Category Archives: My Niagara Profiles

Original From the Ground Up

Original From the Ground Up

Where the Scenery Becomes the Scene

Think you know the Niagara Culinary & Wine scene?
Think again.

Sure, many of us know the Niagara Region as the home of the world-famous Falls, but there’s so much more to the region.
Here we’ll feature Niagara restaurants, wineries, farms and more… to encourage you to discover new flavours and experiences, made with love, throughout the seasons.

Harvest Season in Niagara

Farm stands loaded with diverse harvests operate at full throttle early in the season. By the time they shutter for the year, the leaves have started turning and the Niagara Escarpment becomes a breathtaking swath of technicolour boasting every shade of copper and gold. Wineries buzz with activity as grapes are harvested and the region’s world-class winemakers tease out the story of another vintage. Niagara sparkles at this time of year and there are more than a few places where it really — and rightly — shows off.

Meet the Makers

Ryan Corrigan of Rosewood Estates

I really enjoy taking the superfluity out of wine and seeing customers discover a style or taste that they didn’t know about before.

David Sider

“What you do in a restaurant is equally important as where it is,” Sider said motioning to the Redstone vineyards. “It’s unique …”

Adam Hynam-Smith Profile

“…national and international media outlets, including Condé Nast Traveler, which sent a reporter to cover the rebirth of St. Catharines…”


Cory Linkson

“We wanted to get closer to farmers. I wanted to change the paradigm of how we eat our food.”

James Treadwell

“From day one, our restaurant has always tried to showcase the many artisanal producers of the region.”

George Ward

“Growing up and seeing all of the orchards, farms and vineyards has inspired me”.

MY Niagara Experiences


Two Sisters Winery

Two Sisters Vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake

“Niagara is the perfect place to experience with loved ones, family, children or friends.

We love Niagara and want to be sure everyone visits because it’s so easy to get hooked on the beauty, friendly people, history and agriculture that it offers.”

Ann Sperling Southbrook Vineyards

Southbrook Vineyards, Organic Canadian Wine

If you’ve ever had the chance to experience Niagara-on-the-Lake, you’ll know it as a picturesque paradise where less is more and where the lush green landscape and rolling hills are enough to enchant you on their own, even before you try the wine born out of this renowned grape-friendly microclimate.

Explore 100+ Niagara Wineries

Pearl Morissette’s Le Pré takes dining outside

Pearl Morissette’s

Le Pré

Takes Dining Outside

Panoramic shots of a minimalist black barn surrounded by lush fields and vineyards have become unmistakably recognizable as the headquarters for Restaurant Pearl Morissette.

They’re the quintessential capture of the Jordan Station restaurant that has consistently ranked among the best in Canada since opening in late 2017 under the leadership of co-chefs Daniel Hadida and Eric Robertson.

These days though, the focus of photographs is on the equally striking structure beside it: Le Pré. It’s the newly constructed outdoor dining room and kitchen by the restaurant that topped enRoute Magazine’s best new list in 2018.

Pearl Morissette’s Le Pré

As with the indoor dining room upstairs in that striking black barn, currently sitting empty as a symptom of the novel coronavirus pandemic, a table at Le Pré has become a coveted reservation.

“It helps us stay relevant,” said Hadida, who, like Robertson, has worked in Michelin-star kitchens in Europe.

Le Pré also gives diners what they’ve been craving over the past few months of sheltering — and eating — in place: Restaurant Pearl Morissette conviviality in a safe and beautiful setting.

That includes a multi-course tasting menu for lunch and dinner, Friday through Sunday. But now, to limit diner and staff contact, those meals include abbreviated wine or juice pairings, or wines by the bottle. Cutlery is set in a hutch on the table for safe and easy access and removal. Keepsake menu cards are also placed tableside instead of being handed to guests at the end of the meal.

Seats on the tented Le Pré patio are limited to ensure the safety of all, but they’re available to everyone.

“What’s really exciting about this is it will be wheelchair accessible,” Hadida said.

“We’re trying to reach out to people who have been inquiring about that over the years.”

Over the past few months, though, Hadida, Robertson and a pared-down restaurant staff have been reaching out in other ways in an effort to feed people while providing farmer-suppliers with an avenue to sell their wares.

After shuttering for two weeks in the early days of the pandemic, Restaurant Pearl Morissette (RPM) operated as a country market until earlier this summer, selling food and wine, and serving as an outlet for local producers to market meat, vegetables and fruit.

It gave RPM fans the chance to safely support local farmers and the restaurant while avoiding grocery stores lineups and touch points. RPM also started an ongoing vegetable box subscription program to channel the abundance that had been planned and planted pre-pandemic in the restaurant’s gardens.

“We started the country market because it felt relevant and necessary when people didn’t want to go to the grocery store in the early days because it was uncomfortable.” Hadida explained.

But as the weeks went on and people started to feel more relaxed about venturing out, RPM staff turned their focus instead to a way of dining that had never been part of the business plan: takeout.

“It felt like people were missing fun, feeling fancy and spontaneity,” Hadida said. “You can only cook so many meals at home that’s a chunk of meat, vegetable and carb on the side.”

So he, Robertson and other members of the kitchen team decided break the pandemic dining doldrums with multi-course takeaway that came with instructions for finishing the main at home.

Menus were simpler and more collaborative than dine-in versions from times before coronavirus, but they were unmistakably Pearl Morissette in content and presentation, featuring ingredients produced in line with sustainable, regenerative farming.

“We can do that in so many ways. We don’t need a dining room for that. We don’t need 12 courses. We don’t need a sommelier,” Hadida said. “We just built out a menu that was functional. It was prepared at the last minute before pickup.”

It felt good to feed people again. And given the response, people were still hungry for the calibre of meal that landed RPM in the 17th spot on Canada’s 100 Best list this year.

“We put our hearts into it, for sure,” Hadida said.

Soon after, though, restaurants in Niagara were OK’d to open patios. Visiting one instead of ordering takeout or cooking at home was a chance at something vaguely resembling normal after months of avoiding public gatherings. That’s when Hadida and crew decided to shift their focus once again.

Takeaway was shelved in favour of Le Pré, which Hadida hopes to run late into the fall with outdoor heaters and warm ambience. Come winter, RPM staff are practised enough to revert back to takeout, if necessary.

Reservations for Le Pré can be made via the Pearl Morissette website. Blocks of bookings are released one month at a time.

“We had to sit down (when the pandemic started) and identify from the start what the restaurant is,” Hadida said. “Our focus has always been ‘Make it great and (success) will come from that.’ This was different. Now it’s thinking outside the box.”

Pearl Morissette’s Le Pré

Le Pré – the open air terrace for Restaurant Pearl Morissette

Located in the prairie field next to the big black barn, here you will find the same beautiful approach to ingredients and hospitality that many of you have come to love.

From Dine-in to Drive-in: Welcome to Revalee’s Supper Club Cinema

From Dine-in to Drive-in:

Welcome to Revalee’s

Supper Club Cinema​

Revalee Brunch Café offers a side by side of modern brunch fare and unique vegan dishes. Revalee offers an exquisite selection of local Pluck teas, fresh-roasted seasonal Pilot coffees and espresso, local wines, beers, and many of the other bounties of Niagara.

Recently the establishment has added Revalee Supper Club Cinema to their menu…

Sourcing ingredients for the week’s menu is about as typical a task as Mitch Lamb can do as a restaurant owner.

Securing licensing to show a movie, though? In a pandemic, it’s become as near normal as stocking salt and pepper.

That’s because Lamb and his staff at Revalee Brunch Café have added drive-in to their menu options with a Revalee Supper Club Cinema at this popular Vineland eatery. Each week, as many as 20 vehicles pull into the Revalee parking lot off Victoria Avenue to watch classic, quirky and current flicks curated by restaurant staff.

Revalee Supper Club Cinema

In the process, they enjoy carside snack service and a night out, safely within a large group, after months of nights holed up at home alone.

“My background is running restaurants and now all of sudden, I’m navigating the movie industry,” Lamb said with a laugh.

Supper Club Cinema is the pandemic rejig of Revalee’s biweekly vegan supper club, a creative outlet for Lamb whose business plan ultimately focuses on the meal that blurs the line between breakfast and lunch.

Even as some restaurants open up indoor seating as restrictions loosen during the COVID-19 crisis, Lamb and the team at Revalee are sticking with brunch on the patio — weekends only, reservations recommended — followed by Supper Club Cinema on Saturday nights as a safety precaution.

“We thought ‘What else can we do that’s unique?’ ” Lamb said. “We thought, ‘How can we bring people together when we can’t have them in the restaurant?’ ”

There are two options for moviegoers: tickets to the show, which includes a savoury snack with sparkling water brought to your car and an à la carte menu to order additional nibbles; or an all-inclusive ticket with pre-show patio service featuring cocktails, two small plates of food, and snacks in your vehicle during the show.

The all-inclusive edition is the hot ticket with most Supper Club Cinema-goers, Lamb noted. Some come specifically for the movie that’s playing; others just for the night out, regardless of what’s on the big screen.

More than something to do, Supper Club Cinema is about supporting others in Niagara’s food community during an incredibly challenging time.

When the region went into lockdown with the rest of Ontario in mid-March, Lamb and his staff shifted to a grocery store set-up, selling themed food kits that featured produce, pantry staples and ready-made goods from local food artisans and farmers.

The switch from serving brunch in the restaurant to delivering the DIY versions to doorsteps kept staff employed and provided a market for those producers who saw business suffer with mandated dining room closures.

TAs restrictions relaxed and people felt ready to brave grocery stores again, kit sales slowed — they are still available for order online. Supper Club Cinema was a novel idea that enabled Lamb and Revalee to continue supporting other local producers in a significant capacity.

Take, for example, delivering Beechwood Doughnuts from St. Catharines to every vehicle just as Benoit Blanc launched into his monologue about doughnut holes during a screening of Knives Out. Small Batch Juice Co. and Lua Candy, both from St. Catharines, have also made cameo appearances on Supper Club Cinema nights. They’re thoughtful touches for moviegoers, but also for the makers.

“I feel like this whole pandemic opened our eyes and other businesses’ eyes to the way we should work and that we should work together,” Lamb said. “We’re all in the same boat and should work together as a community. We’re trying to do that with the drive-in by bringing in other businesses.”

It’s been a blockbuster endeavour. So far, every Supper Club Cinema has sold out since the series started in July. Admittedly, Lamb didn’t think the plot would play out to such a joyous ending.

