Canada’s wine country: Going Sideways in Niagara

It may be a bit early to be thinking about the summer, but if you’ve got wine on the mind then summer needs to be on the top of your agenda. Especially if you were wanting to sample some of Canada’s wine region. Canada does wine? what?… I’ll get to that shortly.

Perhaps a bit cliche but ever since I watched Sideways, I’ve sort of had a dream to visit all the wine countries of the world (new and old) and sample their treasures. Admittedly when I was first introduced to wine I wasn’t a fan (as I’m sure many 18 year olds aren’t). However since then I have navigated my way through dry reds, dry whites and bubbles! I think I know what I like but I’m still discovering. And that is the nice part.

So wine country in Canada eh? Well spending my formative years in Ontario, Canada I had the opportunity to taste some decent local wine. The import wine that was available in the good ol’ LCBO certainly wasn’t representative of what Europe had to offer so I tried out some of Ontario’s best.

Where is Ontario’s Wine Country?

Located in the Southern part of the province, between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie you will find 3 established wine regions in Ontario. Further east, and less familiar is the Prince Edward Country wine region. The Niagara peninsula is roughly on the same latitude as Provence and Languedoc in the South of France, making for ideal climates for growing wine. Although the earliest vines in the region were planted around 150 years ago, the first winery license was issued in 1974 after the end of Prohibition in the 20s-30s. Therefore many view the Canadian wine scene as still relatively new. 

As I was mostly familiar with the wines stemming from the Niagara Peninsula region, we headed to Niagara-on-the-lake to where it all started.  

How do you grow vines?

Now, I’m no expert on grape vine growing so forgive me for the novice description to follow. As I  mentioned, the wineries in the Niagara Peninsula started almost 150 years ago. Based on the stories from a few of the wineries we visited, it appeared that the first vines were brought over from Europe and planted. After planting the vines, there would be 4 years where the vines would bear no fruit. On the fifth year, you could expect to see fruit. 

Vines are fertilised with grapeskin and horse manure. The harvest season runs until November. However, what is different about the Ontario wine region, that sets it apart from the Southern French region, is the harsh cold winters. With a bit of experimentation, ice wine was born. 

Of course there is more to the growth and production of wine that what I have explained here.  But I’ll let those that are truly interested in climate and pH level of soil delve deeper on their own. An interesting fact that did stand out was just how new the area was to growing wine. As one winery explained, wine regions in Europe are well established because they have been growing grapes in the region for several hundred years. They know what works and what doesn’t. In Canada, many wineries are still learning what works specific to the region. This is truly key, as replication is not key to the success of Canadian wine.

Wine tours

There are literally 100s of wineries in the Niagara region making it impossible to visit more than 6-8 in one day. We booked a wine tour to take us around to a select few in the area. Many companies offer a variety of tours to suit a range of personal tastes. Other options include going solo with map in hand, or bike around the wine estates.  As we wanted to taste the wine without anyone being a designated driver, a driver was the best option for us,. We booked with Dave at The Apple tree B and B. I found Dave as I was originally searching for accommodation. Whilst his charming B and B was all booked up, he mentioned he offered tours regardless of our choice of accommodation. And so we took him up on his offer! 

If you’d like to create your own wine route map, you can click here and plan away!

Wine stops

As I mentioned there are literally hundreds of wineries in the area. And so there are plenty to choose from between larger more established wineries and small, new up and coming wineries. The best part of the wineries is that you get to taste and purchase some great wine that you wouldn’t have access to at the LCBO. In addition, most of the time it is cheaper than the LCBO and you know the costs are going directly to the people who make it. 

So here’s where we went on our little wine tour, in case you would like to replicate it. 

Chateau des Charmes

This was one of the first wineries in the region and therefore one of the biggest. The story starts with a husband and wife from France who moved in Canada with two suitcases and $1500 to their name in the 1960s. The huge winery, with 280 acres to its name,  is run by the wife and son nowadays. It was here that we went on a tour of the winery, learning about the whole process of barreling and aging wine. To read more about Chateau des Charmes you can click here. I went home with one of their Pinot Noir’s in hand.

