I hope you’re all having a good winter so far. I can’t believe January is almost over. Good thing ’cause I’m getting sick of winter already (as I often do by mid-January). So I’m trying to distract myself by planning my spring road trips, but it’s not really helping much (there’s still too much cold and snow…can you tell I love winter?). I’m even more eager to hit the road because I haven’t gone on a big road trip since the fall!! Crazy, I know. I’m clearly slipping in my road trippin’ duties.
So here’s a fun road trip I took to Niagara-on-the-Lake a few years ago. If you like wineries you will LOVE this place. If you’ve never been to Niagara, hopefully reading more about it will inspire you to visit this beautiful town. Maybe even this spring.
And even if you’re not a big wine lover, the scenery alone is worth the visit!
It may not come to much of a surprise to those who know me that I love to
whine wine and dine. And although I’ve been to Niagara Falls a couple of times over the years, I’ve never actually been to Niagara-on-the-Lake. Since it’s just down the road from the Falls, there’s really no excuse. It was about time I rectified this.
So, on a beautiful warm spring weekend in May my friend Al and I decided to take a little road trip. It was also my birthday so Al thought it’d be fun to celebrate it somewhere exciting. It’s no Vegas, I know, but at least I’ve already been to Sin city so I’ve already done my share of sinning.
The Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake is located in Southwestern Ontario, an hour (or so) from Toronto. It’s about a 5 or 6 hour road trip from Ottawa, so still close enough for a short weekend road trip for us (we had an extra day off, so that helped).
As luck would have it, there was a big Wine Festival going on around then too. Great timing! Especially considering this was an unplanned and fairly last-minute trip. Woo hoo!
Every weekend in May the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake holds a ‘Wine & Herb Fest’ where you get wine and food samples at all the wineries in the area. Now this sounded like a fun way to celebrate turning 25! (Um, again…)
When we got to Niagara, we spent the first day at the Falls doing the typical touristy things–like checking out the falls, which probably goes without saying. And before you even ask, I did NOT go over the falls in a barrel. I’m not that crazy…believe it or not (maybe next time).
We also checked out the Butterfly Conservatory which was spectacular (I’ll post about Niagara Falls on here soon, too). The only disappointment was that I didn’t see Clark Kent or Louis Lane hanging around the Falls. Guess I needed to go to the American side or maybe they were at the Honeymoon Hotel (oops, that’s the Superman geek in me leaking out).
The next morning we checked out of the motel we were staying at down the road from the Falls, grabbed a quick breakfast and then we were on our way to the ‘lake’, which is just a few miles down the road from Niagara Falls.
The highway to Niagara-on-the-lake is very scenic as you drive along lake Ontario. In just a few minutes we were meandering through beautiful wine country. Then I started getting very thirsty (hey, it was hot! and sunny!).
After driving along the beautiful Lake Ontario (Niagara Falls is located where Lake Ontario meets the Niagara River) we arrived on the main street of Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Turns out that Spring is the perfect time to visit this town as there aren’t too many crowds yet and all of the cherry blossoms and other flowers are in full bloom. The town’s main street is already very beautiful, but all the colours make it look so vibrant.
The Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake is a well-preserved 19th century village with a big selection of little heritage inns, a few nice restaurants & pubs and a bunch of unique shops scattered along the main drag. And more importantly, it’s the heart of Ontario’s wine region. Yes!! We were here and ready to sip.
For those who love theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake is also home to the Shaw Festival- a world-class theatre festival. While I don’t mind the odd play, wine and food are definitely the bigger draws for me, personally. But I’d love to catch a show sometime when I’m here for a bit longer.
We roamed around the town soaking in the beautiful sunshine. It was the first warm weekend of the season so we wanted to be outside as much as possible. But we did check out a few of the shops briefly.
Al is pretty much game for anything, so he didn’t mind popping into a few of the stores with me. I think he enjoyed the food ones, particularly, as I lost him for a little while. I was just starting to wonder if he was hiding or he had ditched me (I wouldn’t put either of these past him) ’til I finally found him at the back of one of the food shops sampling some local fruity jams with crackers.
After a bit of wandering, we grabbed a coffee and decided it was time to see the vineyards (priorities, of course!).
First on the tour is Sunnybrook Farm Estate. If you enjoy fruity wines, this is a must-stop on the winery tour.
Sunnybrook opened in 1993 and is considered Canada’s first original fruit winery. It’s also the only winery in the Niagara area that specializes in wine made from tree fruits and berries. Their hard ciders are extremely delicious, as is their berry-flavoured wines.
When I took a sip of their strawberry wine it tasted just like I’d just bit into a piece of fresh strawberry pie. Sooooo delicious! I also loved their pear and blueberry wines. Since I couldn’t decide which one to buy, I just got one of each (it was the start of summer patio season, after all).
Somehow Al pulled me away from the fruity wines and we were soon on our way to our next stop: Konzelmann Winery.
I loved the main building of this winery, it reminded me of a castle in England. The stone work is just beautiful.
They don’t let just anyone into their tasting shop either. Apparently the video camera spotted Al approaching and the doors automatically locked before he got there. Can’t say I’m too surprised. He is a bit of a trouble-maker…
When we finally got into the building (well I did, anyway) I thoroughly enjoyed a few samples of their wines. We were then told we could take a walk around the vineyard to check it out.
