Monday, December 09, 2019

Niagara Wine Tour

Wine is year round in the Niagara region, even now row upon row of vines sit, covered in mesh, protected from birds and waiting for cold that will freeze most of the grape and leave a single drop of juice for the sweet icewine. We decided on a cold weekend getaway in Niagara Falls, which is always a treat because of their Winter Festival of Lights and decided to take a wine tour to add to our mini-holiday adventure.
You can take a bike tour (except in the winter), you can drive to the wineries by yourself (use a designated driver) or you can take a tour where someone drives you around (van, minibus, regular bus, trolley or even by limo). More expensive, sure, but totally worth it. We reviewed a few that were offering deals on Groupon and settled on Niagara Fun Tours and the full day Niagara Wine Tour by bus. You buy the Groupon, then arrange with Niagara Fun Tours for your reservation. Winter tours  happen Friday, Saturday and Sunday beginning at 9:30am and going to several locations before the tour gets underway.

Our hotel was just off Clifton Hill and so we walked minutes over to our 9:55am pickup location at the front entrance to Niagara Casino (the older one near the Rainbow Bridge). Joe the driver found several couples waiting at the casino, checked our names against the manifest, gave us some info and let us board the bus. After one more stop we headed into Niagara-on-the-Lake region where wine is big business. PS Joe was great.

When you visit a typical winery away from a guided tour you see that they have their wine making facilities and then a separate commercial operation where they sell wine - sometimes you can even go on a tour to see the process and wine storage. Most have sampling bars where you can usually try two or three samples for $5 (each about 1 ounce), with the sample price waived if you buy a certain amount of wine. Large and well known wineries can be very busy and it can be difficult to get served at the bar as many, many people want to learn about the wines, sampling all the while.

With the tour you get free samples at four wineries with a bonus stop at a candy store. One of the stops also included a place where you could buy lunch. Now you have to understand that a winery has to be pretty big to sell their bottles in the LCBO and many of the local wineries are just too small to compete in that marketplace, which is good for us because the LCBO has a large markup, also these wineries cannot sell the wine for less that what it is selling in the LCBO. Our stop included both large and small wineries. The tour process was very efficient and each winery was ready for us and no location was too far from each other.
The first stop was to Joseph's Estate Wines Inc. on Niagara Stone Road. The bus door opened and the group, just over 40 I believe, walked into the store with its u-shaped bar, where the staff explained the wines and offered samples to all. Two specific wines were provided to all and then you could have your choice of another sample. For $3 you could also sample an icewine. You spend just over a half-hour at the various wineries and then you could purchase bottles or even cases at each stop.
Next stop was Caroline Cellars Estates on Line 2 Road. The farm/winery has a restaurant which was where we settled after the bus stopped. You could order lunch at your cost, then head over to the sample bar in the next room, sample and then they tell you when you food is ready. You chose all the wines you wanted to sample (4 samples), the staff and food were great and we found this one very enjoyable and learned a lot. We were at Caroline for about an hour.

Our third stop was Konzelmann Estates on Lakeshore Road. We were taken up to a room on the second floor where they talked about their wines and offered the samples (4 samples). You could also go up to the top floor which had several windows to look out onto the scenery below.

Our candy stop was Pickard's Peanuts on Niagara Stone Road where you could wander the aisles full of chocolates and peanuts including my favourite - the chip covered peanuts. They had some good deals on gift packages full of varieties of tasty items.
Then finally our last stop was at the Lakeview Wine Company on Niagara Stone Road. This is one of the largest operations in the region. They have a massive storage facility into which we entered and as we learned of their wines, we sampled (4 samples) two wines and two icewines. These guys represent several wineries including 20 Bees, FRESH, McMichael Collection and Dan Aykroyd's wines. We learned that Niagara is responsible for like 85 percent of the world's supply of icewine and that a lot goes to China. You need extreme heat and extreme cold to grow the grape and it takes over 3,000 grapes to make that each typical small bottle of expensive icewine They have a separate and impressive sales building and were offering free samples over the weekend.

This was our first wine tour and liking many of the wine samples; we bought several bottles from each location except for Konzelmann because we weren't happy with their stuff. Wine is personal and not everyone likes the same stuff and that's why they make red, white and rose in so many varieties. We also found out that VQA label is from the Vintners Quality Alliance that requires wine to be made from 100% fresh Ontario grown grapes.

Okay the tour was good, the bus was good and the wine was good. What made the tour even better was our driver Joe and his sense of humour. I won't spoil his shtict but it was a fun trip and I recommend the tour.

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1 comment:

Decanter 2020 said...

Thanks for sharing with me our memories...

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