“We had no idea which direction it would go. We crunched numbers to figure out how to make it worthwhile,” he said. “I feel like people were stuck at home and looking for something to do. They were looking for a date night out and feeling comfortable doing it.”
Revalee Brunch Café


A full featured outdoor evening event featuring Revalee Brunch Café snacks and beverages created by Executive Chef Mitch Lamb, set against a unique cinematic experience.

Victoria Westcott

A Family Affair at Westcott Vineyards

Victoria Westcott tasted only one thing the first time she took a sip of wine made from grapes grown in her parents’ Jordan vineyard. It was sweet satisfaction. “I was relieved when I took that first sip of wine and it was good,” Victoria said. “To taste it, it was ‘Thank God it’s good-tasting.’ ” It’s not that the teacher by profession doubted her parents Grant Westcott and Carolyn Hurst could tease something amazing from Niagara’s terroir. But Victoria knew how much work it took just to create something for her to sample that fateful day. Westcott Vineyards was supposed to be her parents’ retirement project and it took nearly as much effort as some people put into their entire careers to get from planting Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapevines in 2006 to having something to show for it when the winery released its first vintage in 2012, and officially opened its doors two years later. “I knew it wasn’t just plant vines, make great wine and have it work. I knew this is farming. It’s fancy farming but it’s hard work,” Victoria said. Still, they’d come a long way from her first visit to the vineyard in 2006 when she saw the expanse filled with stubby, baby grapevines and felt a little skeptical about it all. “I said ‘What are you talking about?’ The building wasn’t here. It was literally a field of tiny grapevines. They were so proud.” Still, planting a vineyard and opening a winery after calling it a career in banking and IT in Toronto wasn’t entirely out of their element. Hurst’s family tree is deeply rooted in dairy farming in south Niagara. Both she and Grant had unparalleled work ethic, a prerequisite to make it in anything, but especially building a winery, quite literally from the ground up. Also, “My parents are really passionate about Niagara,” Victoria noted.

Passionate about Niagara

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In particular, they’re passionate about the region’s potential and prowess when it comes to making superlative Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Prior to breaking ground on their eponymic vineyard, the couple spent a lot of time visiting Niagara and noticing how much and how quickly it was changing, especially when it came to producing tipple on par with more established wine regions elsewhere in the world. They eventually set their sights on a property originally owned by legendary grape grower, Howard Staff, and next to the vineyards of Le Clos Jordanne, upheld as a pinnacle of Niagara winemaking. The land boasted all the characteristics for turning out top-notch Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, two of Niagara’s flagship wines. “Really, it’s all about Niagara producing some of the best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the world,” Victoria said. “To be part of that is exciting.” It wouldn’t be long before the couple’s retirement project would become a family affair. After teaching in the United Kingdom and working in film with her sister in British Columbia, Victoria moved to Niagara to help build the winery. Her brother, Garrett, joined the effort as vineyard manager and assistant to winemaker Casey Kulczyk. It felt like a homecoming, Victoria recalled. “I, like any 40-year-old woman, had a lot of experience tasting wine but this was just to support my family,” she said. “The thing I’m interested in is Niagara has some of the best food and wine. You know when you taste an Ontario peach how good it is? Or corn? We grow some of the best food here and who doesn’t want to enjoy that with a glass of wine?” On a textbook summer day, the answer is not many. Even on a Friday night in winter, there’s not a vacant seat to be found in Westcott’s 200-Mennonite barn that serves as its tasting room and the backdrop to its beloved Fireside Friday dinners cooked by a rotating roster of Niagara chefs and eaten in the glow of an imposing wood-burning fireplace. “The worse the weather is, the better it is in here,” Victoria said as her dog Alfie slumbered under the solid wood frame of a communal dining table. “You get out of the car and can smell the fire right away. You walk up and open the door to a room of people who are going to become your friends by the end of the night. You meet some amazing people. Sometimes there are after-parties. I have yet to see a marriage proposal at the table. That’s my dream. One day.”

Craft Winery

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Together, the family built a destination in a “premium, small, hand-crafted winery on the bench” with Grant and Carolyn taking their cues from their travels to other wine regions. They attended winemakers’ dinners in Zambia, filing away the experience for future reference. In South Africa, they purchased a Bedouin tent that protects from the sun’s heat. In Jordan, it makes the Westcott patio a stunning reprieve from July’s high heat and a comfortable spot to enjoy a leisurely FeastON-certified lunch prepared on a wood-fired grill by in-house chefs Ricky and Olivia, and paired with a vintage from the winery’s focused portfolio. “(The patio) is one we feel is very Niagara and we feel deserves international recognition and even local recognition. A lot of people don’t even realize this is here and when they get here they say, ‘It’s just like Burgundy’ or it’s just like somewhere else, except it’s Niagara,” Victoria said. “It’s celebrating that, celebrating our season, which is short, but it’s celebrating how great that season is.” The family hasn’t just demonstrated that to the people who come through the winery door in Jordan. Westcott vintages are on wine lists at Michelin-starred restaurants in the United Kingdom. Fine dining establishments in Singapore and Barbados are also pouring Westcott wines.
It’s a point of pride for Victoria, and one of irony, too. “We sell more (wine) to the U.K. than Vintages in the LCBO. We just can’t meet the demand because we’re a small-lot producer. The quantity is not huge but the quality is there, which is what everyone’s after,” she explained. “It’s the Canadian conundrum — we embrace our own when they have success overseas but I’d love it if we embraced it more locally.” The family could have tried to be everything to everyone to help in that quest. But they were determined to pursue what they felt Niagara does best when it comes to wine. That’s why Pinot Noir and Chardonnay dominate despite toying with the idea of planting Gamay Noir, which goes into their Temperance red blend. And that’s why Victoria’s first sip all those years ago tasted the way it did. “We definitely want to keep our focus and not be a winery doing 20 products,” Victoria said. “We were so fortunate all these farmers and grape growers did everything before us because it it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t know what grows well here.”

• • • • •


Westcott Vineyards Website: 3180 Seventeenth St, Jordan Station, ON L0R 1S0

Ryan Corrigan

Rosewood Estates Winery: The Buzz Around the Unconventional

A trip to Niagara’s wine country usually brings to mind the picturesque scenery and sprawling vineyards of Niagara-on-the-Lake. But where many don’t think to look, in the lesser-known parts of the region, is where some of Niagara’s most unique offerings can be found. In Beamsville, a town just 40 minutes from Niagara-on-the-Lake, sits a vineyard that goes beyond the traditional and embraces the art of experimentation. Say hello to Rosewood Estates Winery, a family-owned winery whose passion for sustainable winemaking is as strong as their commitment to authenticity and honesty in their products.

When asked about the importance of their eco-friendly farming practices at Rosewood, winemaker Ryan Corrigan points out the decline in the global bee population, which could have “devastating results.” That’s why they employ natural practices that take the environment and the estate apiary into consideration.

“In our cellar, we minimize water usage through the use of highly compressed steam for cleaning of tanks and barrels,” notes Ryan. “In winemaking, our choice of minimal additions is centered around the elimination of variables that could cloud the true expression of our vineyards and each unique vintage.”

Ryan says Rosewood’s role as caretakers of the land is important to them, and they strive to “preserve this opportunity for the future.”

The winery’s eco-conscious practices aren’t the only thing distinguishing them. An on-site apiary representing three generations of beekeeping means Rosewood Estates goes beyond the grapes. They are passionate about raising awareness about good beekeeping practices while also producing their own honey and mead.

But what is mead?

Sometimes called “the drink of the gods,” mead is a fermented “honey wine” with a sweet finish similar to icewine. Ryan stresses the variation in the mead they produce, letting the different seasons result in a “vintage variation” effect—more reason to come out for a visit just about any time of year.

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“Different seasons produce different flora for the bees to pollinate, and the resulting honey reflects these unique conditions,” he says. “Each stop at Rosewood for wines or honey will hopefully be a singular and inspiring visit.”

A passion for both creativity and scientific exploration drew Ryan into winemaking. He calls the vocation “the perfect marriage of artistic expression and scientific pragmatism” and, after a start in Biomedical Science, he transferred into Brock’s Winemaking Program and the rest was history. “I wanted to get into a field that allowed creativity and involved honest, hard work,” Ryan shares.

After four years abroad, he returned to Niagara where he’s constantly inspired by the land and the fruits of his labour (quite literally we may add). What does he love most about the region? The variation. He notes the way the final product reflects a certain point in time.

“In essence, these artifacts tell the story of the region, the soil and it’s evolution.”

It’s easy to see how the uniqueness of the Beamsville Bench terroir has influenced Rosewood’s individuality as a winery. A glance at their offerings, with names like “Riesling AF” and “The Bird and the Bees,” tell the story of a team who not only create quality wine and mead, but one that thoroughly enjoys what they do and has a little fun in the process too.

As for Ryan? He revels in the opportunity to be creative.

Creative Niagara Wine Making

“I really enjoy taking the superfluity out of wine and seeing customers discover a style or taste that they didn’t know about before,” says Ryan. “We try to foster an attitude of curiosity and experimentation, while creating honest and tasty wines.”

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Constantly inspired by the Niagara region, Ryan embraces the challenges of honestly representing the region in his final products. “It is inspiring for me to live in an area so rich in flavours and aromas. It challenges me to capture this essence in our wines,” he says of the area. “The region is home to numerous artisans and farmers, who share their passions and feed a collective inspiration for us all.”

In addition to the passion that comes from the people and land of the region, Ryan also takes inspiration from his own experiences, incorporating a little piece of his journey into every bottle of wine he makes. From his education to his time spent travelling abroad, every minute of his life has shaped his winemaking philosophy and played a role in his work. He blends “Old World” techniques with modern technology, resulting in a “neotraditional” approach to winemaking. But this doesn’t mean an entirely hands-off approach. They take special care to monitor and taste each product, bust choose to focus less on the process and more on the final taste. As Ryan jokingly shares, “I’ve learned that it takes a lot of work to do nothing to a wine.”


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With a new year comes new challenges and opportunities that Ryan notes he is ready to face head-on with a curious, open mind. In particular, Rosewood has plans to “push forward and ask questions about the land that we farm and the expression of the resulting products.” A winery that appreciates the tradition in pure, honest winemaking but embraces the power of experimentation, they will continue to try new things and push the boundaries for delicious results.

The winery is also looking forward to a bright and bubbly future, with plans to explore an in-depth sparkling wine program. Ryan also mentions looking at the local botanicals that may “interact positively with our meads for fortified honey wines” – a natural step for the bold winery.

But most importantly? They’ll keep doing what they do best, challenging limits and testing new ideas to keep producing exceptional, unique, untraditional wine.

