Canada’s Ontario Niagara wine region has changed dramatically in the past few years as wineries and winemakers have found their niche, intimately explored their terroir and discovered varieties and clones that perfectly suit the area’s many microclimates. The resulting wines are spectacular, but there is more to the region than bottled bliss—picturesque villages, cozy eateries and wildlife abounds.
Close to more that 60 wineries, Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL) is an ideal town to use as a base for wine adventuring. From intimate hotels like Oban Inn (160 Front Street) to the expansive Queen’s Landing (155 Byron Street) with its famed Tiara Restaurant (try the braised veal cheek with butter poached lobster), there are a plethora of unique lodging options here. When you’re not tippling along the wine trail, NOTL’s lively main street is lined with stylish cafés, boutiques and restaurants, and sidestreets dotted with coffee table book-quality homes.
Creative pairings are a focus at Niagara’s famous Inniskillin Winery (1499 Line 3), where Executive Chef David Penny couples sparkling vidal Icewine with haute bacon and eggs and Olympic Commemorative Edition Vidal with a decadent onion soup. The results are surprising and the winery, with its award-winning line of delicate but sumptuous dessert sips, is an iconic stop along the Ontario trail.
Lailey Vineyard’s (15940 Niagara Parkway) focus is on coaxing the best from estate soil mixes for their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Visit this boutique winery for an enlightening comparison of wines from different vineyards, then meander down the road for a tour, tasting and an unforgettable meal overlooking rows of grape vines at Peller Estates (290 John Street East). Or sign up for a vineyard tour to picnic with the chef. Stratus Winery (2059 Niagara Stone Road) makes limited quantities of premium assemblage and varietal wines that are the “best expression of the year and the land,” according to winemaker J-L Groux. The winery is as stellar as the wines. As the first in the world to earn LEED certification, it is a spectacularly kind-to-the-earth and innovative building.
From humble fruit stand beginnings, Pillitteri Estates Winery (1696 Niagara Stone Road) grew to export wines to 27 countries. Brash Aussie export Marc Bradshaw makes elegant table and ice wines, and some unusual ones. Try the Bottled Blond (the wine, not the maker).
Royal De Maria Winery’s (4551 Cherry Avenue) focus is Icewine. Scores of international awards, many varieties including some unexpected ones, and outstanding quality draw crowds of visitors. Ask about the touching, touch-and-go story of the winery’s beginning.
Awaiting organic certification, Tawse Winery (3955 Cherry Avenue) uses sheep and a traditional horse-drawn plow in the vineyards, and gravity and geo-thermal energy in their über-modern winery. Wi n emaker Paul Pender, a true “terroirist,” is passionate about his Pinots (Noir).
With lake views, quaffable, well-made wines and a gorgeous Muskoka-style “lodge” as the main building, family owned and operated Fielding Estate Winery (4020 Locust Lane) is as fresh and friendly as a smiling baby.
For a rich treat, visit Upper Canada Cheese Company (4159 Jordon Road) where all their handcrafted artisanal cheeses are made from milk from one herd of Guernsey cows. Sample Comfort Cream and Niagara Gold with a picnic in mind.
Finally, in-the-know locals frequent About Thyme Bistro (3457 King Street), Stone Road Grille (238 Mary Street; ) and DeLuca’s Wine Country Restaurant (111C Garrison Village Drive), but you can expect happy pairings of food and local wine coupled with a warm welcome wherever you go. Niagara folks are serious about wine, but relaxed about life.
For more information, visit tourismniagara.com.