The view from the vineyard is absolutely breathtaking. I wonder if anyone would notice if I set up my tent right here in the middle of the vineyard? Hmmmnn….
I love the grounds here at this winery. It has a ranch-like feel and it’s quite spread out so it feels like you’re in a bit of a wine village (my kinda village). We opted to do the tour here, which was a lot of fun.
After the tour, it was time to sample the goods. And we got to test their offerings outdoors in the beautiful sunshine…even better! Most of the tasting rooms of the wineries we have visited so far were indoors but then again we did a tour so that might make a difference.
Al then decided that we needed a photo of me beside all the barrels. In a comical attempt to make me look like a lush, I presume. So I pretended they were all mine and we were taking them home with us! If only they’d fit in my truck (first world problems, I know).
We then moved on to Strewn: a winery AND cooking school. Now this is right up my alley. If we were here a little longer I’d love to take one of their classes. If you enjoy cooking (or want to learn more) here’s a bit of info on this place if you’re heading to Niagara.
When we walked inside we were immediately given a sample of their Riesling and a delicious herb & cheese scone that was so small I could have eaten 6 more of them (cursed sample sizes!!). Al considered grabbing the tray of scones when the wine lady wasn’t looking but he wasn’t successful in the end. They were guarding them as if they were blocks of gold bouillon. Sure they were tasty, but it’s not like they were chocolate. Geesh! (ha ha).
And we’re off again.
We meandered down the road and found ourselves at Stratus, a lovely place that we thought looked more like an art gallery than a winery.
The samples here (along with the wine) was a spoonful of Creme Brulee (and it really was served on a spoon) so Al was a very happy camper. He enjoyed it so much he tried to steal a few more spoons from the counter, which then got us kicked out (kidding!).
I’ve never seen Al happier actually. He a fairly laid back guy and doesn’t show his emotions much. He could win the lottery and he wouldn’t be as happy as he was eating the dessert offerings here. He really likes creme brulee, apparently. Look at this smile.
I was quite partial to the size of their wine bottles, myself.
They don’t cater to hobbits at this winery, clearly. Rather, their target market seems to be the Giants from ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’, and
winos wine-lovers like me.
You can tell that Al really enjoyed the wine here too, in addition to the Creme Brulee. While I finished sipping my wine, I found Al outside near the barrels bowing to the wine gods. Well, it might be the beer gods, actually. You probably can’t tell whatsoever that he used to do theatre back in the day at University…
Bless me father, for I have sinned. Better bring me some more of this tasty wine. Maybe I’d better lay off the samples for today… I guess I’m sorta a ham sometimes too. Probably because of the company that I keep 😀
Then we made it to our final stop on the tour: Hillebrand. If you live in Ontario, you have probably heard of this winery as it’s a pretty big one (their wines are called Trius ). They’ve got a huge winery and vineyard and they hold many events (weddings, live music etc) on their vineyard regularly.
If you’re hungry after your tour they’ve also got a fancy restaurant on site so you can relax and enjoy a glass of wine with some lunch or dinner. Sweet!
I should note (just in case you’re wondering) that Al actually only had a few teeny sips of some of the samples on our tour as he was mostly there for the food. He was driving and he’s not really a huge wine lover anyway (beer is more his thing, though he does enjoy the occasional glass of wine). So he decided he was going to drive and let me take on more of the sampling work. It’s a tough job, I know! But somebody’s gotta do it…
If you’re heading to Niagara-on-the-lake (hopefully I’ve inspired you) and you want to take part in the sampling , I recommend one of the many organized tours like this one. There are quite a few good tours and events here all year long.
I suggest checking out Tripadvisor for reviews on which tour seems to be more popular. They even have tours in the middle of the winter for the
crazy dedicated wine lovers. In fact, there’s an event this month (February) called Wine & Chocolate Fest. I’m a huge chocolate (and wine) lover, but not a big fan of being outside in the winter. (although I probably could be persuaded with promises of wine and chocolate).
If you do decide to tour the wineries on your own (as many people do) I should warn you that the wineries aren’t that close that you can walk to each one. I mention this because a few people have asked me if the wineries are lined up on the main street of the town of Niagara-on-the-lake for sampling. Nope, not unless there’s a special event going on downtown.
Plus part of the draw here is the beautiful vineyards and the scenery at each one. We did see quite a few folks on bikes, but if you’re drinking a lot of samples you don’t want to bike & drive either. You’re best bet is to find yourself a designated driver or do a tour. You won’t regret it!
As I mentioned earlier, even if you don’t love wine the scenery around these parts is worth the visit alone. It’s beautiful countryside, the wine is just an added bonus!
Note on the Wine & Herb Festival : Although this trip was taken a few years ago (2009), they were doing this event annually including last year. But I’ve been trying to search for this event for 2015 but can’t seem to find it (their website seems to be gone). There IS an event this May at Niagara-on-the-Lake called Sip & Sizzle, which sounds very similar so maybe it’s the same thing but has just been changed around a bit. While I paid $25 for the Wine & Herb Pass a few years ago, this event seems to be $43. A pretty big cost hike in just a few years. But if you’re a food & wine lover, it’s still worth checking out if you’re in the area.
Happy Wine Trails! Please let me know if you go! I’d love to hear about your trip.