Good Earth Vineyard & Winery made our Monday!

When a friend phoned me yesterday to see if I wanted to take a drive toward Niagara to have lunch at a winery, my first reaction was: SURE! Of course, I knew he expected me to figure out where we’d go.

My mind went into overdrive, thinking about which wineries between Toronto and Niagara-on-the-Lake have restaurants. A few popped into my head immediately, and I went to their websites to check hours and see if they expect you to make a reservation. 

After checking three or four, I realized that it was a Monday – a day that many restaurants – not just those located at wineries – are closed. The Good Earth Bistro at Good Earth Vineyard & Winery, however, appeared to be open. I say “appeared” to be because they didn’t answer their phone, which I found a bit disconcerting.

On their website I was able to book a reservation (through OpenTable) and so my friend picked me up and we headed there. (Not to harp on the phone thing, but their website makes it clear that they hold reservations for 15 minutes only – which is completely understandable – and they ask that you phone if you’re running late. Well, if they don’t answer their phone, what’s a person to do? Anyway… we got there 10 minutes after our appointed reservation time and it was no problem.)

In line with Ontario’s Covid restrictions, they’ve moved all of their dining outside. They’ve been very creative using their space and so we had our choice between covered and uncovered. We chose a bright table adjacent to the garden that overlooks the vines. On looking around, my friend commented about how busy it was – but then they are one of the few restaurants serving on a Monday.

The menu had an interesting variety of options – some Asian-inspired and some traditional bistro fare, with some seasonal features and gourmet twists. One such twist caught my eye and proved irresistible to me and my friend: Steak Frites with truffle parmesan aioli. The medium steak was cooked to perfection and the frites with the aioli were to die for. We also shared the Panzanella salad, as you don’t find that on menus too often.

I am not a huge rosé fan – partly because they vary so much. But, when the server assured me the Aria Sparkling Rosé was dry, I decided to give it a try. I was surprised by both the fact they serve it in a stemless wine glass and by how delicious it was. I believe the server said it is a pinot noir/pinot grigio blend. My second glass (I wasn’t driving) confirmed how much I liked it and that I’d be taking a bottle to enjoy some summer afternoon at home.

I hadn’t been to Good Earth for a long time – too long, I realize. It’s definitely a place I’ll return to and a place I’d recommend to anyone looking for an Ontario winery to spend an afternoon over a glass of wine and a bite to eat – even on a Monday!

When in Stuck in Traffic … Get Off the Highway and Enjoy!

Sunday a friend and I headed to Niagara-on-the-Lake for Sip & Sizzle. It was a beautiful day and I had the list of participating wineries and a bit of a plan about which we might stop at.

My friend picked me up at 11:30 and we headed out. From here it normally takes just under an hour to get to the NOL region. A few exits after we hopped on the expressway, we saw a sign warning of slow traffic. My friend’s GPS traffic monitor concurred – but we continued on, thinking that it was just some minor slow-down. After all – it was a Sunday afternoon. Well, traffic didn’t let up. If anything, it increased – a lot – the further we went.

As we crawled along, I suggested that we alter our plan and instead of going to NOL, we hit some of the wineries that are closer to Toronto. My friend didn’t really realize that there are wineries en route to NOL, so he was fine with my suggestion.

Ridge Road Estate Winery  IMG_2251We got off the QEW (the main highway) at Fifty Road. We follow the wonderfully curvy road (lots of hairpin turns – it’s one of the routes ideal for motorcycles, though I should warn you that it’s a bit of a rough road) to the top of the Escarpment to Ridge Road Estate Winery. (Look for their signs and you’ll find it no problem.)

It’s a lovely spot, high up on the top of the Escarpment. They had a $3 Flight & Bite sample. The flight included their 2013 Intersection, which is a Viognier-Chardonnay blend paired with a rosemary shortbread, their 2014 Riesling, paired with aged cheddar on a rice cracker, and their 2011 Call Me a Cab, which is red blend. It was the perfect way to de-stress after two hours (YES, 2 hours!!) in the car.IMG_2900

From there we headed back down the hill to Highway 8 (that’s the road that curves along the bottom of the escarpment – it’s lovely) to a Leaning Post Wines. Ilya Senchuk and his wife Nadia just opened last summer. They were hosting a wedding celebration in a tent out back – but they tasting room was open and Ilya and Ryan were pouring and happy to tell us about their wines.

IMG_2903 The Senchuks have planted their own grapes, but they’ve been a virtual winery for a while with grapes from other vineyards. One of the things I loved about their wines is that they specify which vineyard they sourced the wines from. We tried two of their whites – both of which are from the Foxcroft vineyard: their 2013 Riesling and The Fifty, which Ryan described as an “unoaked, oaked Chardonnay”.

