Chateau des Charmes Wines - My first impression of this Niagara-on-the-Lake winery was what a grand estate it is. It seemed more like a mansion than any winery I had ever visited. The huge stone structure was remarkably beautiful...and kind of intimidating. Our stop at this winery (and a few others) had been worked into a family vacation to Niagara Falls. There I was standing outside this beautiful winery in full tourist attire...a tank top, denim shorts and sandals. I normally dress much nicer when winery touring, but we were just visiting two wineries then back to the Falls for some family fun. I also had my eight-year old son with me, which is highly unusual. I just couldn't plan a trip to Niagara Falls with so many wonderful wineries nearby and not stop by a couple. We certainly looked out of our element, and I wondered how we would be treated once we stepped inside.
We walked up the steps to the large doors and stepped inside the foyer. A man immediately greeted us and asked if we had come for the 11:00 tour. We declined the tour and he pointed us toward the tasting counter and the retail sales rooms. We walked past the tasting counter and on to one of the sales rooms where they displayed their wine. It had been awhile since I visited the Chateau des Charmes website and I wanted to refresh my memory on the wines they produce. We browsed the room until I got a good feel for their wines. They seemed to be producing mostly dry wines...then ice wines....but nothing in between. On the way out of the room I noticed a sign on the wall listing the wines they had available for sampling. Each wine also had a specific price for a sample ranging from 50 cents to $5.00.
As we approached the tasting counter, I told my son to be on his best behavior. Two ladies stepped over to help us. We were told that it was the younger girl's first day working at the winery and she would be observing. We looked over the tasting sheet and Gary chose a couple of Rieslings to try and I decided to sample a Pinot Noir and a Gamay. The woman poured Gary's sample...then poured my sample and placed it in front of my son. She told him not to drink it, but showed him how to swirl it in the glass. She then asked him to smell it and let us know what he smelled. The woman said that she likes to hear what children smell in the wine since their sense of smell is so much better than that of an adult. My son, Morgan, said that the first smell was like something he had smelled before, but couldn't tell what it was...and the second smell he didn't like. I don't think it was the answer the woman was looking for...but Morgan was having fun and I was grateful they recognized him and included him in the experience.
As we were sampling, a tour group came in and the experienced woman had to go help and left us with the new employee. She seemed really nervous, but we told her not to worry...we were easy to get along with and everything would be fine. We did throw her for a loop when we moved on to a few other wines. We each decided to taste a sparkling wine and the Late Harvest Riesling. These were kept chilled and served in special glasses. She had to go in the back and ask for assistance, but we didn't mind. We really loved their Late Harvest Riesling. It was fantastically full and sweet...an excellent dessert wine.
Even though we were severely underdressed...we were still given the royal treatment at Chateau des Charmes. It was our first Canadian winery and the experience was outstanding. Their wines are exceptional and their visitors are treated with importance. If that isn't enough, just stepping inside their awesome stone structure (which I read cost over $6 million to build) is well worth the trip...but you're sure to find their wines just as impressive as the building in which they are produced. Favorite: Late Harvest Riesling.
Coyote's Run Estate Winery - The tasting room of this Niagara-on-the-Lake winery was empty when we entered. Being a Monday, we pretty much expected that. We headed straight for the tasting counter and a young woman came from near the cash register and stepped behind the counter. There was a list of approximately a dozen wines on the wall with a tasting charge for each individual wine. We took a few minutes to decide which wines we would be sampling. They had a nice balance of reds and whites (all pretty dry) and a couple of ice wines. Gary decided to start with a white...and I started with a red. We had barely taken our first sip when the woman asked us if there was anything else we wanted to try. Gary said that he wasn't sure yet, and I told her that I was a very slow wine taster and needed a couple of minutes. I'm not sure what the rush was. She seemed like she was in a hurry. It wasn't anywhere near closing time and there were no other customers that needed attention. My second biggest pet-peeve (my first being drinking wine from a plastic cup) is being rushed during a tasting. I like to take my time, savor the wine, and think about what I am tasting for a minute or two before moving on.
