall guy with fancy sunglasses and a warm smile. He showed me around telling me that Ravine is a 5 family generation winery who started in the 60’s. It’s called Ravine because it is actually located in a ravine.
I loved tasting their wines with Natacha a young and passionate dynamic girl who was at my disposal to pour any wine I wanted to as Marty had generously granted me an unlimited tasting pass.
The tasting room was homely decorated with a lot of space and light making it confortable for exploring their wines.
All the wines I’ve tasted were not extraordinary but well-made and balanced, easy to drink wines that you will certainly enjoy having on their garden with their delicious traditionally made pizza.
You will be able to explore a fine delicacy store displaying regional produces and among them a quirky, unique, must-try dry pear cider.
What I liked at Ravine was the overall nice vibe, easy going atmosphere, you know this kind of place where it feels good to be just there with your friends and family. Moreover, it looks like the winery loves having people over! They organize often during the summer one day events with music for everyone. On weekends, special tours are available like the very and only “dog tour”: picture yourself walking in the vineyard with your dog! This is fun!
4- Taste unconventionally made good wines in a stunning state-of-the-art winery
If you’re looking for wines made in a conscious manner, I mean by that, wines made in respect of nature, Southbrooke is your answer. I was very surprised when exploring the region by how few wineries in Niagara-on-the-lake are prone to this philosophy.
This stunning state-of-the-art winery was born only 10 years ago, when Bill and Marilyn Redelmeier, a couple from Toronto decided to manifest their lifelong dream of making fine wines in a respectful and local fashion. Today they are proud of owning a beautiful 65 acres biodynamic certified vineyard and to buy 65–75 acres of organic certified grapes to make their wines.
Ann Sperling, the winemaker, is originally from Kelowna, BC. She is a leading force in the context of Canadian organic and biodynamic winemaking and is tremendously passionate of making the most delicious fine wines. She is also the happy owner of 2 wineries, one in the Okanagan valley BC her region of origin and another one in Mendoza Argentina.
The staff will offer you to taste any wine you like by purchasing a 3 wines coupon at 10$. If you want more options you have to book 48 hours in advance.
What I loved at Southbrooke was their wines. I have to admit that I have always a preference for the kind of wines that stand out of the crowd, that are a little bit different and have something that make them unique and it’s definitely what I’ve found there. I’ve chosen naturally to taste 3 wines that stirred my curiosity the most and was gladly content by the discovery. Here are my choices.
Estate wild ferment chardonnay (39.80$). This white wine was aged 12 years in oak barrel: 1/5 in new oak, 1/5 in 1 year barrel and 3/5 in non-flavours barrel. There is some Semillon in the blend to give it some freshness. A savoury wine with some nutty notes that will aged very well. A bit too oaky for my taste but overall a great wine to enjoy with a meal.
Estate Orange wine — skin fermented Vidal (29.75$). It’s called “orange” to state that the wine was made like a red but with white grapes. In this case the white grape used was the Vidal grape, a very common variety in Ontario and Quebec due to its ability to survive the harshness of winter. I found it very tasty with to my astonishment some quince jelly notes and apple cider vinegar on the palate.
Biodynamic Bubbly (29.75$). This sparkling made with 100% Chardonnay was very surprising. Hints of lemon peel, golden apple and fermentive aromas followed by a fine creamy texture on the palate. A good wine with a lot of personality.
If you like to be surprised, discover tastes that you wouldn’t expect in a wine, Southbrooke is your kind of winery so don’t miss it.
As you can see, there are many reasons why I think you should add Niagara-on-the-lake to your travel wish list sooner rather than later and it starts by visiting the wine country. Have fun !
Note that you will have to pay in each winery for tasting. Some will waive the fee if you buy their wines. Usually you will have to pay around 10$ for a tasting.
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