Sandwiched between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, the cool climate of Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula provides excellent conditions for winemaking. The region specializes in Icewine, a sweet drink traditionally paired with dessert, but is also gaining recognition for its table wines and sparkling wines, especially chardonnay, riesling, cabernet franc and pinot noir. Take a glimpse at some of the wineries that are making a name for themselves here.
The sprawling family-run property is lavishly decorated in rustic yellows and gives you the feel that you’ve stepped into an old Tuscan mansion. In 2006, London's International Wine & Spirit Competition named Peller the best Canadian winery of the year. During the Icewine festival in January, the site becomes home to flocks of visitors toasting marshmallows over fire pits and snacking on poutine, a decadent Quebec dish of French fries topped with gravy and cheese curds. There’s also an elegant on-site restaurant, to which Zagat gave an Extraordinary rating.
Coyote’s Run is situated on 58 acres of two types of soil — one red, one black — which means that two pinots, chards or other varietal can taste remarkably different. Generally speaking, grapes grown in red soil have a fruitier taste, whereas the black soil produces wines that are more earthy. Because the property sits in a slightly warmer part of the region, the grapes here are often harvested one or two weeks earlier than those at other area wineries.
“A winemaker is a caretaker,” head winemaker Klaus Reif says. He produces 16 varietals and approximately 30 products, and the winery has won about 400 awards. Reif grows its own grapes and ages its wines in Hungarian, French and Kentucky oak barrels before they make their debut in a homey wooden showroom. Ask Archie the sommelier for a tasting — he’s a pro at helping beginners learn and discern.
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This isn’t your parents’ winery: The high ceilings, monochromatic palette and sleek finishes make Stratus a must-visit. The LEED-certified winery (the first in the world) is on 62 acres, and the mature vineyard grows 18 varieties of grapes, all of which are picked and sorted by hand. You’ll find your cab sauvs, your merlots and your chardonnays, but the winery also specializes in assemblage — the combination of several grape varieties to make a new wine.
Where to stay
The quaint Harbor House Hotel is a 31-room boutique property in Niagara-on-the-Lake. It was recently named a top hotel in Canada by TripAdvisor.
Come back for Icewine
Niagara heats up in January, when the annual Icewine festival brings locals and visitors together to celebrate the deliciously sweet and easily adaptable unofficial drink of the region. During the fest, wineries and restaurants do tastings and special pours, and the city comes together for a food-pairing festival and a cocktail competition. When the weather gets warmer, visit for the Shaw Festival, devoted to playwright George Bernard Shaw, and Canada Day celebrations (July 1). Visit www.niagaraonthelake.com to learn more.