After our comments, our hostess relaxed a bit and even chatted with us. Her hurried pace seemed to disappear. We took this time to ask her about the wines that they offered which are the same grape, but grown in different soils...and a few questions about the Niagara area and their wines in general. As we were sampling the Vidal Ice Wine, she also presented us with a nice pamphlet that had information on all the area wineries and a great fold out map. My eight-year old son was sitting in a chair nearby. He commented that he was hungry and she produced a basket of crackers from behind the counter. (I wish she had produced them while we were still sampling).
Coyote's Run made a pretty decent Vidal Ice Wine, but none of the other wines we sampled really stood out to us as a fantastic find. Since the tasting fees were pretty steep compared to many of the wineries we have visited, it was one of the rare occasions when we left without buying anything to take home.
EastDell Estates - Wine lovers can enjoy not only the wine at this Beamsville, Ontario winery - but also an onsite restaurant and spectacular view. Made entirely of wood and stone from the property, the main building houses the tasting room and wine boutique, plus The View Restaurant, which offers a wonderful vineyard view, along with a view of Lake Ontario and the Toronto skyline in the distance. Established in 1999, EastDell estates produces a wonderful selection of white, red and dessert wines sure to please any visitor.
Our visit to EastDell was our first stop on a full day of winery touring in the Beamsville area. Being our first visit to this region, I was excited to see what the area wineries had to offer. I found the tasting room to be absolutely charming. The wooden building looked so inviting. It was rustic, yet chic on the outside - and the same look carried through to the inside. The winery had just opened for the day, so we were the only tasters on the premises. A very polite young man guided us through a tasting of some wonderful wines. Two that especially stood out to me were the 2006 Pinot Noir (which was wonderful) and the 2007 Summer Rose (hints of citrus and strawberry - the perfect wine for a warm summer day). We told our host we would be visiting wineries all day, and he helped us by pointing out a few of his favorite area wineries on an Ontario wine map.
We didn't get the opportunity to dine here, but The View Restaurant does offer both lunch and dinner with a view of Lake Ontario. EastDell is a very charming winery with a super-nice staff and excellent wine. I wouldn't miss this one when visiting the area...they offer something for everyone to enjoy.
Fielding Estate Winery - Pinot Gris rules at this Beamsville, Ontario winery. I had never been a big fan of Pinot Gris until I sampled the 2007 vintage from Fielding Estate. This golden wine is so harmonious - refreshingly crisp with the slightest hint of sweetness. Close your eyes and you'll envision a breezy meadow on a summer's day. Fielding's Pinot Gris is a true winner...but there are also many other reasons that make a visit to this winery a wonderful experience.
A small road winds through the vineyard to the cedar and glass structure that houses the modern tasting room. The tasting room/gift ship is a gorgeous room with clean lines, high ceilings, and plenty of natural light. It was a bright and sunny day when I visited, and with all the glass in the tasting room, it seemed just as sunny inside. The nice young lady behind the counter invited me for a tasting...and I sampled through some of their wonderful offerings. I felt the whites here were the true winners....with the Pinot Gris leading the way.
It's not often that I order a glass of wine before noon, but the Pinot Gris was so lovely I couldn't resist. Behind the tasting counter, a noticed a door leading to a narrow deck overlooking the Fielding vineyard. It was a warm day and I thought a glass of wine on the deck would be wonderful. No one else was on the deck, so I found an Adirondack chair and peacefully sipped my Pinot Gris while enjoying the natural beauty of Canada.
Fielding Estate Winery is a "must see" winery when traveling in the Beamsville area. The winery produces a handful of reds, some wonderful whites, two late harvest and two ice wines. The gorgeous glass and cedar tasting room is a joy to sample wines in....and the view from the deck is the perfect place to sip a glass of their exquisite Pinot Gris. Favorite: 2007 Pinot Gris.
Henry of Pelham - When we spotted the beautiful facade of this St. Catherines winery on their website, it appeared like someplace so inviting that we would probably want to stay awhile. It looked to me like a miniature village complete with winery and cafe with outdoor seating. That being said, we scheduled it as our final stop of the day so we could relax and enjoy the surroundings. Unfortunately, things really didn't work out as planned and we spent a very short time at this quaint little winery.
