Words by Liz Guber, a freelance writer from Toronto. Article content was produced by Globe Content Studio
A Niagara wine-tasting weekend can turn into a marathon of back-to-back winery tours and non-stop visits motivated by a desire to check off as many destinations as possible.
From the effervescent bubblies at Westcott Vineyards, to the elegant Gamays and Pinot Noirs at Malivoire Wine Company, there are too many excellent wineries to visit in a single day.
The good news is that the wine weekend is changing, and the modern method to sip through Niagara’s wine country is to slow things way, way down.
That’s certainly the motto at Southbrook Organic Vineyards, the area’s only certified organic winery specializing in natural and low-intervention wines.
“Before COVID hit, we had a busy tasting room where people would just drop in, they’d hit six wineries in a single day but wouldn’t be able to remember a single one—not because they had too much to drink, but because they weren’t making memories,” says owner Bill Redelmeier.
In response, Southbrook Organic Vineyards changed its modus operandi. “We want to make people stop and pause, and realize what we’re all about,” Redelmeier explains. The days of the crowded tasting bar are gone, replaced by tables filled with groups lingering over a shared bottle.
In the interest of staying a while, I booked a special tour hosted by Redelmeier himself using the Somm app. Like a proud parent, Redelmeier led our small group of wine lovers past the growing vines of Petit Verdot and Chardonnay to the production facility, where I spotted giant stainless steel fermenting vessels for white wine and oak barrels for the reds.
All the while, my expert guide carried a cooler on his shoulder, ready to pour glasses of Pinot, skin-contact-orange and estate Chardonnay as we chatted. It was an interactive, behind-the-scenes wine tour in the truest sense, and worth spending some time.
Another winery that’s made for unhurried afternoons and lazing around in the sun is Rosewood Estates Winery, another jewel in Niagara wine-country’s crown.
Driving up to the property, set atop a gently rolling hill, I pass abundant lavender bushes with bees buzzing about (Rosewood Estates Winery doubles as a meadery). At a picnic table looking down on sweeping vineyard views, I notice that everyone around me is also in no rush to leave. Staff carry colourful rows of tasting flights, ranging from traditional pours of reds and whites to funkier fare—think oranges and cloudy roses.
As hard as it is to tear myself away from this idyll, it’s time to think about lunch. Switching things up from the wineries (turns out two is plenty) I decide on Oast House Brewers, a brewery set in a quaint red barn that stands out amidst its winery neighbours.
Oast House Brewers is home to Brushfire Smoke BBQ, a barbecue pit run by Anthony Greco, a born and raised “Niagara boy” turned fine-dining chef who brings 15 years of haute cuisine experience.
“It’s Texas, Austin-style barbecue tacos, with as many local ingredients as possible,” Greco tells me from behind the meat smoker he’s overseeing. I sample my way through the offerings with a platter of brisket, cheesy Texas link sausage and all the fixings (jicama slaw, poblano-tinged mashed potatoes and sweetened black beans). Come Thanksgiving weekend, Greco will pack up this outdoor setup and head inside to run Oast House Brewers’ winter food offering, a wood-fired pizza concept called Patina.
Driving back home, full and content, with a few bottles in the trunk for future enjoyment, I bookmark wineries for future visits—like 13th Street Winery and Cave Spring Vineyards. I’m tempted to fall back into winery FOMO mode again.
I remind myself that quality, not quantity, is a motto perfectly suited to a weekend in Niagara’s wine country.
“I really enjoy taking the superfluity out of wine and seeing customers discover a style or taste that they didn’t know about before.”
“Niagara is the perfect place to experience with loved ones, family, children or friends. ”
“When the opportunity came to start a very small craft winery to complement our vineyard, I jumped at the chance.”