First Visit To Ontario Wine Country
My first visit to Ontario Wine Country was back in August of 2003. At the time, I admit I had a very limited knowledge of what our Niagara wineries had to offer, although I was immensely curious, having read a fair bit via the LCBO Food & Drink magazine and the Toronto Star wine columnists.
In the 1970s, I had grown up hearing about Baby Duck wine, a Canadian product we all used to blush and laugh about. European wines, at the time, were considered superior, as were vintages from Napa. So my world view, with respect to Canadian wines, was tinged with suspicion when people started talking about Niagara wineries.
In 2003 I chose to spend five days and four nights in Niagara Falls, with a quick visit planned for Niagara-on-the-Lake. (That quick visit turned into three visits, which included outings to several tourist attractions, a couple of plays in the historic town, fine dining, a visit to two wineries and countless farmers’ markets.)
So I took the QEW from Toronto to Niagara. It was also my first drive on that highway. A bit scary, yes, but I wanted to spread my wings and see for myself what everyone was talking about (Niagara-on-the-Lake’s beauty, the Shaw Festival, and the wineries).
A few years earlier, I had developed a taste for Inniskillin Vidal Icewine, and decided that a visit to this particular winery would be my very first official winery experience. I opted for a guided tour of the property, and learned many fascinating facts about ice wine and its uniqueness, the grape varietals used, the harvest, the microclimate of the region, the history of the winery, and much more. Then I proceeded to a special tasting of the ice wine.
The entire experience fascinated, enlightened and inspired me. I could not believe that such exquisite wines, with an incredible tradition of fine wine-making, were being created in my own backyard! As Canadians, many of us had been “trained” to believe in our own inferiority in so many areas; yet here there were craftsmen skilled in the ancient art of making delectable wines, many of which have won international awards in recent years. The visit to Inniskillin changed my palate — and my mindset. I haven’t been the same since.
I instantly purchased a bottle there, and went on to visit Peller Estates, another lovely estate winery, whose elegant buildings were reminiscent of one of those extravagant evening TV series from the 1980s (Dynasty and Falcon Crest come to mind).
Alas, I was hooked on the charming elegance of Niagara wines. I still tell my friends about Inniskillin, and always recommend the Vidal icewine to every American tourist I meet. While I am not a wine expert, I am intrigued by our wonderful winemakers. I am overjoyed that we have come into our own as a wine-producing region. I am proud to be from Southern Ontario and to be able to purchase Ontario wines, from various wineries, as gifts for friends, colleagues and family.