We arrived on a Sunday afternoon and the parking lot was fairly empty. We followed the sign pointing us to the "cellar wine store" and proceeded underground for a tasting. A tasting board was posted at the entrance telling about the wines available for sampling - along with their policy of 4 wines per person for a $2.00 tasting fee. We stood at the board for awhile trying to decide which of the many wines to sample. We already had the pleasure of drinking their Baco Noir at dinner our first night in Ontario. The restaurant we dined in served many local wines and our server suggested the Henry of Pelham Baco Noir to go with our meals. He said everyone raved about it...and it was absolutely delicious. With one wine already under our belts. We each chose four more to sample at the winery.
There were several women behind the tasting counter and all seemed preoccupied by cleaning up and putting things away. I got the impression that they had a fairly busy day and were ready to wind-down. They were still open for an hour and a half...so we approached the tasting counter without any guilt. We paid our fee and they did pour us our samples - but we didn't have anyone's full attention or any commentary on the wine we were drinking even though we were the only customers in the room.
We had planned on hanging out for awhile, so we asked if they sold wine by the glass. We told the girls behind the counter that we were going to order something to eat at the cafe and sit outside for awhile. One of the women told us that we better hurry over to the cafe because she thought they were closing up. They were supposed to be open for 20 more minutes (they close an hour before the winery)...but we walked over anyway to find out. The employees at the cafe told us they had slowed down so they were closing-up for the day and were no longer serving food. We were pretty disappointed and didn't even return to the winery to get a glass of wine. We decided to go back to our inn - which offered a very nice wine list - and have an early dinner there.
We probably would have had a more pleasant visit here if we had come earlier in the day. But honestly, we should have had enough time to experience everything that we wanted according to their operating hours. The place looks absolutely charming and with the little cafe and outdoor seating - it looked like it would have been right up our alley. We did have the opportunity to share a bottle of their Baco Noir at dinner two days before...and it was a winner. It was just disappointing that we didn't feel more welcome during our visit to the actual winery.
After turning off the main road, a covered bridge leads the way to the restored 1867 Victorian barn that houses this unique Ontario winery. I felt miles away from civilization in this quiet country setting. I could hear the water trickling from the fountain in the nearby lake, and I could also see the newly constructed stone patio that I had read about in an Ontario wine magazine. The patio had just opened days before my arrival and I hoped to take advantage of it before leaving Hernder.
Inside the tasting room the atmosphere was just as charming - plenty of wood everywhere and an extra large tasting counter in the center of the room. I stepped up to the counter to look at the wine list and I was instantly overwhelmed. Hernder produces a huge selection of wine - much more than most area wineries. They also offer complimentary tastings, which is a rare occurrence in Ontario. With so many wines to choose from, I tried to choose several different types...some reds, whites, late harvest and fruit wines. My favorite by far was the Reserve Gewürztraminer. This wine was very floral, slightly spicy and had a bit of sweetness. I loved this wine so much, I purchased a glass to sip on their gorgeous new patio.
A wonderful time is sure to be had when visiting Hernder Estate Winery. It's a little more laid back than some of the other wineries in the area...which is a nice change of pace. The tasting room staff is attentive and friendly - and the wine list is enormous. I especially loved the large patio, perfect for drinking wine on a warm afternoon. The surroundings are so peaceful, it makes for a perfect day. Favorite: Reserve Gewürztraminer.
Hillebrand Estates Winery - This upscale winery with restaurant is located in picturesque Niagara-on-the-Lake. The beautiful facility, which reminds me of a tiny town of its own, offers a total sensory experience. Of course you'll find wine tasting...but you'll also find an elegant on-site restaurant and gorgeous vineyard views. We didn't come during the day for a wine tasting, but did make reservations here for dinner one evening while visiting the area. The restaurant has a wonderful reputation and we were anxious for a wonderful dining experience while in Ontario.
Even though we arrived 20 minutes ahead of our reservation time, we were able to be seated promptly. Hillebrand offers both indoor and outdoor dining and we were asked which we preferred. Being a gorgeous July evening, we chose to be outdoors. The view of the fountains and vineyard was beautiful and I was glad we were able to sit outside. I sat to look over the menu, but I had been to the website and had already decided that I would be ordering their tasting menu (5-courses with wine pairings). I figured this would let me try several different Hillebrand wines. My only disappointment of the evening was that the tasting menu had changed. The spring menu was posted online, but they had switched to their summer tasting menu. The summer menu consisted of a couple of courses that I knew I wouldn't care for...so I had to decide on a new dinner plan.