“It’s an exciting time for the Niagara wine industry,” Ryan shares. “We have the opportunity to experiment and express ourselves creatively without the burden of tradition.”

With Ryan as a farmer of flavour in the vineyard, Rosewood sure is blooming with their earth to bottle approach. All you need is a taste of their honest wines, innovative meads and aromatic honey to know that this passionate team is truly listening to what Niagara has to offer—not only creating buzz amongst visitors, but their healthy and happy local bees too.

• • • • •


Rosewood Estates Winery
4352 Mountainview Rd, Beamsville, ON L0R 1B2

David Sider

David Sider: A winery chef to break the mold

David Sider knows it isn’t easy cooking with local ingredients.

It’s not that the chef at the restaurant at Redstone Winery has trouble finding foods to best represent Niagara throughout the seasons. Problem is, people who come to the Beamsville establishment to eat get attached to what Sider cooks. They take menu changes hard.

Like that time shortly after Redstone opened in 2015 and Sider put a chilled sweet pea soup on the menu. The spring delicacy was fleeting, just like the star ingredient. And it was much to the disappointment of a diner who returned two months after enjoying a bowl with a craving for another.

“She said, ‘I don’t understand. Why would you do that?’ ” Sider recalled. “We said, ‘It just couldn’t be as good now so why not keep that as a wonderful memory and come back next spring?’”

Still, Sider gets it. The expectation of eating the foods we love whenever the hankering hits is a symptom of restaurant menus that stay static for entire seasons rather than truly reflecting a region at a moment in time. But Sider refuses to indulge that. Instead, he’ll do an entire menu overhaul with his staff as often as every week because keeping chilled sweet pea soup available for Spring’s four-month run wouldn’t be honest.

Sider’s honesty in the kitchen started with doing honest work. The Vineland native washed dishes at nearby Inn on the Twenty as a teen. He liked it — he still does at 32. It’s not unusual to find him rinsing plates at Redstone today for stress relief.

Still, the beautiful food heading from the pass into the dining room caught his eye and, with a bit of convincing, then-chef Kevin Maniaci gave Sider a chance to escape the dish pit to try his hand elsewhere in the kitchen.


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Sider took full advantage of the opportunity, all the while being comfortable as the weakest link in the brigade.

“I took the approach of being the awful cook in the kitchen. If you find yourself as a young person in a kitchen and at the bottom of the totem pole, you have lots to learn,” he explained. “I’m the type of person, I like to do well at something, so not being good was very frustrating but it led me to wanting to do more and learn more.”

At home, Sider convinced his parents to spend a little more on groceries so he could practise his knife skills and polish his brunoise. Eventually, Sider wanted to formalize his culinary education and headed to cooking school in Toronto.

His time in the hallowed halls of George Brown College was “a brief affair,” thanks to another teachable moment while working at Splendido, the now-shuttered Toronto institution credited with introducing the city to tasting menus.


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The chef asked what Sider wanted to do when he finished school. The answer was easy. He wanted to work at Splendido. “He said, ‘But Dave, you already work here,’ ” Sider recalled. His decision to leave school was made.

But he wasn’t done learning. Sider eventually moved on to Langdon Hall where he worked for nearly five years under Jonathan Gushue, who helped the Cambridge inn earn its five-diamond rating.

Sider liked how Langdon Hall operated with its many moving parts as a hotel and restaurant. He appreciated how special the rural property was with its gardens, and the restaurant’s connections to suppliers. During his time there, he transitioned from a line cook to second in command as chef de cuisine, running service and tasting everything before it left the kitchen. Sider also enabled his team to flourish.

“It was exciting. I still love cooking but it’s exciting to see cooks come into their own as well. It’s like here. Teaching is incredibly important,” he said. “The more things we’re all doing, the more we learn from it. It keeps everybody happy and more inclined to stick around. On the flip side, if you’re not a motivated person, you’re not inclined to stick around, which is also OK.”

Sider headed west in 2013, working as restaurant chef at the storied Wickininnish Inn in Tofino, BC. In a way, it was a whole new world for a culinarian who’d carved out a career path in landlocked Ontario.

“It taught me how to cook fish,” Sider said with a laugh. “I was being trained in the sauce section and I thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m supposed to be this guy’s boss and I can’t cook fish.’ Here, even oysters can be a tough sell… whereas there, it’s almost a culture. The huge beach oysters — people here would be terrified.”

Even perfectly prepared salmon would cause consternation here, he added, because it would seem undercooked.

Returning to Niagara

Two years later, Niagara beckoned. Sider didn’t expect to return so soon. The region wasn’t known for chefs moving around, so Sider held no expectations that he’d ever helm a galley here until he learned Moray Tawse was opening Redstone, an offshoot of his award-winning eponymous winery in Vineland.


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Six months later, he returned to the region as Redstone executive chef but not without a few reservations.

“Growing up here, I grew up with the idea that winery restaurants were snooty places. They were out of reach for most people and over-charged for everything, and they were uncomfortable rooms to be in,” Sider said.

But then he walked into Redstone with its rustic wood and stone touches, soaring ceilings and picture windows overlooking sprawling vineyards and he felt, well, comfortable.

Redstone would break the winery restaurant mold, he said. It would be a fun place with food to match.

That doesn’t mean he wouldn’t worry about the wow factor when plating dishes and the story they’d tell “which is all very, very important and valid, but we learned this isn’t necessarily the restaurant for that. It’s a place where people are coming to enjoy themselves and be loud, which carries with it a different experience in terms of food and service.”


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He also refused to skip any of the intricate steps required to make memorable food, like that chilled sweet pea soup. However, he doesn’t feel the need to talk about it every time a diner is presented with their order.

Many of the dishes on the Redstone menu are made for sharing. They’re what Sider likes to eat when he’s out with friends. And while being in a wine region — and in a winery — doesn’t dictate how he cooks, “it definitely creates a personality in restaurants that couldn’t exist anywhere else,” he said.

Like being able to serve chilled sweet pea soup for only a few weeks instead of months.

“What you do in a restaurant is equally important as where it is. This restaurant couldn’t be in Toronto, just like a restaurant from Toronto couldn’t be a restaurant here,” Sider said motioning to the Redstone vineyards. “It’s unique for that reason. You can’t get that anywhere else.”


• • • • •


The Restaurant at Redstone Winery
4245 King St, Beamsville, ON L0R 1B1

Doug Whitty

From butter tarts to Gamay Noir: Welcome to 13th Street Winery

Here’s the thing about farmers: They’re not pie-in-the-sky people.

So when Doug Whitty, a third generation tender fruit grower, and his wife and business partner, Karen, traded one emblematic Niagara fruit — peaches — for another in grapes to become co-owners of 13th Street Winery in 2008, there were no misapprehensions about what was in their future.

There would be hard work, for sure. Sustainability for Whitty generations to come, too. And, given their knack and passion for marketing the best of Niagara’s harvests directly to consumers at the busy farm market they used to run on Fourth Avenue, there was the opportunity to build yet another destination in the region.

“It was a logical step for us because we were already doing direct marketing,” Doug recalled. “We were already doing that because of Karen’s involvement (with the farm market) so it made sense. Also, being farmers, we didn’t have unrealistic expectations.”

They did have experience, though. In addition to tender fruit, the couple was growing grapes for other local wineries when 13th Street owners John and June Mann called on them for a business partnership.

By taking the reins at 13th Street on St. Catharines’ westernmost periphery, the Whittys could help further Niagara’s winemaking identity at a time when the region was still trying to assert itself as a force in tipple production.

The Manns were known risk takers, focusing on only a few varieties, including Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, when they founded 13th Street at its original location on its namesake artery in 1998. They were also pioneers in a movement to make Niagara shine as a sparkling wine region, and for helping to establish under-appreciated Gamay Noir as a bona fide crown jewel of wine in these parts.

“We give the original founders credit for identifying full-bodied Gamay and sparkling as belonging in the vineyard and the cellar.(Gamay) is like Riesling. You can do a lot with it and it belongs here. It’s consistent and a more hardy winter variety.”


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Over the years, the winery evolved into a popular meeting place for visitors and locals alike to enjoy a glass while admiring pristine vineyards or celebrate some of Canada’s most renowned and thought-provoking artists whose work is showcased in a contemporary sculpture park, curated by the Manns, on the winery grounds.

Those needing to take a load off could lunch at the seasonal Farmhouse Bistro, helmed by chefs Josh Berry and Rachel Adams, or kickback on Burger Saturdays where the barbecue staple is served alongside live music and 13th Street vintages on long weekends in the summer. There would be more formal winemaker dinners that matched vintner Jean Pierre Colas’s work with the best of the season, too.

“He has this whole other life experience,” Doug said about Colas, who hails from Burgundy, France. “People can go to a winemaker’s dinner and hang out with an Old-World winemaker. Or come here and hang out with us, too. We have a very unique experience to offer.”

Gateway to Niagara Wine

Including for those needing more of a gateway to Niagara wine. They can take a seat in the tank room for an educational seminar led by sommelier Corinne Maund, who walks visitors through 13th Street’s vintages without pretence.

“People love to learn and it creates an opportunity to have a relationship with guests more than just a service experience,” Karen said. “The wine and food education component has allowed us to build bonds and make life a little better.”

Then there’s the bakery, turning out a dozen different kinds of butter tarts based on Karen’s family recipe. Ink all over the country has been spilled about those pastries, which range from classic plain, raisin and pecan to inventive raspberry-toasted coconut versions or plays on beloved Turtles chocolates. Those writing about them rank 13th Street’s butter tarts among the best of this most Canadian treat. (The homemade salsa — they sell thousands of jars — is the bakery’s savoury bestseller.)


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All in, it’s made wine, food and art the mantra of 13th Street as the winery has shifted from a simple tasting room with a farm market to an elegant and definitive representation of Niagara in a glass and on a plate, with the option of an overnight stay at the winery’s Airbnb for those who want an extended experience.

Through all the growth and change, no one has ever lost sight of this being an approachable, welcoming place “to pause, reflect and enjoy” and appeal to a “sense of discovery, decompression and exploration,” Doug explained.

“We took what was here and developed it based on what we’re passionate about,” Karen said. “We wanted to offer that farm experience. Obviously we’re passionate about wine and food. That’s our No. 1 passion. The art also makes it unique. But it’s authentic. It’s what we love. You can put art on a wall and create a beautiful space but this is who we are.”

Ditto for being community and culture builders in Niagara, who showcase the region at its finest, rather than simply market their own winery.

