Tucked away off the highway just a few minutes from the American border is one of the most prestigious parts of wine country in Ontario. Niagara-on-the-Lake is reported to be the birthplace of the modern Ontario wine industry, and it’s a relatively young industry compared to that of other renowned wine-producing regions, but its youth hasn’t stopped it from quickly picking up international attention.
The wineries are packed so densely in the NOTL region that one can hop a rented bike and tour about, if one is so inclined, but there is much to be said too for making an extended visit to a single winery and taking a proper tour. And if you think there’s not much to see outside of harvest time, well, guess again! The Jackson Triggs Niagara Estate Winery, Canada’s most awarded, is open year round.
I visited Jackson-Triggs in one of their slower periods, shortly after the snows were gone for good in April, and was treated to the sight of workers cutting old vines, prepping the demonstration garden for the new season. The roughly 12 acre estate winery grows mostly Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Riesling grapes, however the demonstration garden up front also showcases Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gewürztraminer, and Sauvignon Blanc–grapes that are grown by their partners and at their other locations. Near harvest time, visitors are encouraged to see and taste the different varietals as part of the tour.
The winery itself, described as a “modern barn,” is sunny, spacious and welcoming, inviting guests to see and touch and taste things. During the good weather, the glass doors are moved so the entry space becomes open-air. The tour takes you through the space where the fermentation vats are housed–a space designed to be so eco-friendly that very little extra light, heat, or air conditioning is required there–and down into the cool, misty barrel cellars.
Besides the demonstration garden, there’s an herb and vegetable garden that is used by the Estate Chef Tim Mackiddie. From wine and cheese to exclusive dinners, the food, herb, and wine pairings are exquisite no matter the season. We were treated to locally produced goat cheeses, pine-brined cucumbers, and freshly flown-in Canadian salmon during our luncheon. I highly recommend that you don’t miss out on at least having a lunch as a part of the tour; there’s also a “Savour the Sights” event almost every month between now and December.
Jackson-Triggs is hosting the 2nd annual Niagara Film Festival beginning June 18th, and the winery also boasts another reason to visit in the summer: on June 11, 2015, their amphitheater opens for concert season, starting with Sam Roberts Band. At a rather intimate 500 person capacity, the open-air amphitheater tends to sell out most concerts every year. Local food vendors are on site, however concert-goers can complete the experience with an exclusive dinner in the Barrel Cellar. The fireflies that come out later in the evening, of course, are free.
Following the concert season, harvest begins roughly mid September, and then the coldest months of the year (January and February) boast the very large Icewine Festival. Most of it, fortunately, takes place indoors; only the hardiest of souls may wish to participate in the Icewine grape picking, a fascinating but very cold experience.
If you live anywhere in Ontario, or are planning on visiting the area, you must visit wine country at least once–no matter the time of year. The history, technology, wine, and food is fantastic, and there’s something to intrigue every visitor.