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 time–honoured 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 hand–rolled 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 like–minded 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 year–round for lunch and dinner, The Restaurant at Vineland Estates features show–stopping 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.
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The Restaurant at Vineland Estates
3620 Moyer Rd, Vineland, ON L0R 2C0