Experience the Niagara region’s constantly improving wines and cheery, vacation-style lakeside atmosphere along well-orchestrated rural wine trails - from Lonely Planet's new book Wine Trails.
A young and exciting wine region, and Canada’s largest, Niagara sits on the southern shores of Lake Ontario, two hours south of Toronto, and is home to more than just ice wine. The Niagara Escarpment, a long ridge formed by ancient erosion, is responsible not only for the mesmerising waterfall, but also for a singular terroir with a diversity of soil types. Add that to a latitude of 43°N (equivalent to Avignon in the Rhône) and big shifts between day and night temperatures, and there is a potential here for a panoply of different grapes, despite the fairly level vineyard lands. Unlike other youthful wine zones around the world, there’s little pressure to wed Niagara’s identity to any single one. Still whites, reds, even sparkling wines are made in Niagara with equal success, at wineries of varying size and scope.
It’s hard to overstate the growth rate: by 1974 – long after Niagara’s hybrid-grape-fuelled heyday at the turn of the 19th century – only six wineries remained in the Niagara region. Today, nearly 100 wineries are located here, working with over 32 different varietals, mostly vinifera. The feeling on the ground is like that of starting over. As a visitor, it’s easy to be infected with that same giddy sense that anything is possible, especially after experiencing the hospitality of Niagara’s many historic villages and its beautiful lakefront views.
- Look out for the Decanter travel guide to Niagara in the February 2016 issue. Subscribe to Decanter here.
Of course, long before a modern wine scene took root, Niagara was an international tourist mecca, thanks to the enduring attraction of the nearby falls, a cluster of Canada’s prettiest towns and a bevy of natural hikes and getaways. A strong hospitality network has thrived here for decades, and the rapid growth of ‘wine tourism’ in Niagara is built on it. A warm and professional welcome awaits every guest, not only at the tasting rooms and vineyards, but also in the numerous cafes, bakeries, restaurants and shops.
Along with Prince Edward County, it will be exciting to see what the future will bring for this rising region.
Buffalo-Niagara is the nearest major airport, 61km from Inniskillin. Car hire is available.
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Niagara travel guide: Where to stay
Inn on the Twenty
This fairly luxe ‘hospitality wing’ of Cave Spring Vineyards – the tasting room of which is across the street – offers nearly every amenity, including a spa, and a restaurant with long experience of pairing Ontario wines with local food (the dinner menu includes recommended pairings – from Cave Springs, of course). The wine list also showcases a respectable selection of Niagara wines from other producers.
www.innonthetwenty.com; tel +1 905-562-5336; 3845 Main St, Jordan Station
Prince of Wales
On a cool pedestrian-friendly street in the heart of one of the area’s most charming cities, this historic landmark, fully restored in 1999, has been a hotel since 1864. Its proper Victorian exterior fronts tree-lined Simcoe Park, is down the street from the famed Shaw Festival, and is three blocks from the Niagara River.
www.vintage-hotels.com/princeofwales; tel +1 905-468-3246; 6 Picton St, Niagara-on-the-Lake
Niagara travel guide: Where to eat
Ravine Vineyard Restaurant
In addition to the winery, the folks at Ravine also run a terrific, award-winning farm-to-table restaurant, where they bake their own bread, raise their own pigs and serve their own organic produce. Yhe menus are seasonal.
www.ravinevineyard.com/restaurant; tel +1 905-262-8463; 1366 York Rd, St Davids; lunch 11am- 3pm, dinner 5-9pm
Vineland Estates Winery Restaurant
A couple of blocks south of Tawse Winery, this is a classy lunch destination. The restaurant is housed in a beautiful 19th-century farmhouse, above a wine cellar where vintages go back to 1983, and features classic Euro-Canadian dishes made with local ingredients.
www.vineland.com;tel +1 888-846-3526; 3620 Moyer Rd, Vineland
Niagara travel guide: What to do
The Shaw Festival Theatre
This is one of the largest theatre festivals in North America, with year-round performances of Bernard Shaw classics scheduled alongside current plays.
www.shawfest.com; tel +1 905-468-2172; 10 Queen’s Parade, Niagara-on-the-Lake
Lakeside Park Beach
This popular lakefront destination on the north side of St Catharines is central to summer attractions, including Fishing Adventures and a Harbour Trail.
The last three weekends of January, the sprawling Niagara Icewine Festival celebrates Ontario’s proudest product in multiple locations throughout the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. At the New Vintage Festival in St Catharines, during the middle of June, visitors can taste fresh bottlings from nearly 30 regional wineries. www.ravinevineyard.com/
Reproduced with permission from Wine Trails, 1st edn. © 2015 Lonely Planet.