July 28, 2014

Ontario Wine Country

I spent much of Friday and Saturday in Ontario sampling the products of the many wineries there. I had never been to Ontario before, and I didn’t have much of a strategy other than getting a sense of what the region had to offer. Because my son is a winemaker in the Finger Lakes, a region that produces particularly notable whites, I was naturally interested in what white wines I might find in Canada. I was also interested in tasting ice wines. much of the world’s production of which comes from Ontario.

August Deimel, the winemaker at Keuka Spring Vineyards, suggested three of the wineries I visited. I began my tasting at one of these, Stratus Vineyards, in Niagara-on-the-Lake. A tasting of four wines at Stratus cost $10, but I was assured that the experience would be worth it. The tasting room was in a somewhat austere LEED certified building that was more attractive inside than out. I went for the whites and the ice wine. (I didn’t make any notes, so this post may seem sketchy to the serious wine lover.) The standout here was the ice wine, which was a blend of several grape varieties. Not having visited other wineries, I was reluctant to buy anything at Stratus, but I thought I might come back for the ice wine. The woman who served me was very helpful and knowledgeable—this was uniformly the case at all the wineries I visited—and she suggested that, since I was particularly interested in Rieslings, I should visit the nearby Between the Lines Winery. (She also discouraged me from visiting another winery I had selected purely on location—too corporate, she advised.)

Between the Lines has an unprepossessing and rather claustrophobic tasting room. I was served by a woman recently arrived from Stuttgart, Germany, but she had no trouble representing the winery’s products. I tasted the Riesling, but fell in love with the 2013 Gewuerztraminer. (According to Wikipedia, Gewuerztraminer is the French spelling of the more familiar Gewürztraminer.) The Gewuerztraminer was my first purchase of the day. Between the Lines also had a couple of ice wines. I tasted the 2013 Vidal, which was fine but much less interesting than what I had found at Stratus.

There wasn’t much time left on Friday for winery hopping, so I selected as the final destination of the day Château des Charmes, another Niagara-on-the-Lake winery, which was on the way back to Niagara Falls. I made the selection with the help of “Wine Country Ontario Travel Guide,” an invaluable booklet obtained from one of the Ontario information stations scattered about. I also got an Ontario map there, but the seven-panel fold-out map in the guide was more than adequate for the wine tourist. I was more charmed by the buildings and grounds at Château des Charmes than the wines, but it was getting to the end of the day. The Vidal ice wine was tasty, but not as much so as the Stratus offering.

On Saturday, I abandoned the picture-perfect Niagra-on-the-Lake region for points west. The first stop was the Henry of Pelham Estate Winery, another destination recommended by my son. Perhaps I wasn’t paying close attention, but I discovered the tasting room only after visiting two other buildings on the property. And the property is extensive—there are vines as far as the eye can see. The winery offers both conventional tours and tours via Segway, but these have to be arranged in advance. (I want to try out a Segway someday.) I tasted a 2012 Riesling here, but I found a Riesling to buy in a 2008 Reserve Riesling. (Who knew a 2008 Riesling would be a great wine in 2014!) The Riesling ice wine was fine, but the Stratus blend remained my favorite.

Next on the list was another family recommendation, Malivoire Wine Company. Before I even entered the winery, I found a cheesemonger on the property selling mostly locally produced cheeses. I came away with chunks of a maple syrup cheddar and caramelized onion cheddar. (How could one pass up a cheese with maple syrup in Canada?) The main attraction here was really the winery itself, described in the “Travel Guide” as the “first-in-Ontario gravity-flow winery” in “an elaborately recycled Quonset hut built in 1998.” The place had a cave-like quality quite unlike, say, Stratus or Château des Charmes. From the tasting room, one could look up and see several levels of tanks. I thought the gravity-flow production was primarily an energy-saving device, but it was explained to me that the big advantage of the system was that, by eliminating pumps, less oxygen is introduced into the juice/wine. August will have to explain to me why this is a good thing. I tasted several wines in the Quonset hut, including a Grenache—I had only before tasted rosé made from this grape—and a red ice wine whose composition I don’t remember.

I had time to visit one last winery, and the server at Malivoire suggested the nearby Kew Vineyards. Winemaking is relatively new there, and there is no “Travel Guide” listing. Riesling grapes were first planted on the property in 1975, however. Visitors enter a mid-nineteenth-century house that has been renovated for wine selling, while retaining the charm of the original. Kew, which is very much a family operation, offers a very different tasting room experience. There is no conventional tasting room, at least not one with the usual bar. I was invited to sit inside or outside and have wine brought to me. I choose to go outside on a patio with a lovely view of rows and rows of grape vines. Kew was different in other ways as well. No ice wine was available, but I tasted two sparkling wines—think brut Champagne—and a white blend whose composition I don’t recall. For an extra fee, I could have had a cheese plate to accompany the wine, but it was too close to lunch time, and I wanted something more substantial for the midday meal. Drinking bubbly with cheese on the Kew patio and looking out on the vineyard would surely make for a pleasant afternoon.

As it turned out, there wasn’t time after lunch to return to Stratus for ice wine, but I wished that that had been possible. It was time to return to the U.S. and the time-consuming border station. The two wines I bought on the trip can be seen below. (Click on the image for a larger view.) I’ll have to plan another trip to Ontario.

Wines purchased in Ontario


  1. There will be local icewine from last year. I haven't checked it out. When I toured several NE Ohio wineries I was warned that most icewine here is phony - made by putting grapes in the freezer. Knowledge of the weather and judicious questioning is necessary to find the real thing. Icewine is a Huston family Christmas tradition.

    1. Ultimately, of course, it’s taste that counts. That said, the wine should not be misrepresented.


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