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.
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.
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 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.
Three girlfriends and I rendezvoused yesterday at Creekside Estate Winery in Jordan. I knew they have a good-size deck (patio) and that the Creekside Kitchen & Grocery was featuring box picnic lunches that you can enjoy on the patio along with a glass of wine (or a flight, as we did). It was hot, but the well-shaded deck made for a relaxing afternoon. I had pre-booked the lunches because we were converging from different places, but clearly other folks took their chances and dropped in.
So – if you’re doing a staycation but you’d like a bit of a change of scene – check out Creekside Estate Winery … a great place to relax and enjoy some summer sipping. The box lunch included a huge sandwich (there were two choices available), two side salads, and a tiny taste of dessert for $18+tax. They also have charcuterie boards available for $32+tax. They serve wine by the glass or pre-set flights of three wines for $15+tax.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Oxley Estate’s current experiment with geotextiles. Murray and Ann Wilson of Oxley had mentioned that in researching the idea they met with – and learned from – a winery in Prince Edward County that has been using them. That winery was Sugarbush Vineyards.
Last week when I was in the County, I stopped in at Sugarbush to speak with Rob and Sally Peck – owners of Sugarbush – about their experience using geotextiles to protect their vines. They’ve been using them since winter 2011-2012. Rob explained that they tried them because they were looking for an alternative way to protect the vines because he doesn’t think burying them – which is standard in the County – is good for the vines or the soil. (Wineries in the County have bene burying their vines for years to protect them from the cold, harsh weather that often moves through Prince Edward County.)
Rob was generous with his time and was kind enough to allow me to video him answering my questions about geotextiles. Click here to see the video.
After the chat about geotextiles we had a tasting of the three remaining wines they have in stock: Viognier, Riesling, and Cab Franc. (They’re running low but Rob assured us that they’ll restock soon – it’s just they’ve not had a chance to do any bottling!) Of the three, we all went home with some 2017 Riesling – it was flinty and refreshing.
Have you ever participated in one of the coordinated passport events wineries run in a particular region? If you haven’t, you should… And if you have – let’s compare notes about it.
The Days of Wine and Chocolate event is currently going on all this month. The marketing folks at the Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake gave me a pair of passports, and a friend and I checked it out on Friday.
Passport programs are brilliantly straightforward. You buy the passport (the pass) and then head to your favourite participating winery – or better yet, one you’ve never tried! At each winery, you get a sample of some nibble and a wine they’ve paired with that delectable bite. The pairings are based on the theme – in the case of the Days of Wine and Chocolate you can guess what the theme is….
Planning Your Day?
Because I invited my friend, I felt responsible for planning our day a bit. I know my friend didn’t care – she looked at it as just a great way to spend some time together, which is another great excuse to order up a couple passports!
So, I decided to frame our day around a few specifics – a few specific pairings that intrigued me and a few wineries that I was especially interested in visiting. First, I wanted to stop in at The Hare Wine Company – it’s a brand new winery on Old Stone Road. I also planned on stopping in at Konzelmann Estate Winery – I thought it would be interesting to compare a brand new winery (Hare) with one of the original wineries of the area (Konzelmann). I also wanted to stop in at Lailey – it changed hands last year and I wanted to learn a bit more about their plans going forward.
I also had the list of what each winery was serving and I had marked some that I thought might be especially interesting. One of the impressive things about the Days of Wine and Chocolate theme is how creative the wineries are with incorporating chocolate into different food. For example, cocoa aioli on a smoked meat sandwich, chocolate drizzled popcorn, a dark chocolate and bacon brownie, dark chocolate mole sauce.
The Hare Wine Company
The Hare Wine Company has only been open about three months. I had perused their website before we left and it had a lot of interesting information about the loyalist history. But, you never get a sense of what the winery is aiming to be from a website – you need to see it in person to get that.
Sommelier and assistant cellar master Alina Trefry was excited to tell us about the winery and their plans. I had passed it before and was amazed at its size – not exactly a roadside stand. Alina explained the architecture and how well planned it is – everything from space to let food trucks into the courtyard, to the fact that the displays are all on wheels so they can move them around for different events and weddings and such. Here’s a short video of Alina talking a bit about the winery.
