You Win Some, You Lose Some

A hot summer Sunday with no plans. What better time to pop into a winery, I thought. Since I was in Niagara-on-the-Lake last week, I thought I’d check out something in the Niagara Escarpment region.

I decided on Henry of Pelham Family Estate because, according to their website, they were having live music (Ron Hoover, apparently) from noon to three p.m. and because The Coach House Café, which is run by Chef Erik Peacock, is open.

I got there at about 1 p.m. and parked and didn’t see where the music might be. I stopped in the tasting room and asked and was told there was no music today – it was yesterday. I mentioned that I thought I read it was going to be both Saturday and Sunday. The woman explained that unfortunately, the musicians told them yesterday that they wouldn’t be returning today.

I was very disappointed. I get that it’s not the winery’s fault – and maybe I should have phoned before making the 100+ km drive. But, I figured since it was on their website, I would just be bothering them if I phoned, especially if they’re busy.

Anyway, music or not, I could still enjoy some wine and a bite. So, I ordered a tasting flight. I’ve always loved Henry of Pelham’s Baco Noir so I ended up with a sample of their 2019 Old Vines Baco and their 2019 Spec Family Reserve Baco Noir, in addition to a sample of their Cuvée Catharine Rosé Brut. I told them I wanted to have something at the Café and they graciously brought the flight out to my table.

The Café menu was limited, which is not unusual. I was intrigued by this starter: Nachos, Lobster Queso, Cotija, Pico de Gallo, Avocado Salsa Verde, Lime Crema. I thought perhaps there was a comma missing between “lobster” and “queso” and I asked the server. She explained that it’s not a typo – it’s melted cheese that’s flavoured or infused with lobster. She assured me it didn’t taste fishy and I assured her that wasn’t a concern, as I had hoped there might be actual lobster on the nachos. She said no, but that the lobster queso is pink from the lobster and is very good.

I wasn’t sure about the lobster queso, so I decided to order one of the sandwiches instead. When I said I wanted fries with it, she said that they don’t have fries but that they have potato chips instead. Man – it wasn’t my day…

Rather than a sandwich and chips, I decided that the nachos sounded different enough that I should try them – after all, chefs are quite inventive in ways I’m not. Well, when the bowl arrived it looked interesting, though what I thought was probably the lobster queso was more like Velveeta orange than pink. Sadly, there was nothing that made you even imagine lobster had anything to do with it. The nachos were pretty much ball park nachos in a nice bowl. Very, very disappointing. I thought about ordering something else, but I didn’t have a lot of faith that anything else on the menu would be worth trying and I certainly didn’t want any more disappointments.

No Disappointment with the Wines

Luckily, the wines didn’t disappoint at all. They do a very nice job on their traditional method sparklings and both Bacos were delicious. In the end, the one I enjoyed the most was the 2019 Old Vines Baco. They were out of the 2019 in the wine shop, but I’ve heard the 2020 vintage in Ontario is one of the best, so I brought home some 2020 Old Vines Baco Noir.

All the way home I debated about whether to do a post about my visit today. I try to accentuate the positive, but I’d be lying if I didn’t express some of my disappointment. In the end, I decided to write about my experience today because readers deserve to know that sometimes visits to wineries are not all you’d hope.

Bottom line – Henry of Pelham Family Estate is a lovely spot and worth going to for their wines (if not for the Café or any kind of entertainment that may be scheduled). There’s a lot of history there too, so be sure to walk around and definitely try their Baco Noirs – they are exceptional.

How Ships Get from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie

A visit to the Welland Canal might not be high on your list of sights to see in-and-around Niagara Falls, but I guarantee it’s a side-trip you’ll remember every time you see a ship on Lake Ontario.IMG_1666

A friend and I were returning to Toronto from a day of visiting wineries recently and we were on a back road when traffic ahead was stopped. We soon realized it was because a bridge across the Welland Canal (which is part of the St. Lawrence Seaway) was being raised to allow a Great Lakes freighter through to the nearby lock.

IMG_1669The Canal has eight locks, two of which are accessible to the public – one of them is Lock 3. My friend had never seen a ship go through a lock, so we pulled into the nearby Welland Canals Centre. Having been to the Canals Centre before, I knew it is a terrific place to watch the processes.IMG_1673

Though you can watch the goings on from the side of the lock, a raised observation deck running almost the length of it lets you watch from 20 feet above. You get a bird’s eye view of the process, starting with the massive gate closing behind the ship and then watching the boat float up as the lock fills with water (or disappear down into the lock as the water drains from it). The whole process is amazingly quick, with ships in and out of the lock in about 20 minutes.IMG_1677

From the observation deck you also get a great view of Port Weller, the entrance to the Canal from Lake Ontario. From that vantage point you’re likely to see ships making their way through Locks 1 and 2. During the course of a morning or afternoon it’s not unusual to see two or more ships lifted or lowered through Lock 3.

If you’ve ever seen a ship on Lake Ontario and wondered how it makes its way to Lake Erie, next time you’re headed to the wineries in St. Catharines or Niagara-on-the-Lake, you should stop at the Welland Canals Centre.IMG_1678

2014 Niagara Icewine Festival

If you’ve been housebound this past week because of the arctic blast that’s blanketing much of North America, take heart – the forecast is for milder weather soon. And fortunately, for those who might be anxious to get out and about, the Niagara Icewine Festival kicks off this weekend IMG_0778

The festival, which features wineries from Niagara and Jordan, is a terrific event that’s spread over three weekends: January 11/12, Jan. 18/19 and Jan 25/26. Participating wineries offer food samples that they match with their icewine.

IMG_0775Think block party – ice block, that is. There are ice sculptures and ice bars – and lots of icewine. Just dress warmly and bring a designated driver!

The first weekend centers on Jordan Village. Main Street in the Village becomes an ice sculpture/ice bar pedestrian zone, with numerous Twenty Valley wineries serving.

On the second weekend (Jan. 18/19) the main street in the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake (Queen Street) holds the Niagara-on-the-Lake Icewine Celebrations. This event features similar festivities, with ice bars and food and icewine served with jazz and other entertainment.IMG_0803

The third weekend (Jan. 25/26) the Courthouse and the shops in the historic town of Niagara-on-the-Lake will be pouring wines from local wineries.