We are loving the extended opportunity to take advantage of this late summer weather, aren’t you?
As the grapes are harvested and our natural surroundings start their transformation from green to yellow to orange to red, a trip through any one of Canada’s wine regions is a great way to softly end the season and take in picturesque fall landscapes.
Wine tours are the most fun because, essentially, you can choose your own adventure: depending on your interest level in wine and the size of your budget, there are a lot of variables. There are plenty of well-run and reviewed guided tours offered through each of Canada’s wine regions, but we suggest a DIY road trip. Trust us, you will appreciate the freedom of exploring these areas on your own. Either take a bike tour or select a designated driver, who can still taste and take part in the wine-guru spittooning process (this is where you sniff, swish, and spit the wine quite literally into a spittoon, which sits on all tasting counters).
Though recognition has come in more recent years, Canadian wineries have had a hard time being taken seriously in the wine market, competing against century-old producers in Italty, France, and Portugal. But there is no denying that our landscape and soil create the perfect environment for lush, artisanal wine venues and vine growth. There’s the small communities and businesses of Southwestern Ontario, the lake and mountain views of the Okanagan Valley, the above-climate temperatures by Lake Erie, the valleys of Nova Scotia, and the lush farmlands of Quebec to name just a few.
Nichol Vineyard, Naramata Bench, British Columbia
With their first vines planted in 1989, this family-run establishment was one of the first three wineries in the region, and is refreshingly “true to their roots” as their slogan says. Complete with childrens toys and swing sets in the backyard, this vineyard looks more like a small estate than a winery, save for the surrounding vines and orchards. Most sources say that Nichol was the first to produce a Syrah in the region, but if you visit the winery yourself, you will probably hear that it was a pioneer of the variety in North America. Either way, Nichol Vineyard is still one of the best, and somehow, one of the cheapest. In 2013, I got a bottle for $13. While the vineyard doesn’t offer actual ‘tours’ of the facilities, a self-guided walk to their humble tasting room offers a nice breath of fresh air from overcrowded gift shops. There is a tasting counter, a record player, hill-top views, and the only souvenir they have are old vines to be sold as kindling. You can either start or end your road-trip at Nichol, as it is the farthest from Penticton on the Naramata route. More info: www.nicholvineyard.com
Mission Hill Family Estate, West Kelowna, British Columbia
Mission Hill is the winery in Canada, and if the pictures aren’t enough, one visit to this breathtaking venue will make you understand why—before you even taste the wine. Situated on a hill overlooking the Okanagan Valley and spectacular mountain ranges, Mission Hill is a huge facility. The full-service fine-dining terrace restaurant has unbelievable views and a tasting menu that’s highly spoken of. The facility as a whole has won numerous international awards, and has even been named the best winery in Canada. And then there are the amenities. The meticulously designed buildings include spaces for private functions, outdoor amphitheatre concerts, cellared tasting rooms, and numerous tour packages that will have you tasting and learning the practices. It is totally worth it to do a more expensive Sommelier-guided tour at $55 per person, which allows you to sample wines and food pairings that would normally be sold at restaurants for upwards of $300. But the main event here is touring the wine cellar, an underground cave stocked full of wine barrels. With some of the best temperatures in Canada, locally-named “Kelownafornia” is a great destination any time of year. More info: www.missionhillwinery.com
Sandbanks Estate Winery, Prince Edward County, Ontario
A wine revolution has started along the beautiful beaches of Prince Edward County. Named Ontario’s fastest-growing wine region, family-run farms are sprouting up every year in the region that wasn’t widely recognized for great wine production until less than 10 years ago. The small community south of Belleville, Ontario, and about 3 hours north-east of Toronto, has created a lighter, less pretentious wine-tasting experience, and can we just say, it’s about time. The area has a small-community feel, which is clear when you venture into the small artisanal cheese and local shops it has to offer. The county’s Sandbanks Estate Winery is one of the oldest in the region and is completely sustainable, using no herbicides or pesticides. The VQA award-winning boardwalk-beach-shop looking vineyard is complete with tables, umbrellas, and a picnic area and often invites the community to their events—pre-harvest parties, food truck fairs, and wine release parties, to name a few. Prince Edward County is a late bloomer to the wine game because of the colder climates, so this one should be saved for summer months when complimentary tours are offered at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m daily. More info: www.sandbankswinery.com
Norman Hardie, Wellington, Ontario
In the coldest wine region in Canada, Norman Hardie and his crew do painstaking work to ensure their vines make it through the winter. After each harvest, employees carefully bury the vines under the soil for frost protection, only to carefully unveil them again by hand in the spring. It seems to be working, and with the slogan that “summer’s work brings fall bounty,” Norman Hardie has been awarded some of the best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the world—varieties that typically do well in cool climates. Hardie is a former Four Seasons sommelier who has worked in some of the world’s greatest wine regions (South Africa, California, New Zealand), and decided that prime limestone and mineral-rich Wellington, Ontario land was where he wanted to start his personal mission. The barn-like facility and surrounding restaurant patio is a main attraction for the casual atmosphere, tasting bar, and wood-fired pizza oven. In October, the harvest parties start, and everyone is invited. More info: www.normanhardie.com
