Wine event eclipsed by mother nature           

Totality meets wine country Ontario – that could be the alternative title to this post.

I live in Toronto and I wasn’t overly excited about the idea of the eclipse. At least, not until I got an email from Cave Spring Vineyard in early March about the Solarbration they were having at their Vineyard Tasting Room.

I’m on a lot of winery mailing lists and Cave Spring’s announcement was the first to hit my inbox – and it sounded like fun: a box lunch catered by RPM Bakehouse (one of my favourite cafés in Jordan Village), a glass of wine, a pair of eclipse glasses (for viewing, not of the drinking kind) and live music. As soon as I got the announcement, I asked a friend who agreed that it sounded fun, and I booked two tickets.

The Niagara region had pre-emptively declared a state of emergency – but that was mainly to help with crowd control right at the Falls. Cave Spring’s Vineyard Tasting Room is in Beamsville and it’s up on the ridge of the escarpment, so fewer crowds than going directly into Niagara Falls.

We figured it might take a couple hours to get there, but traffic wasn’t much worse than normal. And, when we were in Beamsville a bit earlier than expected, we stopped in at another nearby winery first. They were busy for a Monday morning and it was fun to hear others talking about where they were headed to view the eclipse. One couple I knew from wine events said they were headed to Sue Ann Staff (a bit further along) and another couple behind me were talking about Cave Spring’s event. It was fun to know others would be enjoying the region – eclipse or not. (It turns out many of the main Ontario wine regions were in the path of totality and there were winery events – formal and informal – at many.)

Cave Spring’s Vineyard Tasting Room is a beautiful glass building with a nice patio. Because March weather is unpredictable, they set up dining tables inside the building. They had limited the number of people and they did a lovely job – name cards and everything! It turns out indoor dining was a good idea, as it was quite overcast and cooler than I expected.

After lunch we headed out to the patio. As I said – it was quite overcast but there were a few blue patches far off – so most of us just hoped that the blue skies might head our way in time. It took a few minutes to figure out where the sun might be (behind the clouds). I was looking more toward the horizon toward the south west. Thankfully others were looking more up, and soon I too located the elusive sun. It was so cloudy that regular sunglasses were sufficient for the first bit – when the moon shadow made the sun look like a crescent.

Every now and then we’d try the eclipse glasses and as the clouds moved, you could see a snatch of the sun and moon. I had NO idea how dark the eclipse glasses were. Unless the sun was visible through the clouds, you would swear the glasses were opaque! But, we kept watching through them – and hoping… And, low and behold, as totality occurred, the cloud cover thinned enough that we could see exactly what we came to – the bright ring of the sun glowing behind the full moon. We were a small crowd, but you couldn’t help but clap – at the sight and at the good fortune that the clouds moved just at the right time.

Because of the clouds, the day was pretty dark to begin with. I think it made it even more surprising that we noticed how much darker it got during totality. And because I had read something about looking at the horizon looking behind you, I did turn my head (toward the north) and it looked like day break. I snapped a quick photo of that (quite unfocused) – just to remember what it looked like.

Anyway – though I’ve never had anything less than a good time at an Ontario winery – this was clearly a once-in-a-lifetime highlight. Mother nature deserves the credit, but a big thank you – and well done – goes to Cave Spring Vineyard for hosting a great event!

Winter Flights in Niagara

Though we were unsure what the roads might be like after the snowstorm that swept through on Friday night to Saturday morning, a friend and I had tickets to Mahabharata at the Shaw Festival so we headed out extra early yesterday. The roads had been cleared beautifully – and traffic was almost non-existent, but best of all, the sun shone.

We had planning on stopping by a couple wineries and we were able to stick to the plan. The snow was so fresh I couldn’t resist stopping for a quick photo of Peninsula Ridge, as it looked particularly beautiful.

We continued on to Redstone Winery where we shared a flight.

Enomatic at work at Redstone

Then on to Domaine Queylus where we shared a flight of four plus a few more. It’s been a long time since I stopped at Domaine Queylus and I can’t tell you how impressed we were with all the wines we tried – hats off to winemaker Kelly Mason.

I was also impressed that they have a menu with some light fare that you can enjoy while there. Friends often ask me for recommendations of Niagara region wineries and after our experience yesterday, I’m definitely adding Domaine Queylus to my list of must-try wineries.

Always a good idea to stop in…

A cousin who lives in the States was bringing an Italian visitor to the Falls and so we decided to meet in Niagara-on-the-Lake for dinner.

Yesterday was a beautiful – HOT – summer day and so I left Toronto a bit early to enjoy the drive and to pop into a couple of wineries. My main stop was Redstone Winery because I wanted to try their Bistro Riesling 2019, Niagara Peninsula – it was one of the Platinum award winners in the 2022 National Wine Awards of Canada. It isn’t available at the LCBO, and at a very reasonable $14.95, I thought it was worth a stop.

Redstone Winery’s Inviting Patio

I’ve been to Redstone Winery before – but it’s been a few years, and I’ve never been there in the height of summer. What a difference sunshine makes. I parked in the side lot, figuring I’d walk around to the front, where the tasting room is. But, the expansive back patio drew me in. It was lovely! I didn’t have time to stop for a bite, but it’s now high on my list to return to for an al fresco lunch.

The Bistro Riesling didn’t disappoint. It’s dry and minerally – my ideal Ontario Riesling. During Covid I had been enjoying Tawse Riesling 2019, Niagara Peninsula, which was a Gold medal winner in the same wine awards that the Redstone Bistro Riesling won Platinum. Given that Tawse and Redstone are sister wineries – and the Tawse Riesling I like is sold out – I needed to find another reasonable Riesling. The Redstone Bistro fit the bill perfectly.

The other stop I wanted to make was to Cave Spring’s new Vineyard Tasting Room. For those of us who associate Cave Spring with Jordan Village, seeing arrows for Cave Spring on King Street that point UP a narrow road to the top of the Escarpment was confusing. But, always game to explore – and not daunted by a sign that says “no exit” (you can always turn around, after all), I drove up the road.

Cave Spring’s Vineyard Tasting Room

SO glad I did. At the top was what I was looking for – a brand new, huge, two-story see-through building surrounded by a beautiful vineyard-facing patio. The building has been open for a couple weeks, but they’re still putting some of the final touches on it. Regardless, the tasting bar is functioning, so I decided to try a few of their Rieslings. Their Riesling Dolomite has always been one of my favourites and since it’s not sold at the LCBO, I couldn’t leave without a bottle.

Cave Spring’s See-through Tasting Room’s Panoramic View

Cave Spring still has its tasting room in Jordan Village – that’s where they do their processing. But this vineyard-side spot will serve them well. It would be lovely to pass an hour or two with some wine and a nibble – either a charcuterie board or a dip and chip option. Again, another place I look forward to going back to when I have more time.

Though my winery visits were brief yesterday, it was nice to become reacquainted with the area. It was also a good reminder of how lucky we are to be so near such lovely spots.

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.