I had read that the building is crafted from re-claimed building materials and Alina confirmed that. As well, someone had given me a heads-up about one of the unique side rooms, so I asked about it. Indeed, they have a private tasting room off the main hall whose walls are made of old barrels. If you visit the winery and they aren’t too busy, ask if you can see it – the three dimensional effect is very neat!
They have 12 acres under vine: half are planted with Riesling and half with Vidal. They also locally source other grapes. They have four different series of wines in different price ranges – from their Jack Rabbit series ($14-$16 range) to their Noble series, which currently features a $120 Cab Franc appassimento blend. Here’s a short video of Alina describing the Noble series.
For Days of Wine and Chocolate they were serving the 2013 Crown Land Red with Ecuadorian bitter dark chocolate with freeze-dried strawberries. To be honest – when we read the description, it didn’t appeal to me OR my friend. But, we were there and it would have been rude to turn it down.
Well, what a delicious surprise. The chocolate and the Cab Franc were Delicious. Alina said the chocolate was made for them by a local chocolatier and, it featured a dusting of raspberry powder n addition to the freeze-dried strawberries. The whole thing – the chocolate and wine – creates an explosion of sweet and tart. I was hoping the chocolate was available for purchase at the winery, but it wasn’t. But, Alina was happy to share that it came from Willow Cakes and Pastries (Mary and Mississauga Streets in Niagara-on-the-Lake).
Our last stop of the day was Lailey Winery. As I mentioned, I knew that the winery, which used to be called Lailey Vineyard, has changed hands. The new owners are John Chang and Allison Lu. Besides the subtle name change, the first thing you notice that’s different is the totems – there’s one outside and one inside. The new owners also own wineries in BC and, as the woman who served us explained, the totems are meant to greet visitors and as a connection to the new owners’ ties to BC.
The other immediately noticeable difference is that the tasting room has tripled in size. When I mentioned that, our server explained it’s because they now get a lot of buses and it’s easier to accommodate groups.
Owner Allison has taken over the winemaking. (Derek Barnett is now working out of Karlo Estates in Prince Edward County.) Many of the wines on the shelves – including the 2013 Sauvignon Blanc Fume that was featured in the Days of Wine and Chocolate pairing – are vintages that were crafted by Barnett.
Despite the reference to fume in the name, I didn’t pick up much smokiness in the Sauvignon Blanc. They paired it with a petite lemon tart that was to die for! Again, I asked who made the tarts and I was told they sourced it from the Watering Can in Vineland (3711 King Street) – definitely a café that would be worth checking out.
It will be interesting to watch how Lailey Winery will change. Rumour has it that they’ll focus primarily on icewine and that much of their production will be for export. We’ll see… Meanwhile, for the many folks who loved what Derek produced, stop in to stock up before it’s all gone.
The only other pre-planning I had done was finding a place for lunch. I had a short list of places I had wanted to try. One of them was The Old Winery Restaurant on Niagara Stone Road. When I happened to ask someone at Konzelmann for lunch suggestions, he mentioned that one. So, that’s where we went. The menu’s diverse, the prices reasonable and the food and service were good. In short – it’s a place I feel confident recommending.
I’ll be heading down to NOL again for Days of Wine and Chocolate, and so stay tuned. Oh – and watch for a separate post about Konzelmann – we did their Junk Food Pairing tasting, which was great!
Over the past 18 months, I had heard rumours about a new winery in Mono – a “non-traditional” area for a winery. Among the news tidbits about the winery, I remembered reading that Jonas Newman of Hinterland Winery in Prince Edward County was somehow involved. Earlier this summer I found out it’s called Adamo Estate Winery and so I contacted them to see if they were open to the public. They said they’d be opening in September.
So, last Friday was a beautiful day for a drive in the country and a friend was game to head to Mono. Before we left, I phoned the number on the winery’s website to find out if they were open. I was surprised when they answered as “Hockley Valley Resort”. That was unexpected – I had no idea there was a connection between Hockley Valley Resort (a ski/golf destination) and the winery.
Mono is about an hour north of Toronto, near Orangeville, and we were there in about an hour. The winery is on 3rd Line, just up the road from the resort. I was quite surprised by the huge, attractive structure that houses the winery. Because it’s so new, I was expecting something more on a start-up scale.
We headed through the welcoming red doors and were wowed by the gorgeous high-ceilinged tasting room and bar area. We were immediately welcomed by JP Adamo, one of the owners of the winery.