“We often say what we need to do here is create a winery experience,” Doug said. “Certainly, it’s high quality wine. There aren’t a lot of people exposed to Ontario wine, even now. If we can provide that, we can contribute not only to 13th Street but the whole industry.”

• • • • •


13th Street Winery
1776 Fourth Ave, St. Catharines, ON L2R 6P9

Adam Hynam-Smith

Dispatches from one of Canada’s best new restaurants

There’s a way to earn chef Adam Hynam-Smith’s respect.

It’s with couscous. But there’s a catch: the tiny balls of crushed durum semolina that are a staple in North Africa and the Middle East have to be cooked properly.

“I have no respect for anyone who can’t cook couscous,” Hynam-Smith said. “It takes a lot longer than people think.”

And it’s different than how the Australian-born culinarian, who co-owns Dispatch in downtown St. Catharines with his wife and local artist Tamara Jensen, was taught to prepare it in some of the finest kitchens that weaned him Down Under.

It wasn’t until a trip to Morocco as a young twenty-something that Hynam-Smith learned the right way to cook couscous. It starts with respect for the ingredient, with the finer preparation details gleaned during an a méchoui feast in the lower Atlas mountains. Outside, the men cooked a whole lamb in an underground pit of coals. Inside, women prepared vegetables, fresh breads and what would become Hynam-Smith’s benchmark, couscous.

“I’d go from outside to inside to watch the women inside preparing the couscous and vegetables,” Hynam-Smith recalled. “I was absolutely fascinated watching them prepare couscous.”

Those influences from his world travels can be tasted today on Dispatch’s lauded meze-inspired menu. It’s filled with the small plates that are a big part of the dining experience in Mediterranean and Arab countries.

And Hynam-Smith is as exacting in his preparation — be it of couscous or anything else on the menu at Dispatch — as what he saw in Morocco in 2006.

His education in professional kitchens started much earlier, however. Hynam-Smith was 13 when he landed a job washing dishes for chef Robert Griffiths, who helmed some of Australia’s best galleys. He landed the gig with the help of his parents who knew even then that a kitchen was where their son wanted to be.

“Going into restaurants, eating at restaurants, I wanted to do it,” Hynam-Smith said. “We’d go to (Griffiths’ restaurant) for dinner all the time and my parents told them of my interest. They offered me a job in the kitchen washing dishes.”

But Hynam-Smith, who was fascinated by food — the preparation, the bonding that happens over the table — wasn’t so good with steel wool and dish soap. He was too busy watching the chefs as they worked.

He’d fall behind or let the dishwater get soupy, and get barked at. One day, though, he got called over to the pass to help plate desserts. The end of his tenure in the dish pit was nigh.

“It was a thrill to go and plate desserts and watch and ask questions.”


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By the time he was 17, he traded his final year of high school to apprentice with Griffiths. Hynam-Smith handled entrées and desserts while Griffiths oversaw hot entrées and main courses. Together, they prepared “the nouveau cuisine” of the time, all the while Hynam-Smith absorbed the intricacies of it, including butchery.

“Really it was learning skills and techniques in cooking that a lot of people don’t get to learn at that age,” he said. “It was that one-on-one experience. Having all of my chef’s attention for learning was absolutely priceless.”

After his apprenticeship, Hynam-Smith cooked and staged at restaurants in an around Melbourne, including at Restaurant Jacques Reymond.

“I tried to get a job in there. (Reymond) didn’t have a job so I just worked for free.”

Hynam-Smith’s determination didn’t go unnoticed by the famed chef, who helped the young cook get into a restaurant specializing in Middle Eastern and North African cuisine. That’s where Hynam-Smith fell in love with the foods of the region and proved how serious he was about cooking professionally.

“Like any cook of that era, I burnt the candle at both ends. I’d be working 60 to 90 hours a week,” he recalled. “That was my decision because I’d go in before my shift started… I wanted to be there. (At the end of my shift) they’d say ‘You’ve got to leave.’ I’d go and sign out and go right back to the kitchen.”


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Eventually, though, Hynam-Smith started to long for one of the rights of passage he missed by not graduating high school: the gap year, a time meant for world travel before starting university or the job hunt. He worked and saved to hit the road, logging time with “incredibly gifted” chefs Sonia and Nick Anthony at a gastropub outside Melbourne. He also cut out the partying synonymous with kitchen life that he used to cope with the death of his grandfather.

In 2006, Hynam-Smith bought a one-way ticket for Canada, landing on the West Coast first, followed by pivotal stops in Morocco, France and England.

It was his visit to Barcelona, Spain, that would change his life forever, for the better. It’s where he met Jensen, and rather than return to Australia in 2008 after two years on the road, he moved to Ottawa where Jensen worked as an analyst for Corrections Canada.

They would stay in the Capital Region for another year and travel to Bangkok, Thailand, where Hynam-Smith learned Thai cooking from Chef Ajam Kobkaew, who’s taught Michelin-star chefs and liaised with the Culinary Institute of America.

They also visited Jensen’s friends in St. Catharines, Niagara, and saw something in the rustbelt city that compelled them to move here in 2009.

“We saw the potential in it.”

“At the time downtown was a ghost town. We maybe didn’t know the extent of the bureaucracy in the city and region, but nonetheless, we saw the potential in the city. It was also smack dab in the middle of two wine regions. We looked at it as a place that can be built on, that was going through a rebirth.”

St. Catharines Revitalization

Hynam-Smith and Jensen would become well-versed in that bureaucracy when they launched Ontario’s first gourmet food truck, El Gastronomo Vagabundo, in the Garden City in 2010. They would learn hot dog carts got an easier pass serving food on city streets than a refurbished courier truck helmed by a professional chef wanting to cook based on his world travels and a partner in Jensen who put on her career on hold to help make it happen.

It was a constant battle with city halls throughout the region and province, and with bricks and mortar establishments, who feared the competition from roving gourmets shelling out tostadas, fish tacos, and green papaya salad curbside.

The truck was supposed to be a gateway to a restaurant of their own one day, but being on the defence led to dark days for Hynam-Smith, who credits Jensen with helping him stay the course.

She’s had a lot to do with pushing me through tough times and sticking with me through tough times in the industry,” he said. “(Dispatch) is also her vision.”

Still, it would be nine years, one cookbook, one downtown revitalization, and Jensen selling a lot of art before the couple would open Dispatch in an old movie theatre on a stretch of St. Paul Street that hadn’t gotten the same TLC as other parts of St. Catharines’ core during its reimagining by private and public investors.

The couple opened Dispatch in 2019 with lofty goals: be a living wage employer — they are — and get on enRoute Magazine’s list of best new restaurants in Canada. Last fall, the magazine ranked Dispatch ninth in the country for its detail-oriented menu rooted in a closed-loop approach to cooking that emphasizes reducing waste.

Hynam-Smith leads the kitchen while Jensen handles marketing in addition to holding down a full-time job with a local digital creative agency.

Their efforts have turned heads at national and international media outlets, including Condé Nast Traveler, which sent a reporter to cover the rebirth of St. Catharines and the role of risk takers like Hynam-Smith and Jensen in the city’s makeover.

As a result, people from all over the world have taken a seat at a Dispatch table, bringing high expectations with them. Hynam-Smith and Jensen are keen to host them in this former industrial, mid-sized Ontario city sandwiched between bucolic vineyards and orchards.

“Our goal is to attract people and make people go ‘Holy shit, St. Catharines, who knew?’ We love when people come down here and look outside and say ‘We can’t believe this is St. Catharines.’ That’s huge,” Hynam-Smith said.

“All we want is for this city to succeed,” he added. “We want to be part of rebuilding a sense of pride. That’s all we want.”



• • • • •


386 St Paul St, St. Catharines, ON L2R 3N2

Wes Lowrey

Five Rows: From Hidden Gem to Cult Success

Head 15 minutes south of Niagara-on-the-Lake, past the lush Virgil Memorial Forest, alongside the turning Niagara River, and you’ll find St. Davids, a small town of roughly 700 people nestled in the middle of Ontario’s wine country. “We hear many happy tales from visitors bound for Niagara-on-the-Lake who happen to stumble upon this hidden gem,” says Wes Lowrey. Wes is a fifth-generation winemaker and viticulturist at Lowrey Vineyards and founder of Five Rows Craft Winery, a craft winery located on a 35-acre vineyard along the St. David’s Bench appellation. Coming from a family of viticulturists led Wes to have a fascination with the natural world. He decided to pursue microbiology at the University of Guelph, where he spent his spare time studying yeast and fermentation chemistry. Although he’d been aware that his family tended to some highly sought-after grapes, it was only in a university beverage management course that Wes discovered his family’s appellation was making world-class wines. “I’d always been privy to the accolades received by the wines made from our vineyard at Inniskillin and later Creekside Estate Winery, but it wasn’t until I heard our vineyard mentioned glowingly by the professor of this course that it really sunk in—Niagara was making world-class wines. From that point on I was hooked,” he says. For five generations, Wes’ family tended to the sought-after vines at St. David’s Bench appellation and provided grapes for some of the most prestigious wineries in the country. Despite the success the vineyard was already having, Wes began to feel drawn to a larger calling. In 2001 he realized he needed to open up his own craft winery. “I saw my father working alongside my grandfather and wanted to replicate the special bond they shared. When the opportunity came to start a very small craft winery to complement our vineyard, I jumped at the chance,” shares Wes. After working as a viticulturist at two other wineries—Creekside and Blomidon Estate Winery in Nova Scotia—he moved back home to St. Davids and started his own craft winery on the estate. “I realized that smaller wine production meant more time for me to personally look after the vines. This proved to be beneficial two-fold, in that it allowed for greater control of vine balance and flavour production, while also giving me critical firsthand knowledge of the terroir and how to best harness it in the wines.”

