I was overwhelmed planning my first visit to Niagara on the Lake. There were so many great wineries I wanted to see and my long suffering designated driver husband wanted a vacation. So we booked a wine tour with Crush on Niagara Wine Tours
They offer a wide array of tours from half day, full day and two-day escapes as well as corporate and group customized tours .in Niagara on the Lake and the Niagara Escarpment
We chose the half day Building Brix Tour and joined two other couples who had been on the Breaking Bread morning tour at Jackson Triggs and Inniskillin . Our friendly guide was Doryne MacDonald who knew her wines and packed the tour with lots of extras.
Our first stop was Strewn Winery, which also has an onsite cooking school, and a lovely restaurant La Cachette. We were there for a Sensory Tasting to better understand how our nose and palate work when experiencing wine, what makes a good wine pairing and why. We were taken to private tasting bar and each given a plate with a piece of lemon, a pinch of salt, two dark chocolate chips and a jelly bean.
We learned that citrusy wines like Riesling pair well with lemon sauces, salads, fruits and curries. That strong reds like Cabernet Franc are great with steaks or ribs that tend to be heavily salted and seasoned. The wine cuts the grease in the meat and the salt mellows the tannins in the wine. We sampled icewine with dark chocolate understanding that the sweetness of icewine needs to complement a more bitter or tangy dessert. We were asked to hold our nose and try to guess the flavour of the jelly bean. It was impossible. Noses are essential to tasting.
On our way to our next winery, Doryne stopped in the yard Hinterbrook to look at their unique style of pruning. Many wineries limit the fruiting zone of the vines to the lower level, but this winery totally denuded the grape clusters of all leaves to intensify sun and wind exposure to the grapes. The vineyard next door showed the sharp contrast of styles with an upper and lower fruiting zone and bushier vines.
We also had a quick peek at Southbrook from the parking lot. It is Canada’s leading biodynamic winery and allows hens and sheep to graze between the vines to keep the weeds down and fertilize the soil. Southbrook also plant by the moon and use especially formulated organic teas to deal with specific pests and encourage plant growth.
At Trius Hillebrand, we joined a larger group for a complete winery tour with Laurie as our guide. (Click on the link and you can see some of the great vistas). Hildebrand is one of the region’s oldest wineries. Its affordable Trius White and Red Blends have been such great sellers that the winery combined the Trius brand in its corporate name. It is extremely large with fermentation tanks the size of silos, vast cellars, dozens of tasting bars in its retail shop and a first class restaurant.
We went up their viewing platform to see the fields of vines, tasted their Trius red and white on the patio and toured the barrel cellar where it is aged. We walked through cool cellars where floor to ceiling walls of horizontal wines were bottle fermenting their traditional method sparklings and got a look at their newest egg shaped concrete fermentation tanks used for their award winning Outlier Gewurztraminer.
Once in the retail store, Doryne managed to score us a private tasting of the Outlier Gewurz, their Ghost Creek Riesling and their Grand Trius Red, special occasion wines to lay down for the right time.
Our next stop was Caroline Cellars where we got to play winemaker. We were given tastings of their Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Vidal and then handed a 500 ml cup and allowed to make our own blend of the three wines. I went for a 50% Gewurtz, 35% Riesling and 15% Vidal which I fatalistically called Here Goes Nothing. The wine shop had a good selection of affordable grape and fruit wines.
Our last stop of the tour was at Between the Lines, a new winery started by two brothers, Greg and Yannick Wertsch, on their parents’ vineyard. More than anything, Greg taught us about the business of running a winery, carefully choosing your varietals, keeping the price point accessible to the consumer, while making the wines eminently drinkable. So drinkable in fact that fishing guru Bob Izumi commissioned them to make signature Izumi white and red blends for him.
Two days later, I opened my bottle of Here Goes Nothing which I made at Caroline Cellars. What a great surprise, it tasted fantastic.
If you’ve ever been on a Crush Wine tour, or made your own wine at Caroline Cellars, leave a comment below about the experience. What’s your perfect wine blend?
This commentary was also posted on examiner.com