Two days ago I took our European visitors on a little driving tour of the Niagara Peninsula, specifically to explore some of the 50 something wineries. My brother is a chef and very interested in exploring the authentic tastes and flavours of Canada. So far my visitors have been very impressed with the quality of the Canadian vegetables, meats, spices, and even the various types of beers that they have tried from different microbreweries.
We got going around 9:30 am to avoid the brunt of rush hour traffic and made our way west on the QEW highway on another day of perfect weather. We drove through the industrial outskirts of Mississauga, Oakville, Burlington and Hamilton, where they were particularly fascinated by the huge industrial complexes of Ontario’s steel industry. Just about 20 minutes south of Hamilton we turned off the highway onto local Highway Number 8, Ontario’s wine route, which follows the outline of the NIagara Escarpment.
Our first stop on our wine tour was Peninsula Ridge Estates, a very impressive winery built around a Victorian farmhouse with several modern buildings that have been added to faciliate a wine tasting facility and gift shop. The wine testing area is housed in a beautiful barn-like structure with lots of wood and high ceilings, and all the wines and gifts are presented in a very attractive way. My European wine conoisseurs tasted 4 varieties of white wine and admitted that they were duly impressed. They commented that some of the wines had a more distinct flavour than what they are used to back home and indicated their surprise at the quality of wines from Ontario. Of course my brother also examined the menu of the dining room and confirmed that the establishment was indeed an upscale gourmet restaurant, featuring finely crafted cuisine.
We had a beautiful day with absolutely no humidity, so we had a clear view of downtown Toronto’s skyscrapers from the Peninsula Estates winery. After a little photo tour of the premises we made our way to the next stop: Eastdell Estates, winery located high on top of the escarpment with a perfect lookout point. The restaurant, called the “Bench Bistro” offers simple, yet innovative dishes that pay homage to the area’s bountiful harvests and local producers. Reasonably priced, two can dine, with a bottle of wine, for about $80 (CDN).
Our next stop was a relatively new winery called Angel’s Gate Estates, with a beautiful main building that included a wine boutique as well as an indoor and outdoor dining area overlooking Lake Ontario. We did not taste any wines here, but definitely enjoyed the view. Again, the facilities and surroundings hosting the wine tasting were impressive.
Then we headed further south to Vineland Estates Winery situated on the slopes of the Niagara Escarpment with Lake Ontario in the distance. This winery has sometimes been referred to as “Ontario’s Most Picturesque Winery” and we certainly enjoyed the location. It is another winery that features a restaurant as well as a wine boutique, located in an 1877 historic barn. The boutique features wines, fine glassware and local preserves, and my European travellers embarked on their second tasting of the day, this time enjoying both red and white varieties. The winery offered various types of crackers and cheese, combined with grape jellies, providing a little snack to a group of hungry pilgrims on Ontario’s wine trail. We also noted that the staff in the various wineries was extremely welcoming and friendly, an impression that got reinforced throughout the day.
Our lunch stop was at Rockway Glen Golf Course and Estate Winery, a rather unusual combination offering delights for golfing and wine enthusiasts. We had a reasonably priced lunch of gourmet sandwiches on the patio, and appropriately strenghtened continued on our way along the wine route towards our next destination: Niagara Falls.
After arriving in one of the most popular destinations in Ontario, not to be missed for any traveller to Toronto, we parked our car on the main parking lot, at $18.00 a little overpriced, although it offered unlimited parking until midnight. As we approached the falls from the south, my guests were astounded at the width of the river and the quantities of water that were about to drop down the steep precipice. We stopped for a while at a spot right where the water starts to hurl down the rocks. The amount and force of the water is awe-inspiring, and the thundering sound of the falling water provides an appropriate backdrop to this natural wonder.
The waterfall produced the most amazing complete rainbow inside the gorge that I have ever seen, offering many scenic vistas of the Niagara River set against the appropriately named Rainbow Bridge which connects Ontario with New York State.Several Maid of the Mist sightseeing boats holding curious visitors dressed in blue plastic capes were floating dangerously close to the bottom of the waterfall, providing a great photo opportunity.
Naturally, after taking in all these sights we had to take in a refreshment and we rested a bit on a restaurant patio overlooking the falls. After our brief respite we drove along the scenic Niagara Parkway towards Niagara-on-the-Lake, stopping several times at various lookout points, such as the Aero Car tram crossing the gorge, and the immense power plants located on both sides of the river, generating clean hydro-electric energy.
The bucolic countryside along the Niagara River features a large number of wineries and orchards and the road is lined with fruit stands, featuring fresh Ontario produce. Finally, we parked our car next to a beautiful park, right where the Niagara River flows into Lake Ontario. By this time, the Niagara River has turned from an angry and wild river with churning waters and rapids into a mild-mannered waterway, ready to merge with the waters of one of the Great Lakes.
We had a little stroll around this charming Victorian village, admiring the beautifully kept houses and gardens, and since it was getting late we headed back into the car to continue our drive back to Toronto. The last leg of our trip was a drive through St. Catharines’ beautiful little lakeside village, Port Dalhousie, which on this day featured a younger crowd than Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Filled with a multitude of impressions of this gorgeous day, we arrived back in Toronto, sharing our various impressions. My European visitors, who had never been to North America, were truly impressed with the Niagara Region and I was glad I was able to give them a little taste of Ontario’s wine country.