JP was happy to tell us about the winery. They have 20 acres under vine and are increasing that in the near future. They primarily grow Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but they also have some Riesling, Vidal, Merlot, Gamay, and Chardonnay Musque. When I said I was surprised that they aren’t focused on hybrids that are less susceptible to cold (they’re next to a ski resort, for heaven sake!), much less that they are growing Merlot, he explained that – like the wineries in Prince Edward County – they bury the vines. (One of the things they turned to Jonas for experience about, no doubt!)
I had hoped to meet their winemaker, Shauna White, but she was not at the winery that day – she was down in Niagara overlooking the harvest of some grapes that they get from other vineyards. They plan on producing small batches of estate wines, which means consumers have the opportunity to judge for themselves the impact of the different terroir.
Though it’s always tempting to taste a variety of different wines – especially at a winery you’ve never been to – we opted for a Chardonnay flight and a tasting of two Pinot Noirs. All the wines were very good. Of the Chardonnay, I especially liked the 2011 Sogno (which apparently means dream in Italian) un-oaked Chardonnay.
Both 2014 Pinots were quite nice, though we both had a mild preference for the Lowrey (from the St. David’s Bench area of Niagara-on-the-Lake) over the Parke (from the 20 Mile Bench area). Indeed, if you’ve ever had any of the Wes Lowrey’s Five Rows Craft Wines, the similarities are amazing.
Adamo Estate Winery is a terrific addition to the Ontario wine scene. If you’re the type who likes to drive through rolling hills – maybe to take in the fall colours – it’s a great destination. It’s off to a spectacular start and it’s definitely a place to enjoy now – and likely long into the future.
JP Adamo was kind enough to let us shoot a short video of him describing the winery. You can find the video here.
I love Prince Edward County but I’ve always wondered what it’s like in the “off season”. So my sister and I decided to enjoy a few days rest and relaxation on Dec. 22 and 23 with a visit to the County.
Of course, our first stop was a winery — we stopped in at Hinterland Wine Company to see what’s “brewing”. You see, I had heard that owners Vicki Samaras and Jonas Newman didn’t have enough to do (they also have an interest in a winery in Greece!) so they are starting to make craft beer. The brewery, which hasn’t officially opened yet, will be called County Road 33 Beer Co. Unfortunately we just missed Vicki and Jonas — but next time I’m in the county, I’m sure the brewery will be open and hopefully they’ll show us around and tell us what inspired the new venture.
From there we stopped in at Sandbanks Estate Winery. The colourful Muskoka chairs, which I always think are so welcoming in the summer, added colour to an otherwise grey December day. There we did a horizontal tasting of Baco Noir, which was fun. We also discovered one of my new favourites — their Baco Noir Reserve.
We stopped in Wellington and Bloomfield for a bit of browsing. In Wellington we enjoyed SideStreet Gallery, and had a pleasant conversation with owner Paulette Greer.
In Bloomfield we were quite surprised at how HUGE Green Gables Gifts and Greetings. The welcoming front of the building makes you think you’re walking into a quaint little shop. But as you make your way from room to room, you realize it’s a quaint BIG store with lots to look at and tempt you.
If you’re peckish, as we were, I suggest you stop in at Saylor House Cafe. We didn’t want lunch, per se, just some tea and something sweet. The most tempting sweet was a frosted number that looked like a carrot cake. When I asked about it, I was told it was a Hummingbird Cake. Not too helpful a description, I thought. When I made a face, the owner smiled and explained that it’s name coconut banana cake that gets its name from the fact that those who eat it end up humming with joy. Well, with that explanation — how could we not try it! Trust me, it was worth its name.
We also made it out to Waupoos Winery because I wanted to show my sister the different fruit trees that they grow — things you wouldn’t expect to find in Ontario — like lemons. To my sadness, the trees were gone. Thinking that maybe I had imagined that from earlier visits, I asked. Turns out, they take the trees in during the winter. (That explains it!) Across the street from the winery we had noticed a grove of apple trees with the red gems still on. My guess was that they were left for pressing in winter after they’re frozen. Indeed, that’s the case — they’re hoping to make an iced cider.
Since it was the holidays, we decided to go first class and stay at the Claramount Inn. Turned out to be a great choice. The spa was open, as was the indoor pool, not to mention Clara’s Restaurant. The view of Picton Harbour was terrific — definitely a place to return to.