Short Supply & Strong Demand

At Five Rows, wine is truly of the essence. With only 400 cases made per year, the appointment-only tastings run from late June until they run out (usually mid-August). Tastings are served in an intimate, wooden barn that also happens to be the space where the wine is made, hand-labeled, and stored. Amidst the utilitarian backdrop, the room is cozy, authentic and so are the people. Even if you’re not family, you’ll get treated like you are, in more ways than one. Wes half-jokingly warns, you may get talked into helping the team thin a few vines of Pinot Noir before you leave. He insists the vines are tended to with his own two hands, and yours! The result? Incredible wines that sell out fast.
“Being located on the St. Davids Bench, we are best known for our ageable red wines (Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Pinot Noir), but one might be surprised to know that our fastest-selling wines every year are our aromatic whites: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Riesling,”
It’s no wonder the winery has achieved such a large fanbase. But how does a small craft winery manage such cult success? “As more people discover our wines, it can be a challenge to maintain a mom and pop shop feel. Selling out of wine within a few months every year has helped create demand and buzz for our product. I think spurning the temptation to expand production beyond our comfort level has kept us just enough under the radar to rely mainly on word of mouth for promotion,” he explains. A community feel is to be expected at Five Rows, Wes likes to keep his customers as friends by maintaining a practice that is as transparent as possible. “We’ve found that having good communication with both return customers and newcomers alike is the key to keeping people aware of our ever-dwindling supplies,” he shares. Wes keeps a Winemaker’s Blog on the Five Rows website with regular updates on the grapes, the process, and his family. “Being a father now to two young girls has given me a new perspective on land stewardship and sustainable practices, and is also reflected in the familial feel of Five Rows,” he says.
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When asked about what’s to come in the next few years for Five Rows, Wes shares:
“we like to consider ourselves that cozy little keepsake or tradition that you can always count on for comfort. Nothing flashy or showy, just a reflection of hard work and humility that hopefully continues for generations to come. I see no need to change our formula drastically, but I’m always experimenting with new barrel and yeast treatments that could help to express and frame our terroir.”
However, he was quick to follow up by mentioning that he’d hope to compliment the barn with a wine cave or underground cellar to better store and display their older vintages. According to Wes, one of the strengths of Niagara wines is their ability to improve with age, something his own wines are known for— if you can hold off on cracking a bottle open right away. Just one sip of their passionately made varieties and you’ll know why Five Rows is an off the beaten path destination that is well worth searching for. St. Davids alone is a wonderful “place within a place, much like appellations in viticulture,” says Wes. It too is a hidden treasure not many have the opportunity to experience. How fitting then that Five Rows is a secret gem within St. Davids. A special spot Wes has dreamed up with an overwhelmingly deep connection to the land, to winemaking, to family and where visitors are greeted like friends and leave as family.

• • • • •


Five Rows Craft Wine of Lowrey Vineyards Website: 361 Tanbark Rd, St. Davids, ON L0S 1P0

Angela & Melissa Marotta

A deep passion for winemaking and connection to family

Situated on the northern tip of the Niagara River, Angela and Melissa Marotta’s sprawling 130-acre property and luxurious neoclassical estate is one-of-a-kind in the region, evoking the beauty, charm and ease of Italy, the Marotta family’s home country.

A dream turned reality, the sisters had always envisioned bringing the magic of Italy to the Niagara region they know and love. Angela and Melissa fondly recall family picnics as children in Niagara, often passing by the now Two Sisters property. When it became available, their family purchased the land and hasn’t looked back since.

“The beauty of the landscape, the fertility of the land and the history of the area captured our hearts. Here, we were able to create a place that captures a little bit of the romance, architecture, food and wine of Europe here in Niagara-on-the-Lake,” share the sisters.

Angela and Melissa now make memories in the region with their own children at Two Sisters. Recalling their own special moments with family in Niagara, it was important to them to create a place to draw other people out to experience the region and savor life’s little moments.

“Niagara is the perfect place to experience with loved ones, family, children or friends. We love Niagara and want to be sure everyone visits because it’s so easy to get hooked on the beauty, friendly people, history and agriculture that it offers,” says Melissa.

Personal Marotta family touches are echoed in nearly every facet of Two Sisters Vineyards inside and out. From the works of art that line the walls of the estate, hand-picked by their mother Louisa during trips back to Italy, to the menu at their critically acclaimed restaurant Kitchen76 filled with cherished family recipes, to the vineyard’s emblem featuring seven grapes, representing their seven children—everything is a labour of love and of family.

Angela and Melissa are just as committed to family as they are to their vineyard. “Our goal from the very beginning was to produce the very best Ontario wines that we can from our terroir,” says Melissa. Clearly, it’s paid off, as the winery was recently awarded “Best Performing Small Winery” at the National Wine Awards of Canada.

Come winter, their award-winning wine offerings don’t stop. As the temperatures drop below freezing, visitors flock to Two Sisters to sip their world-class icewines. Melissa notes a particular crowd pleaser is their Riesling icewine, aptly nicknamed ‘Liquid Gold.’ Paired with Kitchen76’s savoury cheeses and decadent desserts, it’s easy to warm up to winter with a visit to their winery.

No matter what season you visit Two Sisters, Angela and Melissa ensure you’re taken care of in their second home with every sip, bite, sight and experience. You’ll often find both sisters greeting guests and sharing stories with visitors far and wide, welcoming them into their slice of Niagara paradise, just like they would family.

To plan your trip to Niagara visit and follow @visit_niagara on Instagram and Twitter as well as @visitniagara on Facebook.

For more on Two Sisters Vineyards head to


• • • • •

240 John St E, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0
(905) 468-0592


Two Sisters Vineyards
Phone: (905) 468-0592
240 John St E, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0

Greg Yemen

If Greg Yemen were to ever work a desk job, he’d want to set up his office on the crush pad of The Organized Crime Winery in Beamsville.

That way, the winemaker could still take in the jaw-dropping view that meanders down a gentle slope of the Niagara Escarpment, lined with grapevines, before stretching across Lake Ontario to the big city on the other side.

It’s not a large area relative to the rest of the region but it has become hugely important for its role in Niagara’s wine story, and Yemen’s as a vintner. The impact of this parcel can be tasted in the wines that netted him and The Organized Crime seven medals in the 2019 National Wine Awards of Canada handed out by Wine Align. The winery also ranked sixth among the top 25 wineries in Canada, and second in Ontario after its neighbour Hidden Bench Estate Winery, which is part of Yemen’s enviable view.

“There’s something more to it than us,” Yemen said. “This piece, this special little spot in Niagara with this soil, we don’t get overripeness. We get the right level of ripeness, balance, freshness, and the minerality. This land is really special.”

But, then, so is Yemen, a humble type who’s more inclined to be sheepish about getting any attention at all for his work.

“All we’re doing is making a beverage,” he said. “There’s this whole culture of celebrity with chefs and winemakers. I don’t understand it. We’re just blue collar workers.”

Whatever the colour of his shirt, Yemen’s pathway to becoming a lauded winemaker was filled with as many bends and twists as an old vine.

The native of Guelph, Ont., spent the first part of his career as a carpenter on Vancouver Island in the early aughts. He and his wife, Courtney, never intended to return to Ontario but then she was accepted to vet school “and we came back, right to the city we left,” Yemen recalled.

Wherever he was, though, Yemen had his love for wine to help pass his off-hours. At night, he would sit down with a glass and his copy of the Oxford Companion of Wine, and read about the region whose vintage he was sipping.

It was fitting for a guy whose fondest memories growing up were of food rather than the usual kid’s stuff; like that time he and his family went to Disney World, and it was waffles he ate in Orlando that stayed with him most.


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“That’s what I remember, not Mickey Mouse. I can remember being in Washington and eating a Philly Cheesesteak, but I can’t remember the Smithsonian,” he said.

Making Wine in the Niagara Region

The final proverbial nail in his carpentry career came after Yemen read a story about Paul Pender, a former carpenter turned renowned winemaker at Tawse Winery in nearby Vineland.

“I thought, ‘Why can’t I do this?’” Yemen said.

So he did. After Courtney graduated from vet school, Yemen decided it was time for him to return to the classroom. He enrolled at Niagara College, studying winemaking and viticulture. But before cracking a textbook, he got a job at Alvento Winery in 2008. The Jordan winery was making a name for itself with Italian influenced vintages and Bordeaux-style reds at the time.

It was “very old world” in comparison to school, which was “textbook winemaking, and very safe.”

Sometimes Yemen would skip class to do the hands-on version of his lessons at Alvento, treating winemaking like an apprenticeship rather than an academic pursuit. He didn’t shy away from the hard work or the physical labour required to make wine. As a result, he’s not inclined to cut corners in his winemaking today.

“I probably make a lot more work for myself but in the end, I make better wine because of it. It probably helps coming from a trade because I know what it’s like to work, so it wasn’t a jump coming into this,” he explained. “We’re still making something but it’s a longer process and in the end, we’re making something that makes people happy.”

Organized Crime

After three years at Alvento, Yemen worked with Ross Wise at Flat Rock Cellars. Together, the duo also did winemaking at smaller wineries, including The Organized Crime, starting in 2013. By 2016, though, he decided to devote his efforts entirely to the winery owned by Jan Tarasewicz, who, other than Yemen, is the only full-time employee.

Yemen avoids any heavy-handed intervention when turning another year’s harvest into vintages that are noteworthy to national wine award judges. He’ll tend toward wild and natural fermentation processes but will still use yeast when he deems it necessary.

Whatever the case, he takes his cues from the grapes, which are different every year, thanks to unpredictable Mother Nature. Yemen doesn’t mind, though. He relishes the learning opportunities that come with each growing season.

“Every year, I feel less smart because I discovered what I don’t know,” he said with a laugh.

And only when he’s able to taste his wine does he know which ones were right, he added.

“If you ever meet a winemaker who thinks they’ve figured it out, they’re probably wrong,” Yemen said. “I think most winemakers are jealous of beer makers. If it doesn’t work out one day, they can start over the next. We get one shot a year.”

Still, he’s making the wine he likes to drink with the right balance of acidity and minerality — a “leaner wine” that’s not high in alcohol, and wine that’s causing people to play close attention to Niagara, and Yemen himself, who marvels at it all.

“I really like what we make here. We’re starting to get international recognition here, the chardonnay, the pinot noir, the cabernet franc,” he said.

• • • • •


Organized Crime
4043 Mountainview Rd, Beamsville, ON L0R 1B2

George Ward

The Restaurant at Vineland Estates: For the Love of Everything Local

You’ll find some of the most stunning views in the region among the iconic St. Urban Vineyard on Vineland Estates. It is this land and these expansive views overlooking Lake Ontario that have inspired locals and visitors alike.

Take a drive up to Vineland—a small farming community found between the southern shore of Lake Ontario and the Niagara Escarpment—and you’ll likely spot one particular wine and culinary destination with its characteristic stone tower. Standing alongside a former Mennonite homestead with historic buildings dating back as far as the 1840s, it’s a charming ode to simpler times before you’ve even stepped through the doors of this landmark winery’s buildings.

While we may be worlds away from the 1840s, the timehonoured tradition of estate-made wine, as well as warm and welcoming hospitality with an emphasis on local cuisine continues to shine through at Vineland Estates, a special spot where the “essence” (as they call it) of the Niagara Escarpment can be both seen and tasted.