The menu changes seasonally with approximately five entree choices available. I noticed in Canada there are many main dish choices available that I don't find on U.S. restaurant menus (such a rabbit). I'm not a picky eater...but there are some things I'm just not willing to try. My choices were narrowed to the beef and the halibut - and I chose the halibut as my entree along with a Riesling. I sipped on my Riesling for awhile and shortly my dinner arrived. I must say the halibut was exceptional! The chef is very talented and I couldn't have asked for a better meal. Gary ordered the beef and thoroughly enjoyed his dinner also. When we were finished, we both also ordered dessert - Gary the Tiramisu and I ordered a strawberry soufflé. Our server told us the soufflé would take about 20 minutes, so we got up and took a little walk while waiting. After our walk, our desserts arrived along with the Vidal Ice Wine we ordered to go with them. It was heavenly.
Although I only tried two of the wines at Hillebrand Estates, I would describe our dining experience as magical. It was long and relaxed - just what we needed after a full day of winery visits. Our dinners were absolutely wonderful and the atmosphere was upscale, yet relaxing. I especially loved it when the sun started to go down and the entire outdoor seating area was lit by candlelight only. Our experience at Hillebrand was quite wonderful.
Inniskillin Winery - There are many wineries in the Niagara-on-the Lake, Ontario region. Anytime we mentioned the area on our travels, we were told the we must not miss Inniskillin when we made it to the area. Though they do produce table wines, they specialize in ice wine. Several people told us that their authentic Canadian ice wine was something we must sample when visiting the area.
It was a little bit of a walk from the parking area to the tasting room, but we did have something to look at because we were walking past their beautiful vineyard labeled with the variety of grape at the end of each row. I always find it interesting to see the different varieties of grapes on the vines...but these were all still a little green. Once we entered the tasting room we saw two tasting bars - one for table wines and one for ice wine. The entire staff was behind the table wine bar...along with all the tasters. Since ice wine is Inniskillin's specialty, I thought this was odd, but we proceeded to the counter to sample a few table wines. We each sampled three wines, but I was really itching to get to the ice wine.
We decided to go stand by the ice wine counter and see what happened. There was a sign posted there describing the ice wine tasting policy. I wish I could remember exactly how much it was for an ice wine sampling, but I know it wasn't cheap (my best recollection is $30.00 per person). That could explain why we hadn't seen anyone tasting any, but that was why we came there and we were going to do it no matter the cost. We had to wait approximately 10 minutes before someone finally came over to help us. She acted surprised that we wanted to do an ice wine tasting. Since they are well-known for their ice wine, this is still confusing to me. The entire time we were there we were the only people that tasted the ice wine.
Even though there was a hefty tasting fee, we were given generous samples of six different ice wines. The ice wine varieties produced are Oak Aged Vidal, Non-Oak Vidal, Sparkling Vidal, Oak Aged Riesling, Non-Oak Riesling and Cabernet Franc. Most wineries we visit produce only one style of ice wine, and it was a special treat to get the opportunity to sample and compare six different varieties in one tasting. It was actually the first time we had sampled oaked and sparkling ice wine.
I strongly urge a visit to this winery to sample their world-class ice wine. There are very few places one can have an experience such as this - and Canadian ice wine is some of the best ice wine produced in the world. The Inniskillin table wines were quite nice, but the experience here is all about the ice wine - don't miss out.
Kittling Ridge Estate Wines - One of the main reasons that tourists come to Grimsby, Ontario is the number of wineries in the area. I'm sure this winery, which is very visible because it sits right beside the QEW, is one of the more popular wineries. Even people that hadn't anticipated stopping probably say "Oh look, there's a winery", as they are driving down the highway and tend to pull in for a tasting. Kittling Ridge not only produces wine...but also spirits...which probably brings in even more visitors. One thing we found out is that this winery is also very popular with bus tours - which made it one of our least favorite stops in the area.
The hotel we were staying in was directly across the street (Casablanca Winery Inn - formerly the Kittling Ridge Winery Inn). Staying in such close proximity, we decided it should be our last stop of the day while we were in the area. We figured we could actually relax there for awhile, drink some wine, and be very close to our hotel. When we arrived the day before, I could see the yellow awnings over picnic tables outside the winery. I just knew I would be drinking wine under one of those brightly colored awnings the very next day.