Southbrook Vineyeards

 This small winery was set up in the 90s  and is known for their chardonnay. They are also the first in the country to produce organic and biodynamic wine.  Now I’m not a fan of chardonnay but I figured, what better place to be swayed than by a winery that specialises in chardonnay. So with the help of a young girl named Sarah, who patiently poured us a range of choices, I had a go. The verdict? If I had to choose, I did like their 2011 Petitie Chardonnay. But chardonnays are still not for me. I’m glad I gave it a go and felt better educated in what I liked! For more on Southbrook vineyards click here.

Between the lines

On the way to this winery, we were told a story about two young brothers from Germany. Their parents had moved to Canada and began a farm in the Niagara Peninsula region. As they grew up they worked on the farm with their parents and thus learned a lot. When they grew older, one went to business school and the other went to vinner school. It was after school and with the help of family and friends that they started their modern winery. This winery stood out from the crowd. One reason was because of the delicious wine they produced, similar to what I like in Europe. But secondly because you could see the passion and love for their work, as witnessed by meeting owner Greg on the frontlines.   I went home with their Gewürztraminer  and Pinot Noir, happily knowing I could also order direct with them.  Check out their red barn story here.

Beer for the boys

As Niagara-on-the-lake has grown so popular with wine tours, there has also been a few local breweries popping up in the area. The Exchange Brewery is located right on Queen St. We stopped off at the Silversmith Brewery a bit further out. Housed in a renovated church, this quirky establishment is a great reason to start going to church on a Sunday. My favourite- the Bavarian breakfast wheat. 

Where to stay:

We stayed at the Orchid Inn, within an easy walk to the main part of town. Owner, Cindy, made us feel at home with her attention to detail and friendly nature. But as mentioned earlier, Dave’s The Apple Tree B and B was also a contender.

How to get there:

Niagara-on-the-lake is about 1.5hr drive west of Toronto.

 

So there you have it. Something a little different from the Niagara region, and certainly not what most people conjure up when they imagine Canada. Voted No.1 as a travel destination for 2017 by the New York Times, Canada’s wine country is a must see. Would you try Canadian wine?

*Note all information above is my opinion and mine alone. I have not been endorsed to provide these reviews. 

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10 Comments

  1. wow!! super informative, I had no idea Canadians did wine! I’m more of a Rioja fan (of course haha) butttt good to know if I ever go that place looks amazingggg! gresat post as usual 😉 xxx

    Reply
    • Hahaha thanks! I forget that people wouldn’t really know about Canadian wine. Living in Ontario it was such big thing that it felt as big as the Californian wine scene or Hunter Valley. It is only upon stepping outside the country that you realise they don’t have an international presence. I like a good Rioja too! Kind of miss drinking red wine but it’s just too hot in Singapore for reds. And I’m very weather based with my choice of wine drinking lol

      Reply
    • Yes it’s definitely more of an aperitif than a full on drink. There are definitely some nice finds in the area that aren’t too sweet.

      Reply
  2. Ah I love Niagara. I didn’t ever do a wine tour, even tho I lived 15 minutes from here for university for 4 years. Sadly I wasn’t into wine back then (I know a girl in Uni not into wine, who knew they existed). But my friends family owns a vineyard there so I plan to visit when I am back in Ontario at some point. Have you been to Prince Edward County? Also a great place in Ontario for wine!

    Reply
    • Hahaha, I can’t say I loved wine when I was in uni the way I do now. But now I really want to travel to all the wine regions across the world and do wine tours! I haven’t gone to Prince Edward County yet but heard the same about their wine region. Perhaps now that I’m back in the country for a while, I have more time to explore.

      Reply
  3. Such a lovely post! I’m a novice at this too so I loved the description..very informative =) I have been to a wine tasting festival in India and and a full winery tour in Santorini and absolutely loved both experiences! Will give this one a shot sometime as well =)

    Reply
    • Thanks for reading! It was my first wine tour so I had no expectations and loved every minute of it. I think it is something I’ll be looking into more when I am on holiday.

      Reply
  4. I love visiting wine regions! I’ve heard the area around Niagara Falls on both the Ontario side and New York side are amazing. I’ll definitely make sure to check out some of the Canadian vineyards when I go to Niagara!

    Reply
    • Have you been to any wine regions you would recommend? Niagara was my first wine tour. I want to explore more of the Ontario wine region as it is quite vast. Niagara-on-the-lake is a beautiful little town. Much nicer than the town just by the falls so make sure you stop in or stay around there instead!

      Reply

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