In the former farmhouse now called “The Restaurant,” is one of Niagara’s first winery dining establishments, and it’s no wonder there’s a local at the helm. Born and raised in Niagara, Executive Chef George Ward to this day is inspired by someone close to home and his heart—his mother.

“Since I was a kid I knew I wanted to cook for a living. Watching my mom prepare the family meals with such love and care, I knew that there was something special about that,”

And not just cooking with care for her family, but with much thoughtfulness and regard for the land the ingredients were from. Never compromising quality, George shares his mother knew and trusted the source of all the ingredients she used, a philosophy he came to know and understand from a young age and what is one of the driving forces behind his culinary finesse to this day.

Of course, it helps that George hails from a region known for their incredible local produce and purveyors.

“Growing up and seeing all of the orchards, farms and vineyards has inspired me to use these ingredients with such care and respect,”

With the lush vines and abundant lands surrounding The Restaurant, there is no shortage of inspiration for George who prepares a daily tasting menu that uses the best ingredients Niagara has to offer. “Our dishes at Vineland Estates are all made in house. From our handrolled pastas, charcuterie from our chamber, to our sourdough breads that we bake every morning,” he says.

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A big part of his growth journey as a chef can be attributed to his work at Vineland Estates. After completing a Culinary Management program at Niagara College, George began working at the winery restaurant back in 2007 as a young apprentice. He credits the experience for allowing him to be a part of supporting local food purveyors and seeing the pride and motivation that fuels what they do to provide quality ingredients for chefs and locals.

No wonder George has stayed true to local through and through, especially when those who surround and support you are as inspired as you are about what they do.

The Niagara Region inspires me through its countless farmers, fisheries, wineries and breweries. I love building relationships with people who have the same passion for food and drink as I do,”

After a break for even more inspiration and insight on the industry he knows and loves, George spent a brief period of time away from Vineland Estates, managing fine dining restaurants along Niagara’s wine route. He eventually found his way back to Vineland Estates in 2011 as a Sous Chef working alongside acclaimed chef Justin Downes, coming full circle in 2019 as he accepted the Executive Chef position.

To this day, George shares his role at Vineland Estates still excites him and allows him to flex his creative prowess. “We have a 5-course menu that changes daily so it pushes me to be in a constant state of creativity. I am always experimenting in the kitchen looking for different flavour combinations and techniques that we haven’t thought of yet.”

Perhaps the best part is the relationships he has formed with local farmers and purveyors whose ingredients he tries to incorporate in each and every dish. Amongst his favourites, he names Fresh Niagara Mushrooms, Upper Canada Cheese Company, Pear Blossom Orchard as well as Smerek’s Family Farm as a few of the passionate and likeminded local food folks in the region.

“It is very important to know where your food comes from. I like to support the little guys! It really brings about a sense of community, partnership and respect for the ingredients that they offer,”

His expertise is not only in everything local, but in imaginative cuisine to bring out the “culinary adventurousness” in us all, he shares. Open yearround for lunch and dinner, The Restaurant at Vineland Estates features showstopping menu items like Ontario rainbow trout with brown butter, apples and pancetta, roasted sweet potato tortellini with candied chilies—and let’s not forget dessert—which includes their estate made gelato, sorbets and of course, local cheeses for those looking for something savoury.

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With endless drool-worthy dishes on their menu, it’s no surprise the restaurant was named one of Open Table’s Top 100 Restaurants in 2019. Despite the acclaim and being an esteemed 4-Diamond Star establishment, expect George and his culinary team to serve you with the same warm and welcoming down-home hospitality you’d get right from his mother’s kitchen table.

A true Niagara wine country dining experience, right down to the local goods on your plate and surrounding heart and soul of the region. “People should visit Vineland Estates if they are looking for the whole experience—great food, wine and service.”

For over thirty years this legacy Niagara wine and dining establishment has been inviting guests to indulge in everything Niagara and will clearly continue to do so with George behind their delightful local dishes.

• • • • •


The Restaurant at Vineland Estates
3620 Moyer Rd, Vineland, ON L0R 2C0

Dean Stoyka

It’s not hard to spot Stratus. In a region filled with history and charming rustic wineries, it stands in stark contrast to its surroundings; a dramatic glass, steel and wood structure set amongst lush green vines. This is one of many surprising yet enticing contrasts you’ll find at this innovative winery. At first glance, you may find yourself wrapped up in the modernity of it all, but once you step into the world of Stratus, you’ll be surprised to find they’re as deeply rooted in all that’s new as much as they are to honouring winemaking traditions.

Nine years ago, Assistant Winemaker Dean Stoyka walked into Stratus’ state-of-the-art facility and like many first time visitors, found himself completely in awe. While walking around with award-winning winemaker J-L (Jean-Laurent) Groux, it was his simple words of wisdom that compelled Dean to carry out his co-op at the winery while completing his studies at Niagara College.

Locally Trained Niagara Wine Maker

“We toured around the winery and talked about what Stratus was doing to make premium wine. I was amazed because here was J-L, winemaker at this incredible state-of-the-art facility and all he kept talking about was how important the vineyard’s impact is on the wine— the winery was just a bonus,” shares Dean.

“The Niagara soil and terroir is what really got him excited about winemaking at Stratus.”

“This was a revolution in my young career because I had been learning so much about wine science and winemaking that I had neglected to realize how important the vineyard was, a very old-world concept,” he says.

With his father having worked in the wine industry for forty-one years, Dean was excited about all that encompassed winemaking from a young age.

“One of my childhood memories is my dad coming home from work and his work clothes would make the whole house smell like a wine cellar,” jokes Dean. “When I grew up, there was really no other choice than to get into the wine business because wine felt like second nature to me.”

Perhaps it is both J-L and Dean’s similar upbringings in heavily wine-cultured regions that helps the two work so well together.

While Dean has lived and worked in Niagara his entire life, Stratus winemaker J-L Groux hails from the Loire Valley region of France, where wine is celebrated and very much a part of everyday life. Having perfected his winemaking skills at the College de Beaune in Burgundy and the University of Bordeaux, he landed in Niagara in the early 1980s and has been here ever since.


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Niagara Wine Terroir

J-L was initially drawn to the region because of its climate, perfect for grape-growing, yet completely different from the vineyards he knew and loved in the Loire Valley. After joining Stratus in 2004, as Director of Winemaking, he has become renowned both within the region and internationally for the incredibly distinct wines he makes based on the old-world art of “assemblage”—blending more than one grape variety to produce wine that is a more complex expression of a vineyard’s terroir.

“Niagara had a huge impact early on from immigrant winemakers like J-L who brought their old-world techniques and varieties to Niagara to help build the local industry and wine quality,”


Now with local enology programs at both Niagara College and Brock University, the region has been continuing to establish itself with a new age of winemakers who are learning in the best schools along with mentorship from veteran winemakers in the area.

“Twenty-five years ago you would have to travel to another country to get training in winemaking but today you can get that training right here in Niagara at these world-renowned schools which have really helped grow our wine industry,” says Dean.

Open since 2004, Stratus operates on a mission to produce exceptional wines, never forgetting that “wine is made in the vineyard,” as J-L shared with Dean from the very beginning. With that, the winery is also committed to sustainable farming practices to create complete harmony in the vineyards. Their must-see facility designed by Architect Les Andrew, with engineering design by Alan Greer, was the world’s first LEED-certified winery and is completely heated and cooled by geothermal energy.

Although guided by new-age design and technology, their winery practices are still very much pridefully guided by taste and tradition. What makes Stratus particularly unique is its diversity of wine varieties. An impressive sixteen in total are planted on the 62-acre vineyard.


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“Our owner David Feldberg and J-L decided to keep our oldest plantings from 1985 of Merlot, Chardonnay, and Cab Sauvignon and then added clonal selections from France in different spots of the vineyard to take advantage of this diversity and add complexity to our wines,” shares Dean.

Must-sips are their signature wines—the Stratus Red and Stratus White. Dean notes both are complex blends of varietals crafted together to ensure the perfect balance of acidity, texture, structure and aromatics—all of which they have the land to thank for.


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“When the Wisconsin Glacier melted and receded 12,000 years ago, it turned up the soils throughout the region and left them scattered. So even a small 62-acre parcel (like ours) has varying soil types and textures ideal for growing tender fruit. You can’t find it anywhere else in the world, you have to come here to see it and try the wine and food that we grow in it,” explains Dean.

Stop by for a flight of wine samplings as they only produce limited quantities—and they go fast. These include their Tannat, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, or Malbec single varietals all rich and layered with flavour. With aging at least seven to 10 years, all wine lovers can taste the difference time and tradition make.

“Making wine, I think is such a slow and patient evolution, it’s a once a year event. Because of this, the art of winemaking and its evolution depends on information being passed down through the generations so that the incoming generation can have a head start by learning from the previous winemakers’ experience and building off of it,”

With Dean at Stratus, the winery truly embodies old-world meets new. Where the ancient art of winemaking through assemblage is brought into the new world with a new purpose—up and coming winemakers like Dean are eager to make their mark on the region, his home, and the very land from which every sip was inspired.

• • • • •


Stratus Vineyards
2059 Niagara Stone Rd, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0

Tania Ganassini

Tucked away amidst the bustling restaurant scene in Niagara-on-the-Lake, there’s a gem unlike any other in the area, with a mission unlike any other. In a region known for five-star dining and world-renowned wine tasting catered to visitors, Staff Meal Niagara serves up healthy bites to fuel busy locals working in the region’s service industry as well as private and freelance workers.

Not to mention a few more twists—all of their offerings are plant-based and delivered right to you.

Meet the entrepreneurs nourishing the heart and soul of Niagara— Tania Ganassini and Amanda Ali, Co-founders of Staff Meal Niagara.

Who could have guessed that the path less travelled would lead to a thriving plant-based cooking career? Having initially never considered cooking as a viable career option, Tania went to university intending to be a kinesiology major. After taking three months off to backpack through Europe and do a whole lot of soul-searching, she took a cooking job two weeks upon returning home from her trip, went to culinary school and hasn’t looked back since. It didn’t take long for Tania’s career to take off after working in Toronto’s top restaurants and a Michelin-starred restaurant in Italy.

Food Network

Growing up as an avid Food Network junkie, Tania admits she idolized television chefs and never could have predicted she’d make it to the small screen herself. To date, Tania has showcased her talents on high-pressure shows like Chopped Canada and Top Chef Canada. But when the stressors of working in the city’s restaurant scene began to be too much, Tania took a chance and made a move towards a simpler life.