Fielding Estate, Beamsville, Ontario
Named one of Canada’s top 10 wineries, Fielding Estates sits on the Beamsville Bench at the bottom of the Niagara Escarpment. Unsurprisingly, three quarters of Canada’s grapes are produced in the popular Niagara region, which has had somewhat of a monopoly on Ontario wines for quite a while. The open-concept high-ceilinged building has a gift shop and tasting bar inside, as well as a back deck with sweeping lake views and outdoor tasting bar that allows you to have a casual glass of wine while staring out over the Toronto skyline. As one of the most temperate regions in Ontario, the winery is able to produce great Cabernet Sauvignons, which are typically more in line with the regions of the Southern West Coast. It is best to visit the Beamsville region in September and October when the air is cool but summer temperatures still linger. Prices are very reasonable with tours ranging from $5 to15. The latter price even includes food samples. More info: www.fieldingwines.com
Sprucewood Shores Estate Winery, Amherstburg, Ontario
Sprucewood Shores in the Lake Erie North region looks like it was once a country summer home for Europe’s best and brightest. Another family owned and operated Canadian winery, this one was purchased as farm land and turned into a vineyard, which is becoming increasingly popular in the Prince Edward County, around Lake Erie, and in eastern regions of Quebec. Sprucewood has produced many award-winning vintages from their use of the vinifera vine—a vine variety that was encouraged by the Canadian government in the 1980s to prove that we could produce great-tasting 100 percent Canadian wine under the right conditions. A half hour drive from Windsor, Ontario, has Canada’s longest-growing season and “Carolinian” temperatures that allow full-bodied wines to come to fruition during the hot summer months. After making your way through local butchers and grocery stores to arrive at the Sprucewood villa, you can have a tasting on the patio, a tour of the winery, or purchase a a gourmet picnic basket to take for a self-guided trip to the lakeside. Winter events include holiday “soup-offs” and the option to taste “warm ‘n’ cozy” mulled wine. More info: www.sprucewoodshores.com
Jackson-Triggs Winery, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario
Just an hour south of Toronto sits quaint, yet tourist laden, Niagara-on-the-Lake. With a community centred around wine production, the region is a haven of cobblestone sidewalks, upscale lunch spots, cafes, marinas, and parks, which also makes it a popular wedding destination in the summer time. Jackson-Triggs is a recognizable Canadian favourite, and the facility does it justice. The staunch, tall rectangular building is often littered with locked-up bikes from the more active tourists (or those taking advantage of the limited GO Train trips to Niagara wine country that run in the summer). The high ceilings and glass walls of the huge entranceway allow you to walk through to the back patio to see rows upon rows of grape-growing vines. An outdoor amphitheatre hosts live events, including their Summer Concert Series. Jackson-Triggs has been named the best winery in Canada three times, and also sources from vineyards in the Okanagan Valley. More info: www.jacksontriggswinery.com
L’Acadie Vineyards, Wolfville, Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia’s wine country is separated into six regions, from the Northumberland Straight to the popular Annapolis Valley. L’Acadie Vineyards, a certified organic winery, sits in Gaspereau Valley, a sub-valley of the Annapolis within a two hour drive of Halifax. As with most of the country, the area is known for producing cool-climate whites, which really just means grapes that ripen at moderate sugar levels rather than those that thrive in the heats of say California or Argentina. L’Acadie (and Nova Scotia as a whole) specifically take pride in their sparkling whites, which are made in the “traditional method,” meaning they sparkling wines are fermented a certain way and produced in certain bottles—much the same way Champagne and Port have to come from certain methods and regions to be true to their namesake. The L’Acadie Blanc variety of sparkling that has emerged in Nova Scotia has been called “the future of sparkling wine.” More info: www.lacadievineyards.ca
Jost Vineyards, Malagesh Peninsula, Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia
This vineyard is the largest and longest-operating in Atlantic Canada. Another family run vineyard, Jost is a pioneer in the region, helping other vineyards in Nova Scotia get started. The winery, which focuses on whites, claims that the wines pair well with seafood because you can literally see the shores where lobsters are captured. There is a great view, and the Magalesh Peninsula is supposed to be on the same parallel as wine regions in France and Germany, where Jost ancestors first started producing wine. Events include the great grape stomp, which happens in late September and encourages community members to enter in groups with the chance to win cash prizes for the best grape-stomping fiends. From June to September complimentary tours are offered at noon and 3 p.m. More info: www.jostwine.com
Vignoble de la Bauge, Brigham, Quebec City
Quebec’s lush environments, including lake-views, windy roads, and sweeping countrysides are not to be missed. With a little vino in hand, you will feel a long way from home when you’re actually less than 100 kilometres south of Montreal in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. This area is a great one to bike in if you are staying for more than just a quick visit. Yes, Quebec is cold, so the main production has been focused on spectacular ice wines and cold-climate whites, as well as ciders and fruit wines. Canada is one of the few countries in the world that has the climate to produce the extremely sweet ice wine, which involves harvesting the grapes after they have frozen on the vines. While smaller wineries, in the form of converted farms, have become more popular in recent years, Vignoble de la Bauge was a family farm that planted its roots in 1986, making it one of the oldest in the province. Here, among the beautifully rustic barns and buildings, you can taste ice wines, have a picnic, go on a horse-drawn carriage tour, or visit the animal park. More info: www.labauge.com