September in Niagara means wine lovers come together to appreciate the grape at the Niagara Wine Festival. For three weekends wineries from all over Niagara come and set up in Montebello Park to celebrate the area’s grape-y goodness. There’s also live music to keep the crowd hopping. It’s a great place to get acquainted with many of the wineries without worrying about driving. Safety first, kids!
However, a word to the wise when visiting Montebello Park – be careful when leaving and re-entering. There was no area for smokers/vapers so many people were forced to stay outside. Then upon reaching capacity, security closed the fence with no warning! As Robin and I were divided, they were extremely unprofessional about the entire situation. I would honestly suggest skipping this and go for the true wine experience by visiting the wineries themselves.
For $40 you can indulge in food and wine tastings at 8 of the many wineries scattered throughout the Niagara Region with the Niagara Wine Festival’s Discovery Pass. I’d suggest grabbing these passes as a food and wine pairing experience is $10 on its own, meaning you get it half price! The passes can be used across the three weekends, however… why not do them all in one day? Go big or go home right?
In Vineland, I discovered there are 8 wineries that are all within walking distance. It means for a long day but it’s worth every step, so think of this entry as your guide to Vineland’s wineries. As for the route, you can follow as strictly or as loosely as you’d like, just be sure to enjoy the wine! We also had a few hills to conquer, so doing this in reverse might be better if you’d rather skip the workout. Insider tip: don’t eat too much before starting – the portions are quite satisfying!
Stop 1 :: Stoney Ridge Estate Winery
Stoney Ridge Estate Winery opened in 1985. They feature more than 30 products, although you’ll probably recognize them most for their Tragically Hip wine. Here we tried their 2013 Gewurtztraminer paired with a delicious apple and sweet potato ginger soup. Their Gewurtztraminer is quite light and not overly sweet, thus making it a good pairing with the soup as it was already quite sweet itself. The winery also boasts a beautiful patio where you can enjoy some sunshine while sipping on a refreshing glass of wine.
Step 2 :: Kacaba Vineyards
A short 15 minute walk down King Street takes you to Kacaba Vineyards. With its first vintage in 1999, the winery has won a number of prestigious awards. This is a no-brainer as they had their 2010 Reserve Syrah paired with a melt-in-your-mouth roast duck on golden mashed potatoes with a delicious fruity glaze. Kacaba is one of the first wineries to grow the grapes specific for Syrah wines, and they are all about the quality. Usually they have 8 tonnes of grapes but with this batch they only had 2 to ensure better quality – and it showed! It was the best red in my opinion as it was full-bodied and full of flavour. A perfect hearty wine to snuggle up inside with since winter is coming!
Stop 3 :: GreenLane Estate Winery
Our next stop was GreenLane Estate Winery where we were greeted by their lovely staff. As we waited for our food pairing to be prepared, we were invited to taste a few of their other wines. They had a wide range of both whites and reds to choose from, although their Chardonnay is absolutely delightful. As I’m practically religious to Rieslings, it was quite a surprise! We then indulged in their Turkey Porchetta, paired with their 2013 Rosé. I love how versatile Rosé wine is, and it was a great reminder that it pairs great with turkey… perfect for Thanksgiving!
Step 4 :: Tawse Winery
Off the beaten path, you’ll come upon Tawse Winery. The grounds are absolutely stunning as you walk into a modern wine bar. For the Discovery Pass, we were led through glass doors and into their inner workings to taste their 2012 Cabernet Merlot. It was paired with braised short rib bolognese on orecchiette. Here we learned they have some of the oldest Riesling vines in Ontario, and they have six daughter vineyards scattered throughout the Niagara Region – that sounds like a trip all on its own!
Stop 5 :: Megalomaniac Winery
Megalomaniac was our next stop as we wandered through their beautiful open concept showroom. They have a number of wines, all with their own flair and feel. We had their Groundbreaker, a Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir blend while enjoying a beef slider with bacon, caramelized onions, and Dijon mustard. For an extra $5 you could try four of their wines, like their Narcissist Riesling and Bubblehead Sparkling. After seeing their beautiful vineyards, you’ll want to enjoy a glass or two. Since it was a clear day we could see as far as Lake Ontario!
Stop 6 :: Ridgepoint Wines
From Megalomaniac we could see a smaller building a little further in the distance. A short walk cured our curiosity as we arrived at our next winery, Ridgepoint Wines. Here we tasted their 2010 Pinot Noir and 2010 Merlot Cabernet Aglianice which was paired with a mushroom risotto and lamb skewer. Their focus is on reds as over half their vineyard is dedicated to three varieties of red wine grapes.
Stop 7 :: Vineland Estates Winery
A beautiful complex that includes a restaurant and event facilities as well as their wonderfully rustic showroom, Vineland Estates is a must visit in Vineland. We were lead down into their cellar to enjoy our Discovery Pass experience, but not before being invited back up afterwards by one of their lovely staff. We indulged in a cold cashew corn chowder and maple greens wrapped in prosciutto while enjoying their 2014 Riesling and 2013 Cabernet Franc. The Riesling is the product of their oldest vines and is full of flavour – hands down my favourite Riesling of the day! I’d definitely suggest a full visit here to explore the grounds as many of the buildings are over 100 years old.
Stop 8 :: Featherstone Estate Winery
Last but not least was Featherstone Estate Winery, a small family-operated winery along Victoria Avenue. Unfortunately by the time we arrived they had run out of their food pairing, but we were able to taste their 2012 Gemstone, a Baco Noir blend. We were told it pairs nicely with red meats, making it great for barbeques. The winery itself is quaint, and their little pup wandering around gives it a homey feel.
This route is a great way to enjoy to grapes of Vineland without the worry of having a designated driver. While Niagara-on-the-Lake is the usual destination for wine experiences, I’d highly suggest these lesser-known destinations. The Niagara Wine Festival’s Discovery Pass was a great opportunity and worth every penny.