“I was thoroughly burnt out from restaurant life in Toronto. My dad, Marco (who’s a home inspector), was inspecting a home in the new Garrison Village and brought the neighbourhood to our attention,” Tania recalls. “We’d never considered living anywhere other than Toronto, but something in my heart told me that we needed to take the leap.”

Moving to Niagara-on-the-Lake

She quickly found that she’d made the right choice, finding a warm and welcoming home in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

“We immediately felt embraced by the region, and within a month, it felt like home,”

Finding close, life-long friends in a region thriving on local business and a bustling event scene, Niagara started to feel familiar and comforting.

No wonder Tania chose to devote her business to fuelling the community that has given her so much. The health-focused meal delivery service that is Staff Meal Niagara was inspired by her own transition to plant-based cuisine following a close call with a family member experiencing a heart attack. After almost 10 years of cooking professionally, Tania became “plant-curious,” reevaluating the ways she could make positive changes in her personal health and now the health of others.

Alongside Co-founder Ali, Tania serves up delicious bites that have more than vegans seeking out a scrumptious meal. “Most of our customers are not vegan at all, but enjoy our food because it is vibrant, nourishing, and satisfying,” boasts Tania. “It is a plant-based business that appeals to everyone.”


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As if by fate, the dynamic duo met as co-workers at a local brewery and became fast friends with a shared passion for healthy eating. “We would talk about food and nutrition nonstop, often giving detailed descriptions of our previous night’s dinner. We had a text message stream that was comprised entirely of food puns,” she jokes.

“We were both simultaneously making healthy lunches and smoothies for our loved ones and noticed a major gap in the availability of convenient health food in the region. With our combined expertise, we knew we wanted to turn it into a business to provide a service we desperately needed ourselves,” shares Tania.

Staff Meal Niagara

Two-and-a-half years in, Staff Meal Niagara has carved out a niche spot for itself in Niagara-on-the-Lake’s renowned food and drink scene, offering meals for delivery and pickup including nutritious bowls and snacks. Now with their new brick-and-mortar home in Niagara-on-the-Lake, this offering has expanded to workshops and community events too.

Fully embracing their mission to joyfully nourish the souls and bellies of their community with the utmost respect for the environment, this is demonstrated in everything from their eco-friendly packaging, commitment to using local ingredients and building community around conversations about food. Notable offerings include their postpartum meal program for new parents and their “Random Snacks of Kindness” campaign. A personal favourite of Tania’s, the campaign allows the community to nominate someone they think could use a nourishing meal and the winner has a meal delivered as a surprise.

Not only is Staff Meal Niagara a business powered by passion, but every bite is packed with flavour and Tania’s fine-dining flair. “Because of my fine dining background, I like to create our dishes with the same principles that would apply to compose a plate in a nice restaurant: texture, colour, presentation, balance of flavours, acidity and seasoning,” she explains.


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A quick glance at their website offers a glimpse of their tantalizing tastes with items like their Rhubarbara-Ann chia parfait, Edward Caesar-Hands salad and Kale Me Maybe stew. Not only does their labour of love offer meals packed with nutrients that are big on personality, but they are also fiercely loyal to keeping their business locally-fuelled.

“We frequent the local farm stands and markets to connect with the producers and work with them as best as we can,” Tania explains. “Using their seconds is a great way to use product that would otherwise not be sold, but is just as delicious and beautiful.”

With their commitment to everything local, it’s no surprise Tania is proud to call Niagara region home. Her creativity is continuously sparked by both the region and its people.

“Niagara’s bounty is very inspiring, but I’m especially inspired by the people. There is a level of awareness around sustainability and supporting local businesses that is infectious and really promising,”

Whether you find yourself in need of a quick and healthy meal or are looking to explore the world of plant-based eating at a cheekily named workshop (try their “Grateful Ched” plant-based cheese workshop), or even a cooking class, there’s no denying the self-proclaimed #NiagaraProud eatery is well worth taking a plant-based bite out of.



• • • • •


Staff Meal @ The Grove in Niagara-on-the-Lake
Niagara Stone Rd. at E Side, Mulberry Ln, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0

Donald Ziraldo

Donald  Ziraldo is a Canadian winemaker and businessman, and a Member of the Order of Canada. He has often been hailed as one of the most important figures in Canadian wine history. Here he discusses the uniqueness of the Icewine and the Niagara Region.

Watch My Niagara Experience with Donald Ziraldo:


“Icewine is a very, very unique product. We leave the grapes naturally frozen on the vine, by law, as the freezing and thawing process contributes to the concentration of sugar acid and the ideal balance is the secret to gives you that main the sensation on the palate.

This gives you a rush of sugar when you drink it and then the acidity cleanses your palate and its ready for some food like foie gras or something exotic.

Niagara Wine Region

The Niagara wine region itself is really defined by two things:

  • Lake Ontario, which as one of the Great Lakes is very deep.
  • The Niagara Escarpment, which create this microclimate we get very hot summers so we get a ripe fruit but then in the shoulders season in December January the temperature drops off dramatically, grapes freeze and we make ice wine.

It’s very unique and it doesn’t happen many other places in the world.

When we won the Grand Prix d’Honneur, Vinexpo, France 1991 award for our Icewine in Bordeaux France, we were given the title of being the best dessert wine in the world.

I thought, you know what?– I’m gonna go and tell the world

That’s the nice thing about wine– there’s always that glamorous element to it; where everybody gets dressed up, they go to these galas.

Savouring Icewine

You want to savour all of the different aromas and flavours that are really translating from the terroir and the region that we live in. It expresses the character of the region itself, along with the varieties that we use in the case of Icewine Riesling, Vidal and Cab Franc.

Let us welcome you to Niagara the lake and enjoy the ice wines of the region.

I’m Donald Ziraldo and this is My Niagara Experience. “

• • • • •

Learn More About Niagara Wine

Learn more about Niagara Wine, including Icewine at:

Emma Garner

Seated in the lush fruit belt just below the belly of Lake Ontario is where you’ll find the century-old brick town of Beamsville. “It’s close enough to the action of Toronto or St. Catharines but still far enough away that you get that small-town feel when you are there,” says Emma Garner. Having travelled to Australia, New Zealand, France and Germany, she never thought she’d settle down. That is, until she discovered the terroir of the Niagara region.

Emma had always been interested in science—specifically archaeology, forensics, and oenology. Like many of us though, she wasn’t sure how these interests would manifest in her career. Pursuing an education felt misguided without a goal. After taking some time to travel the world, she decided to pursue Oenology at Brock University in St.Catharines, Ontario.

“After travelling some more and learning about wine, I realized that it’s something that creates moments and brings people together. I also recognized that it’s much more interesting to discuss wine at dinner parties than dead bodies or digging in the dirt.” Who could blame her?

“I came to Niagara to go to Brock and never thought I would stay in this area. I had been bitten by the travel bug and wanted to get my degree and hit the road again. That changed when I was working at the tasting bar at Inniskillin Wines,” she says.

“Now I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”

Winemaking in Niagara

She settled down in Niagara with her partner and began honing her practice at Truis Winery, then Thirty Bench Wine Makers.

Despite her decision to settle down, her love of exploration has never dampened. “I get inspiration from a lot of places. Finding a region that produces amazing Rieslings or sparklings really gets me thinking. I’m not trying to recreate what those regions are making, however, I like to utilize some of their techniques to see how they affect our wines.”

It was her history of exploring that led Emma to recognize the special terroir of the Niagara region—she could tell that the founders of Thirty Bench Winery had spent time with the land in order to decide on the right location. Based on the Niagara Escarpment, a cliff that plunges at the falls and stretches out across Ontario, New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Illinois, “The Beamsville Bench” is a slim plateau that slouches from the Escarpment to the land below. Carved out from old sea, time, weathered limestone and shale, Thirty Bench Winery’s sub-appellation has been taking shape for the past 450 million years.


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That, and the vineyard has had a cult following that dates to when Emma was in university, specifically for their Rieslings and Bordeaux Reds. Their secret? A Small Lot program.

Thirty Bench Winery’s Small Lot Program

Thirty Bench Winery’s portfolio is home to a range of award-winning wines across nine different varietals. Their Small Lot program has been met with critical acclaim. In 2015 Emma won Winemaker of the Year at the Ontario Wine Awards and shortly after Thirty Bench Winery was named Canada’s Best Small Winery by WineAlign. If you’re curious how small, check the bottle! Each label is marked with the exact number of cases made for that vintage.

“I like to create wines that represent the space in which they are made.By making wines in small lots, we are able to really focus on every detail required to make it—from how much crop to leave in the vineyard to the fermentation temperature.”

Emma’s specialty is Rieslings. She uses a signature method of fermenting at a low temperature to enhance the aromatic compounds and add complexity to the otherwise sweet wine. That, combined with the terroir of the bench is one of the reasons the vineyard creates some of the most unique Rieslings available. A similar method is applied to her red wine portfolio, too.


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Due to a high volume of traffic, tastings at Thirty Bench Winery are by walk-in only and are served in a rustic wooden barn with large windows facing the rolling vineyard and trees outback. Doing their part to make Niagara a ‘must-visit’ destination, through the winter, the vineyard is transformed into a snowy arcadia where activities include snowshoeing with tastings around the vineyard and a warm fire to wrap up the experience. When temperatures increase, the vineyard offers tasting hikes around the bench too.

Award Winning Canadian Winery

Canada is relatively new to the wine industry, which means that each time Emma and her team win an award at Thirty Bench Winery at the international level, it’s a huge win not just for themselves, but also for the industry as a whole. Being a small Canadian winery and receiving such accolades is a massive success.

“When we receive international awards for our wines it means a tremendous amount to myself and the team.

“It’s not only a win for us at Thirty Bench, but it’s also a victory for the Canadian wine industry. We are a very young industry so when we are able to create some waves on the global scene it is certainly worth celebrating! It’s also significant for myself and the team knowing that our hard work has paid off and we have created something really special.”


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When asked further about her approach to winemaking, Emma says, “small really is beautiful.” Whether in the details, vineyards or towns that make Niagara what it is, we couldn’t agree more.

“I’m very fortunate to be able to make wine from such a special vineyard,” says Emma. “I love it because of its unique terroir and how it is a place where you can create world-class wines in an unassuming location.” Emma goes on to mention her love for the area encapsulates Beamsville, too. The area is abundant in restaurants, wineries, and breweries. Not to mention it’s where she met her husband, who was born and raised in Niagara. She credits him as being a large part of the reason why she fell in love with the area. “It’s a great spot to establish a life together and start a family.” Emma warmly continues, “I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”


• • • • •


Thirty Bench Wine Makers
4281 Mountainview Rd, Beamsville, ON L0R 1B2

Jay Johnston

It was just supposed to be a bottle of wine to go with dinner.