The following day, we arrived at Kittling Ridge late in the afternoon. I was concerned when I saw a tour bus in the parking lot, but many wineries have a separate area for dealing with tour groups, so I put it out of my mind. When we walked inside, the group was just finishing their winery tour and there was a long line outside the tasting room of people waiting to get in for a sample. We got in line and had to wait while approximately 50 people went to the tasting counter before we finally reached it - a 30-45 minute wait. When we did finally make it to the counter, it was sheer madness. The tasting room/gift shop was so packed you could barely move. People were elbowing me and holding plastic cups over my head trying to get more samples. I held my ground long enough to sample 3 or 4 wines...but for the life of me I can't even tell you what they were now. I was in no way capable of taking notes or asking questions. I really just wanted to get out of there.
I started thinking that we could choose a wine based on the few we had sampled and we could go sit outside and end our day like we had been planning. When I inquired about getting a glass or bottle, I was told they didn't allow any on-site consumption except for the tastings. I asked why they had all the tables outside, and the woman said "I don't know why the seating is there - no one ever uses it. I guess if someone brought some sandwiches or something". I was shocked because we could have ordered a glass of wine at all the other wineries we had visited that day...but the one winery we planned on hanging out at wouldn't allow it. So - back to the inn for dinner. We could order a bottle of wine there.
I'm not sure how our visit would have been if it hadn't been for the bus tour...but Kittling Ridge is a high-volume winery by the highway and I get a feeling they have many tour busses come in. I wish they had a different area set-up for tour groups so that visitors stopping in could have a better experience...but I'm sure they are making a lot of money with these groups. The tour group was buying armloads of merchandise to take home with them. We ended up not purchasing anything, but I'm going to assume they didn't much care about the few bottles we would have bought. They are making more money off the groups.
Lailey Vineyard - I truly enjoyed our visit to this Niagara-on-the-Lake winery. I found it to be slightly different from the other wineries in the immediate area. It had a very upscale and trendy atmosphere, yet the personal vibe was friendly and inviting. The Lailey wine list also had enough variety to accommodate all visitors...and I found several wines here that I enjoyed. very much
Although I loved the high ceilings which brought plenty of natural light and an openness to the room...the tasting room is rather small. Since our visit was on a Monday, the size of the tasting counter really didn't bother us, but I'm not sure how packed they may be during the weekend. While looking over the wine list - I thought they offered a nice selection of white, rose, red and dessert wines. One interesting red was the Zweigelt, with flavors of ripe red and black cherries, it is the first time I had the opportunity to sample this variety. I also loved the 2005 Gamay Rose, which I presume was very popular with others because it's no longer offered on their wine list and must be sold out. Two late harvest and one ice wine are also produced at Lailey. Ranging from $15.00 to $28.00 per bottle, these three wines are some of the best dessert wine values in Ontario.
Planted in 1970, the Lailey Vineyard has some of the oldest vines in Canada. These vines are bearing fruit for some exceptionally good wines. The quality of the wine here shines through in every sip. I loved the variety the offered - especially the number of lovely reds that this region isn't really known for. Lailey also seems to keep their prices low - which means that this winery offers visitors some of the best value for quality wines in Ontario. Favorite: 2005 Gamay Rose.
Peller Estates - As we approached this Niagara-on-the-Lake winery, I knew in an instant we were about to visit on of Ontario's largest wineries. The massive structure which houses the winery, tasting room and restaurant was visible from quite a distance. The gorgeous building surrounded by grapevines was such a beautiful site. I had to pause for awhile before going inside just to take in the entire scene. My only concern was the large number of cars in the parking lot and the several tour busses that had brought tourists that day. I wondered how on earth we were ever going to make it to the tasting counter with so many visitors at Peller that day.
The spacious lobby was bustling with tourists...and many were not speaking English. I'm not used to this in my small Ohio town and if we were not on a schedule, I probably would have found it a nice place to do some people watching. I saw a sign directing us to the tasting room to the left and we decided not to waste any time getting over there - who knew how long we were going to have to wait for a turn at the counter. Once there I was quite surprised at the counter space available for visitors. I've never seen a tasting room that could accommodate so many people at one time. The counter was fully staffed and there were several open spots for us to choose from. I'm not sure where all the tourists were...they must have been in the lobby.
