Niagara Falls isn't the only thing that's free flowing! Wait till you try the wine!
As the TurnipSeed Travel community knows, I’m passionate about getting great value when I travel – no matter where I go or how I go about it. More often than not, this has meant exploring the best in local food, wine, and products and discovering their superior value over their imported counterparts.
Having recently discovered some amazing cold world wines in my own backyard in Ottawa, I was thrilled to be a part of the TBEX blogger tour to the Niagara Escarpment to discover more fine Ontario wines.
The Henry of Pelham estates ooze the historical oomph you’d expect of a world class winery. Holding the same acreage for several generations is not unusual for Niagara Escarpment farms, but it is for a winery. It feels like over a century of love and toil have soaked into the buildings and seeped into the soil to make a deeper, more complex product.
Proprietor Matthew Speck is in charge of the farm operations here, while other family members take care of the business and marketing. It was under Mathew’s guidance that we sampled 7 of Pelham’s finest wines – including 2 sparkling wines that rival anything I’ve had on New Year’s Eve.
I loved Matthew’s passion for his family’s business and his in depth knowledge of the area. In particular, his passion for sparkling wine had me rethinking why I only ever save it for special occasions. Matthew himself supported this idea, emphasizing its excellent pairing potential and ability to compliment all courses of a meal.
Our tasting experience at the Pelham’s estate was spectacular – we sat dozens of barrels deep in the cellar, casks of wine lining the two story walls, with a grand table lit with candles. We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful setting!
The Irreverent Renegades
Creekside Estate’s motto is “Serious Wine for an Irreverent Bunch” and it’s a motto perfectly fitting for a company that makes an award winning Shiraz (or is that Syrah?) and still manages to have some good humored banter between wine maker Robert and marketing manager Mike.
Their candor about the business of winemaking was frank and refreshing. Those bloggers not from Ontario needed a brief lesson in the role of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) and Robert and Mike were able to present the information in a well-rounded manner.
Creekside has several fine white wines, but it’s their reds – and in particular their award winning Shiraz’s – that struck me as an incredible value. I’m far from a wine expert, but I’ve had several similar wines that cost 5 times the price that weren’t as pleasing as those on offer at the winery.
We were treated to lunch on the beautiful patio and it was a delightful example of food being up the standards of the wine. We watched as homemade hummus and pate, heirloom beet salad, and grilled salmon with asparagus was prepared just 10 feet away at the lovely open air kitchen – a relaxing and entertaining way to cap the visit.
You’d be forgiven for thinking the Rosewood Estates are just another pretty winery as you drive onto their estate and see the rolling fields and tastefully appointed patio. Closer inspection, however, reveals some interesting operations.
Rosewood Estates is more than a winery – it is also a functioning bee keeping operation and these two passions meet in the production of rare regional mead, as smooth and clear as I’ve ever had.
Winemaker Luke spoke about wine as if he were an artist, sculpting layers of flavor out of the vines and grapes, combining science and agriculture with gut instinct and an inventive touch. Rosewood staff member Sonya – a certified chef originally from Italy – is hospitality personified. But I’ll remember Sonya best for her creative culinary skills. By pairing the Rosewood Riesling with crackers spread with goat cheese and lemon zest, I was able to see – really see – for the first time the subtle art of a perfect food and wine pairing.
Norm Beal on Peninsula Ridge knows a thing or two about the rat race. He spent years working the oil industry, seeing the world on a travel schedule that would daunt all but the most hardened travel writer. Searching for a more balanced way of life lead Norm to seek solace and wine in the beauty of Niagara.
Norm is the first to admit that wine making is far from the idyllic career that most of the world imagines it is – something else he shares with travel bloggers. His expansive property, beautifully restored heritage home turned restaurant, and breathtaking wine store are a testament to his hard work and ambition to put Niagara on the world wine map.
Over full glasses of wine and platters of cheese, he is forthright in describing the challenge in convincing an older generation of Canadians to abandon their preconceptions about local wines and stop the automatic reach for French wines when the occasion calls for a special bottle.
Norm was the fourth proprietor to allude to the mixed legacy of the earlier, less refined Niagara wines that continued to blur the region’s reputation. The region’s early growing pains decades earlier – personified by the infamous Baby Duck wine – seems impossible for older residents to disregard. This was a bit of an eye opener for me, as I consider trying new wines and making new discoveries to be quite a treat!
Each of the vineyards had their own unique personality, but they also had several things in common. They placed an absolute emphasis on wine as a means of hospitality and making a product that was good enough to want it often and affordable enough to buy it regularly.
The idea of enjoying a nice glass of wine on an ordinary Wednesday evening was oft mentioned and the relationship between local food, local wine, and building community spirit was frequently stressed. The pressure to act like a wine snob was off and I can say I truly enjoyed myself. I didn’t sample a single wine that I didn’t enjoy; nor was there one I wouldn’t consider to be a great value. This reaffirms my decision to buy local as a means to not only support local growers and producers but also to have the most enjoyable (and delicious!) experience possible.
As always, I welcome and encourage your comments. Have you ever done a winery tour when you've traveled?
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