But that 1999 Blue Mountain Pinot Noir turned out to be a game changer for Jay Johnston.

“I thought this was so good, I’ve got to do something about this,”

Johnston recalled.


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So he did. Johnston, who was honeymooning in Tofino, BC, at the time didn’t order another bottle, though. He didn’t even order a case. Nor did he change his travel plans and high-tail it to Okanagan Falls in BC’s interior to visit the winery where it was made.

Johnston, who was 31 at the time, changed his entire career with the hope of one day making a vintage as halting and remarkable. It’s safe to say he is as winemaker of Hidden Bench Estate Winery in Beamsville. In addition to a slew of other awards, Hidden Bench was named the top Ontario winery at the 2019 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada.

Winemaking Career Change

Turn the clock back 18 years, though, and winemaking was an about-face for a guy who’d been working for an email marketing company and software provider in Toronto. Still, it wasn’t a complete stretch given Johnston forged his techie career after reading Fast Company while working in the golf industry. He became so “smitten with the knowledge economy” that he “charmed” his way into a job.

That wine would be his fourth career was simply par for the course, and a necessary change for someone who longed to trade shuffling emails in the virtual world for making something more tangible.

Johnston looked into schooling. South Africa sounded like a dream until he learned he needed to speak Afrikaans to attend a wine program there.


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Then Niagara College beckoned with its winery and viticulture technician curriculum in English. It was 2003 and the local wine industry was poised to explode as a New World tipple region, a sign of that being Johnston’s first stop during his move to Niagara. He visited Thomas & Vaughan Estates Winery, which produced award-winning Bordeaux-style reds and multidimensional whites on a 38-acre plot in Beamsville that’s now the home of Redstone Winery.

“I was so intimidated,” Johnston recalled. “I knew nothing about wine.”

He did know that Niagara was something special after that winery visit, however. And soon he would also learn that winemaking wasn’t all romance and life-changing Pinots. A lot of hard work — physical labour — goes into every bottle, and that was Johnston’s next lesson.

Vineyard Work

“I was 33, working away in vineyards, making $10 an hour after having a good job in the city. It was an eyeopener,” he said. “I had this romantic ideal and I had to work through that to get to the more pleasant side of the business.”

His heart still guided him in many ways, though. Johnston’s first harvest job was at Jackson-Triggs in Niagara-on-the-Lake. “I just loved the building,” he said about the winery’s modern architecture.

Johnston also worked for two years in the vineyards of Le Clos Jordanne, a chardonnay and pinot noir-focussed project turning out vintages that made oenophiles swoon. His mentor was Thomas Bachelder, a giant in both stature and winemaking.

He was undeterred by the physicality of the work, unlike many of his classmates. Only 11 students graduated out of the 26 who started the program with Johnston a few years earlier.

“I was so committed to becoming a winemaker, I knew I’d have to fight it out,” he said. “I was so invested in what was happening here in Niagara. I probably met the right people. Thomas was so inspiring. The sweat equity felt good. It felt like you were doing something.”


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Johnston’s streak of meeting the right people continued in 2007 when he crossed paths with Harald Thiel, proprietor of Hidden Bench. Like Bachelder, Thiel knew Niagara’s potential and was determined to show the world its matchless terroir.

Thiel and Bachelder were among the six Niagara winemakers to launch the annual International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (i4C) after a local chardonnay outshone its Burgundian and California counterparts at the renowned Cellier Wine Awards in Montreal in 2009.

i4C, which draws winemakers from the world’s cool climate regions — i.e. not California — to pour their vintages for the curious and thirsty, has become one of Niagara’s premier wine events.
And Thiel remains an industry stalwart for his exacting standards when it comes to bottling a “true representation of what can do in Niagara.”

Making Niagara Terroir Wine

“You could see this guy was going to do whatever it takes to make the best wines from these vineyards,” Johnston said. “To this day, that’s still rare to find in this environment.”

It would be another 10 years with other winery stops along the way, including at Flat Rock Cellars, before Johnston would be tapped as Hidden Bench winemaker. He knew when he was handed the reins of the cellar that the job entailed more than simply pressing and fermenting grapes, and hoping for the best.


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“For me, it’s a massive responsibility. Our vineyard manager and Harald do whatever it takes to give us the best fruit possible,” Johnston said.

“We have to take the time and effort to take care of what they’re doing.

“The focus and attention to detail we put in the cellar has to match what they do in the vineyard. I’m not a tinkering winemaker. It’s more about putting energy into the expression of fruit coming in from the vineyard in the glass. I don’t put my stamp on it. I’m definitely a terroir guy.”

And a Niagara terroir guy, especially. Between Lake Ontario’s effects on the climate and a soil structure that allows for “the perfect expression of wine” there’s nowhere else in the world Johnston could get the same results from another season’s promise.

He’s not the only one who knows that. Industry professionals from all over the world confirm it when they visit the region and Hidden Bench,, including one wine writer from California who said he “would kill for the soils you have in Niagara,” — soil suited to Chardonnay, Riesling and the wine that started it all for Johnston, Pinot Noir.

“We’ve got all the tools,” Johnston said. “So there’s no excuse not to make the best wines possible from year to year.”


• • • • •


Hidden Bench Estate Winery
4152 Locust Ln, Beamsville, ON L0R 1B0

Sébastien Jacquey

If you venture to Vineland in the Niagara Region and wander up to one of the highest vantage points on the southern side of the Niagara Escarpment, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of Lake Ontario, the Toronto skyline, Niagara Falls and a winery that sets itself apart from the rest—Megalomaniac. With a name as intriguing as Megalomaniac, you can expect their offerings to be just as unique. Known for their playful branding and wines bursting with personality, it’s the only winery in the region that will entice you to enjoy a savoury glass of wine with a “touch of sass.” What started as a leisurely retirement project to help raise funds for charity, quickly turned into one of the fastest-growing wineries in southern Ontario. In the blink of an eye, their first vintage sold out in ninety days, while their second made the front page of USA today—growing their offering from 2,000 cases of wine per year to 40,000. Needless to say, it didn’t take long for winery Owner John Howard, to decide to jump headfirst into the world of winemaking, and he hasn’t looked back since.
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Read: This Ontario winery quietly earned 20 medals from top world wine competitions this year

Award Winning Winemaker

Despite their ego-fueled namesake, John humbly shares that the winery wouldn’t be where it is today without the amazing team behind the dream. One of those team members is globally acclaimed winemaker Sébastien Jacquey, Megalomaniac’s Vice President, Winemaking and Vineyard Operations. Wildly passionate about wine and hailing from no other than France’s own Burgundy, Sébastien is an integral part of the continued success of Megalomaniac. “John and I connected very well right from the start because we shared the same vision of what it takes to make good wines and how to best run a wine business in Niagara,” he shares. And Sébastien certainly knows a thing or two about making world-class, highly coveted wines. For the 2019 International Wine & Spirit Competition, Megalomaniac entered 18 of their offerings, taking home a whopping 15 medals. Those awarded include their Narcissist Riesling, Big Kahuna and Sparkling Personality, proving all jokes aside, their wine is something they take quite seriously. So what’s with the cheeky names? It all starts with the name behind the winery itself.
“The reason why we wanted to be called ‘Megalomaniac’ and use these tacky labels was originally to poke fun at people that take themselves too seriously in the wine business”
As the story goes—and is shared on the back of every bottle—Howard originally was looking to grace the bottles with his own name, but his friends accused him of being another ‘megalomaniac’ and that name just had a winning ring to it.
Sebastian Jacquey

Sébastien Jacquey

Naturally the name and brand stand out in a wine industry that can often seem quite traditional and rigid, but Sébastien notes it’s anything but.

Making Niagara Wine Fun

“If I compare Europe to Niagara, I would say that the Niagara Wine industry could be viewed as quite innovative and fun,”
Playing their part in that, each bottle at Megalomaniac is full of personality, and not just when it comes to flavour. “We always try to create a name that matches some of the characteristics of the grape variety. For example, the Sonofabitch Pinot Noir is related to the fact that this grape variety is very difficult to grow and make.”
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“It’s very finicky at every stage of the process, the grapes are very sensitive to disease and micro-climate and the wine has a tendency to go the wrong way if you don’t have your eye on it at all times,” Sébastien adds. Megalomaniac has just as much fun with the names of their offerings as they do with bottle design. On the label of their Narcissist Riesling, you’ll spot a faceless man with a foil on his coat. Lean in a little closer and on the foil’s shiny surface you’ll see a reflection of yourself. Yet let it be known, that Megalomaniac wines undeniably taste more serious than their playful backstories or the notorious faceless labels on every bottle. “Making great and balanced Ontario wines is our mandate for every single vintage but this should not be a reason to stick to traditional packaging that isn’t distinguished from other wines,” Sébastien notes.

Uniquely Niagara

Sure Megalomaniac can credit themselves for their idiosyncratic branding, but they have the Niagara vines and land to thank for their big, bold flavours. A lot of the credit goes to the escarpment’s limestone shale which infuses the fruit grown in the region and flavours their wine offerings. And although Sébastien came to Megalomaniac with extensive winemaking experience in France, he shares that it was the Niagara wine region that pushed him to think outside of the box to make wines that are the best representation of the area’s unique climate and terroir.
“Niagara inspires me to deepen my understanding of how to grow better vineyards and how to craft wines that are really representative of the area. I want to continue to work on making our region well understood by the wine world and continue to train and inspire new people in this industry on how to approach wine production here”
Not only is Megalomaniac committed to Niagara, but they are also committed to being a true Canadian winery inside and out. All materials from the winery itself are sourced from the Niagara Escarpment, their cabinetry crafted from Canadian wood and to top it all off, their property is lined with none other than Canada’s statement tree—the maple tree. Whether walking through the vines or the winery on your own or on a tour, a visit to Megalomaniac must start and end in their winery itself. Built in 2014 over their original underground cellar, the tasting room and retail shop’s glass walls allow visitors to take in the breathtaking views of the winery’s vines and beyond. It’s a view unlike any other, by a winery unlike any other. Experience it all, only at the sophisticated and sassy home of Megalomaniac Winery, where wine and life need not be taken too seriously.

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Megalomaniac Winery Website: 3930 Cherry Ave, Vineland, ON L0R 2C0
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