About this series: With COVID-19 restrictions having eased over the last few months, Wheels wants to inspire you to get ready to explore — but only when it is safe to do so. This series of daytrips and longer drives highlight great experiences you can have in the province and across Canada, ands show you why this country is “Ours to Discover.”
When the harvest is at its height, there’s no better place to visit than the Niagara region, where orchards are laden with the last of the rosy-cheeked peaches and the first of the golden pears and ruby-red apples. There are also vineyards. Purple, red and white grapes hang heavy and sweet, waiting to be picked, sorted, crushed, fermented and turned into the liquid magic that is Niagara wine.
Always a welcoming place, Niagara kicks into hospitality overdrive in autumn. More than 200 wineries are waiting to tour you through their vineyards, share their winemaker’s secrets and offer you samples of their finest creations. All you need to do is line up a designated driver, hop in the car and choose which to visit.
You might think a bit of internet sleuthing will give you a list of the wineries that have won the most awards. That’s true, but it is not a real solution to your dilemma. Numerous Niagara wineries are award winners. Instead, here is a list that features unique winery experiences that will be as much fun to visit for the designated driver as it will for the rest of your group.
In the morning
Start your drive from Toronto around 9 a.m. heading west along the Queen Elizabeth Way and following it as it curves toward the Niagara region. With decent traffic, you should be among the vines of wine country by 11 a.m. Your first stop will be a tough choice (it also requires you to decide before you go, as you will need to book ahead online).
If you would like to tour a charming winery, spend two hours enjoying a cooking class using delectable local ingredients — and also enjoy a four-course meal you helped prepare — then The Good Earth Food and Wine Company is for you. The winery is located on Lincoln Avenue in Beamsville, and its offerings include classes in Italian, Spanish, French and other types of cuisine. Tours start at noon, so you will have time to explore beforehand.
Your second choice is as impressive as your first. Small Talk Vineyards is well-known for its outstanding wines and its apple cider, but what sets it apart is that it also plays host to Fox Den Goat Yoga, a company that offers on-site goat classes, with the first at 11:30 a.m. Mats are provided, as are the adorable and friendly pygmy goats. There’s something very special about folding into downward dog with a baby goat looking upward. Don’t expect this to be a strenuous yoga class. This is all about cuddling with these cute animals and receiving a special grab bag that includes a pint of rare Small Talk cider, which is not available in stores.
In the early afternoon
If you opted for the goat yoga, then your second stop will help fuel your post-workout hunger. Two Sister’s Vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake – owned by siblings Angela Marotta and sister Melissa Marotta-Paolicelli – is known for Kitchen 76, an elegant dining room featuring a range of Italian dishes as delicious as they are authentic. Splurge on a bottle of its Stone Eagle Special Select 2016 and let your designate driver choose which crispy, wood-fired pizza your table should enjoy as a starter.
In the afternoon
Drive to Southbrook Organic Vineyards on Niagara Stone Road in Niagara-on-the-Lake to learn about its eco-responsible approach to winemaking. Southbrook produces both organic and biodynamic wines, using sheep to handle its weed maintenance and provide manure at the same time. The happy vineyard helpers wander between the vines, keeping things tidy and fertile.
Through a partnership with Linc Farm, the winery also serves dishes of grass-fed lamb and beef, along with forest-raised pork and free-range eggs, all raised on 150 acres of certified organic and biodynamic land. The grapes grown at Southbrook are considered a low-impact crop that doesn’t strip the land of nutrients. Southbrook also uses specially prepared composts enhanced with ingredients such as herbal teas.
In the late afternoon
Ever wondered what it would have been like to raise a glass with the Greek gods? You might be surprised to learn you probably wouldn’t have been sipping wine, but honey mead instead. Rosewood Winery on Mountainview Road in Beamsville is owned by the Roman family, which features three generations of bee-keeping experience. They create products using raw, unfiltered and delicious honey from hundreds of beehives located between Beamsville and the nearby community of Jordan.
In the evening
Still a little peckish? Head to the Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery in St. Davids for one of its signature burgers and smoked pork sandwiches – both well worth the calories. Wrap it all up with a glass of Ravine Brut, a sparkling wine highly reminiscent of Champagne, and a bag of fab jelly donuts for your designated driver for the ride back to the city.
COVID-19 need to know
Most wineries are operating with reduced capacities and making the most of their outdoor patio facilities for tastings etc. For specific information, visit the websites for each place you plan to visit.
For the Drive
Get yourself in winery mood by listening to the “Unreserved Wine Talk” podcast. You’ll be able to choose from interviews with well-regarded Niagara vintners, wine experts and more. They are available for download from Apple Podcasts.
TIMELINE: Drive guide
- 9 a.m. Leave Toronto
- Drive west on the Queen Elizabeth Way
- 11 a.m. Arrive in Niagara region
- 11:30 a.m. Small Talk Winery, or
- Noon Good Earth Winery
- 12:30 p.m. Continue at Good Earth Winery or visit Two Sisters Winery
- 2:30 p.m. Southbrook Winery
- 4 p.m. Rosewood Winery in Beamsville
- 5:30 p.m. Ravine Winery in St. David’s
- 7:30 p.m. Drive back to Toronto
NOTE: Times are suggestions only.