Our tasting host was very pleasant and presented us with all of our options for the tasting. We chose a flight and we were able to relax and enjoy our samples. I never expected such a leisurely experience and I was pleasantly surprised. We tasted through our flights and our host even poured us a few extra samples of his personal favorites. I had been leaning toward Ontario's white wines on this trip - until now. Peller's reds were outstanding...especially the Baco Noir. We also tasted the Ice Wine while we were there - which is a special treat because Ontario produces some of the best.
After our tasting we decided to go over to the restaurant for a bite to eat, but unfortunately they close in the afternoon between lunch and dinner. Nevertheless, we thoroughly enjoyed our experience at Peller Estates. Don't let the size of the winery keep you away. It's not often that a winery that receives so many visitors can still provide such personal service...but Peller has found a way to do it.
Riverview Cellars Winery - You'll find a more relaxed tasting atmosphere at this Niagara-on-the-Lake winery than you'll find at some other wineries in the area. It's not one of the huge multi-million dollar estates...but a small family-run winery. We found many "everyday" wines here that would certainly please the general public. Their goal is to satisfy as many customers as possible, and their selection of wine is sure to do just that.
When we entered I actually thought we had walked into a farm market. It took me a minute to realize that half the building is a tasting room and the other half a store with local produce and products - not your typical winery gift shop. We walked up to the empty tasting counter and started to look over the wine list. The woman behind the counter asked if she could help us with anything. This always amazes me. I would say that most people that walk up to a tasting counter are there to do some wine sampling. If I worked at a winery I would always greet visitors with "Would you like to sample some of our wines today?" Anyway...we told her we were in the area to do some wine tasting and we proceeded to pick out some wines to try. Our hostess wasn't very enthusiastic and really didn't want to talk to us or give us information about the wines we were sampling. I almost felt as if we were bothering her...so we didn't choose too many. As I mentioned before they did seem to offer many wines that would please the general public.
Had we felt more welcome, I probably would have sampled a few more wines and found some to purchase. Maybe she was having an off day and another visit would result in a different experience. In the end I decided to browse the "store half" of the building instead. I did find some interesting items there that I ended up taking home as gifts for my family.
Rockway Glen Winery - I was quite impressed with our entire experience at this St. Catherines, Ontario winery. Rockway Glen is a golf course, restaurant and winery. Before our visit, I had figured that the golf course was probably the main focus with a mediocre restaurant and winery on site...but I was completely wrong. Every aspect of Rockway Glen is top of the line.
It felt like we were visiting a country club as we pulled into the parking lot. A gorgeous building was in front of us and we could see many people playing golf in the back. We walked into the building and easily found the tasting room. There was an area for tasting and the rest of the large room was filled with both golf and wine related merchandise. The friendly girl behind the counter introduced herself to us. She told us that she was only filling in while the regular tasting room employee was at lunch, but that she could certainly pour some samples for us. Rockway Glen has one of the few female winemakers you'll find, and she's producing some excellent wine. While sampling the wines, I discovered that she is finding a way to bring out the best characteristics of each grape into her wines. My very favorite was the Gewurtztraminer. It had a lovely golden color, floral aromas and just a hint of sweetness.
I loved the Gewurtztraminer so much that I didn't want to leave without drinking some more. Our hostess told us we were welcome to visit the restaurant where we could order any wine we wanted. The restaurant had both indoor and outdoor seating. We chose to sit outside on the patio and ordered a carafe of the Gewurtztraminer. A young chef was cooking a limited number of selections right on the patio. After smelling the wonderful aromas for awhile, we couldn't resist placing an order. We asked to split a sandwich, which was served with house-made chips. I'm glad we split the order. The half sandwich was pretty big - more than I would normally eat for lunch at home. I was delighted when it tasted just as good as it had smelled while it was cooking.
It was a gorgeous day and I felt so peaceful sitting outside, sipping wine and watching the golfers. I was enjoying myself so much that we ended up spending more time at Rockway Glen then I had allotted for in my schedule. The time we spent there was well-worth running behind for the rest of the day. If you visit this wonderful winery, you may want to plan to spend the entire afternoon. I guarantee you won't want to leave.