Picton was buzzing with last-minute shoppers. We promised ourselves we wouldn’t shop too much, but we couldn’t resist the shops. We especially loved the UnGallery and Arts on Main. One of the especially noteworthy things that reinforced my warm feelings for The County is the fact that the day we were there (Dec. 23rd) parking on Main Street in Picton was free, with any money put into the parking meters going to the local food bank! (One of the rare times I didn’t mind paying for parking!) What a terrific idea, eh?
This trip was more balanced than my usual trip to The County because we took more time to enjoy the different things there are to do — from wine to food to arts and hospitality. Truthfully, it only made me love The County more!
Post Script: , we didn’t have a chance to stop at Karlo Estates, but I hear that Derek Barnett, formerly of Lailey Estates, has taken over as winemaker at Karlo.
Traynor Family Vineyard is one of the newest wineries in Prince Edward County – they opened in September 2014. When we stopped there in June they had a big crowd for their Open House and folks were enjoying the live music.
They also had something I’d never seen – a Tesla Charging Station.
I spoke with Donna Traynor (mother of owner/winemaker Mike Traynor) and she wasn’t quite sure how Mike convinced the Tesla folks to put them in – but it’s a terrific idea – especially if you’re out and about in PEC and you find your Tesla could use a charge.
Even if you don’t have a Tesla, it’s worth a look, so why not stop in this long weekend. Picnickers are welcome and the Traynor family (Mike and his wife Rebecca) would be happy to help you choose the right wine for you to enjoy there or to take home.
In June when I was in Prince Edward County I stopped at some old favourites and some that I hadn’t been to before — including Broken Stone Winery and Hubbs Creek Vineyard. At both I was lucky enough to catch the winemaker/owners who were gracious enough to speak on video.
I never go to markets with much of a shopping list. Instead, I like to be inspired by what’s in season and on offer. Well, today it was garlic scapes, fresh onions, and my favourite – sea asparagus!
The other thing on offer at the Brickworks and many other farmers’ markets is Ontario wines. This morning there was a wealth of wines to choose from too, with Cave Spring Cellars, Southbrook Vineyards, Malivoire Wine, Tawse Winery and Sratus all on hand.
Eating and drinking local tonight! Hope you are too…
The 20th Niagara Icewine Festival is kicking off this weekend with the Xerox Icewine Gala on Friday, Jan. 9, 2015 at the Fallsview Casino Resort. If you didn’t get your fill of fine wine and food over the holidays – or perhaps you just want one more reason to show off your holiday dress up clothes – the gala is for you. It’s a bit pricey ($185+HST) but the VQA wine – icewine and table – is flowing, and the food chefs from the casino’s finest restos are sure to serve up lots of fine foods.
If the gala isn’t in your price range or your style, don’t worry. The Icewine Festival goes on for three weekends throughout the Niagara Region with a variety of events.
My personal festival favourite is the Twenty Valley Icewine Celebrations this weekend in Jordan Village. Main Street in the village becomes a winter wonderland of ice sculptures and ice bars, with more than 30 wineries pouring their luscious Ontario special nectar: icewine (and some other wines, including bubblies). A number of local chefs also brave the cold and serve up their delectable. This year Chef Michal Smith will be on hand doing cooking demos on Sunday. There’s also free entertainment and cozy fires – trust me, you won’t even notice the cold!
Chef Smith will also be hosting a dinner Saturday in the Windows Room and an Icewine Sparkling Brunch at On the Twenty Restaurant. Check on-line for tickets for these events.
The second weekend and third weekends (Jan. 17-18 and Jan. 24-25, 2015) the party moves to the downtown area (Queen Street) of Niagara-on-the-Lake. The format is similar, with the 26 Niagara-on-the-Lake wineries pouring their icewine, and Signature Kitchen Chef showing off their skills. There will also be an icewine cocktail competition on Saturday night (Jan. 17th).
Discovery Pass Program at the Wineries
Beside the streetscape events in Jordan Village and Niagara-on-the-Lake, 37 wineries (19 in the Niagara-on-the-Lake region and 17 in the Twenty Valley) are participating in a Discovery Pass Program ($40+HST/Designated Driver Passes are $30+HST) that features wine and food pairings.
Because the festival is just days away, at this point, the Discovery Passes are only now only available at the wineries. (My experience is that the wineries are only allotted a limited number, so I suggest you head out fairly early and get a pass sooner rather than later!)