IMG_2912They also had three Pinot Noirs – a 2011 and 2012 from grapes from the Lowrey Vineyard (the vineyard tended by Wes Lowrey of Five Rows Craft Wine) and a 2012 from McNally Vineyard. The opportunity to taste the same variety from different years and different vineyards is a great treat! It is very interesting to taste the two Lowrey’s from different years (2012 being the more spectacular year in Niagara) and then compare it to the 2012 McNally. The McNally was our favourite and my friend brought home a bottle (I didn’t drop any hints about sharing it with me sometime… but I’ve got my fingers crossed). I left with a bottle of The Fifty, which I’m putting away for an afternoon with some other friends who I think will really enjoy it.IMG_2911

From there we continued along Hwy 8 to Peninsula Ridge. We were hoping that their restaurant was still serving – but they had stopped serving brunch at 3 and we were there closer to 4. We did, however, try some wines and, though I was very disappointed with their 2008 Fume Blanc, we loved their 2012 Syrah and my friend took some of that home too. After that, since it was already late, we called it a day and headed home.IMG_2918



Driving home I realized that despite the fact that the traffic was horrendous and we didn’t make it to our originally planned destination – we had a terrific day. In fact, the day really was the epitome of what exploring Ontario wine country is all about: getting off the main roads and following the signs and simply stopping in at a few wineries and trying the wines!

The Upper Portion of the Beamsville Bench Vineyard Trail

In July a friend and I set off on the Beamsville Bench Vineyard Trail but it was so hot, we only completed the “Lower Loop”. (See my July 20, 2013 blog post about it.)

IMG_1015So, a few weeks ago, on a glorious autumn weekend I set out to walk the “Upper Loop”, which isn’t a loop per se. According to the trail map, the upper portion includes Hidden Bench Vineyards & Winery, The Organized Crime Winery, and Fielding Estates Winery.

I decided to start at the top, so I parked at Fielding Estates. It so happened that weekend was one of the Niagara Wine Festival weekends, so the place was hopping, which is always nice to see. Fielding sits high atop the crest of a hill and from the top looking down toward the vines I easily spotted the unmistakeable yellow diamond Vineyard Trail marker and I headed toward it.

Once I hit Locust Lane I couldn’t see any trail markers on The Organize Crime Winery’s property. So, rather than roaming through the rows of vines I decided to stick to the road. I figured if I didn’t see a trail sign, eventually I’d end up at Hidden Bench’s main driveway, which is what happened.IMG_1000

Hidden Bench was a beehive of activity, with about a half dozen folks sorting just picked grapes. It was fun watching them and knowing that the grapes were full of the summer sunshine and that before long the summer’s work would pay off in the form of the next vintage.

I popped into the tasting boutique to see what was going on and to find out where I went wrong on the Vineyard Trail. It turns out the reason I didn’t see any trail signs from Fielding Estates to The Organized Crime Winery was because they had been taken down. Apparently The Organized Crime Winery has decided to pull out from the trail, leaving a bit of a gap.

IMG_1003Since I had left the car at Fielding Estates, I asked at Hidden Bench if the trail continued back through their vineyard toward Fielding. I was told that it does, but because they were picking that day, they didn’t want visitors walking around back there. So, they directed me across a different (un-marked) part of their property and, though I was frustrated, I went the way I was told to.

I found it frustrating that none of the information about the trail indicates that they don’t want people on it at what seems like the best time of year – the autumn.  Perhaps they’ll make that a bit clearer so that folks visiting can plan accordingly.

Beamsville Bench Vineyard Trail

IMG_0702Yesterday — one of the hottest days of the summer — a friend and I set out to walk the new Beamsville Bench Vineyard Trail. The trail, which was funded by the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation and the Beamsville Bench Winery Association, opened June 1, 2013. The trail has two distinct segments that join six Beamsville wineries. The “Lower Loop” is a very easy walk that joins Rosewood Estates Winery & Meadery, Angels Gate Winery, and Thirty Bench Wine Makers. The trail is very well marked and this particular loop takes you directly through the rows of vines. It’s a terrific way of getting a close-up look at the trellising systems, the vines and, of course, the grapes.

You can leave your car at any of the wineries and you can also pick up a trail map at all of them. We started at Rosewood and when we set out we looked at our watch to see how long it might take to hike the loop. Of course, as soon as we got to Thirty Bench we popped in — to cool off — and to try some of their newly released Riesling and Rose — and to shop a bit.

After that, we headed back out to the trail and forgot to look at our watch. But, the Lower Loop is a pretty walk and really, the point of the trail isn’t so much about hiking, it’s about stopping in at the different wineries for tasting, buying, and enjoying!IMG_0701

Because it was so hot, we decided we’d leave the Upper Loop (which includes Hidden Bench Vineyards & Winery, The Organized Crime Winery, and Fielding Estates Winery) to another day. (I’m thinking it’d be especially lovely in the fall…)

In addition to the two “loops” of the trail, there are also two side portions — the Angels’ Walk Side Trail and the Bruce Trail Side Trail, which we’ll no-doubt check out too.