Visiting Local Niagara Wineries + Biking + Camping = Fun & Sustainable Getaway!
This past June, Mike and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary and having a weekend to getaway (not always easy with Mike in medical school!), we wanted to get out and enjoy summer and the things we love. Summer, is a time for getting outdoors, camping and well, enjoying wine!
It started with let’s go camping. Simple enough, a chance to be outdoors and most importantly cost-effective (we are frugal people after all!). We knew it would have to be close-by since we didn’t have an extended amount of time to travel further away and make the most of it, but we never intended to end up in Niagara. Niagara is known for their wine, not for their camping…but then why not go camping in wine country? It might actually be a genius “pairing”. And well we’re at it, why not add in visiting wineries by bike instead of car. An adventure was waiting to happen…
We camped at Dressel’s Jordan Valley Campground right near Jordan Village, not far from Balls Falls Conservation Area and two other campgrounds. To get to the campground you had to literally drive down into a little valley, which was quite magical.
The campground itself was well-maintained…though almost too maintained. It wasn’t quite the taste of nature we would normally look for in our camping. Not to mention that the lack of trees and the fact that we were in a valley meant a lot of wind! Thankfully the terrible thunderstorm and deluge of rain that was expected never happened.
The place would be a great spot for families, though had it been any busier, we wouldn’t have felt so great about our campground choice. But, there was a pool that we gladly used after our biking on one of the hottest and most humid days of summer at that point. And the facilities were great.
Our campsite was along a “creek” but this really was like backyard camping. We liked the campground’s vibe, but missed the peace and quiet of a more northern and secluded campground. They even had a lights out policy – meaning we had to put our fire out before we were ready to… Still, we got our camping fix and enjoyed being surrounded by green, instead of city.
The Bike Tour
Of course bike tours in Niagara are all the rage right now, but they are also darn expensive. Even renting bikes form local suppliers was not an option though we did look into it. Thankfully we got our hands on some bikes and borrowed by parents care with the hitch and bike rack, which was a huge bonus for us frugal people!
This is also when the trip became a self-guided wine tour by bike. Not being able to really find suggested bike routes in the area we were visiting (they are mostly for Niagara-on-the-Lake), we used Google Maps to explore the area in combination with our Twenty Valley wine guide (yep always have one of these, sooo helpful) to choose the wineries and crafted an ambitious route. We always aim high. If you are up for an adventure, check out our full route. All in all, this itinerary including a stop for lunch took just over 7 hours, minus the part that heads through Ball’s Falls, we missed that!
Kacaba (pronounced Ki-saw-ba,) is a cute winery with bold wine. The small white house that is the winery sits beside some rolling hills of vines and it was quite apparent from the wine list that a lot of these vines held varietals of grapes that make fantastic red wines. The staff were extremely knowledgeable, but also passionate and welcoming. They offered tours to groups, but we opted to just sample the wines. This was our first stop, but a highlight for sure.
GreenLane is a low-key winery right off of King street in Vineland. It made me think of girly wine. Not necessarily bad, but quite the follow-up of sweet white wines to the bold reds at Kacaba. The winery offered up to 3 or 4 (I can’t remember!) samples of wine to each person gratis which was actually much-appreciated.
RedStone is a very new winery in the Beamsville area and owned by the same owner of Tawse Winery. Apparently while planting vines in this location, they discovered that the soil was full of red clay and lots of stones (hence the name) and therefore made for unique growing conditions and wines that differed from their older vineyards. So why not have another winery? The wine was nice, in my opinion easy drinking reds, but not as rich as other wines in the area. Good for summer though.
They also had an amazing looking restaurant and patio that we will one day go back and try…hopefully!
Hands down one of our best winery visit experiences ever. For me this is important because I’ve visited 20 other Niagara wineries in the last few years and this was among the best! The wine itself stood out, especially their selection of rosé (not the icky, sticky white zinfandel kind either) that was sophisticated, but extremely drinkable. They had 3 different Gamays, which is like heaven for me as this is my favourite type of red next to Merlots and Malbecs. Not to mention the staff who diligently served us our samples, helped us pick out our purchases, answered our questions and provided us with lots of water (for all the biking in the hot sun) with such enthusiasm. We got lucky though getting there when it was not quite busy, cause we could tell this is a popular place.
We also tried wines from the micro winery Rennie Estate here and these were by far the boldest Canadian reds we’ve tried. It’s to be expected with the Riappsso and Appassimento style of wine making and few wineries do this in Niagara well (Big Heads Wine is another winery that does this well).
Trius is a traditional winery, with a big beautiful space amid rolling hills of vineyards and gorgeous views. We found they had a huge selection, but were also very busy. Like RedStone they used iPads and had a small tasting bar. It was somewhat underwhelming, but clearly the wine is popular, so what do I know!? We did however love the picnic tables they had placed under a few trees where we savoured our packed lunch and took a small break before hopping back on the bikes.
Also a pretty new winery in the Beamsville area, Megalomaniac is the most done up winery I’ve ever seen. It was a grueling bike ride up the long and winding laneway that was yes, uphill. But well worth it at the top with breathtaking views of the landscape. The building was stunning. I can’t even remember how many chandeliers I counted. But the brand was fun with wines featuring names like SonofaBitch Pinot Noir and Narcissist Riesling poured into glasses with little pinstripe men on them (see below). I enjoyed their white wines very much and also the cheese and cracker they offered as a pairing. I’d go back here and do the full tour and to re-count the chandeliers.
Apparently this winery was started by the former owner of Vineland Estates Winery (I think this is one of largest wineries in Niagara, but don’t quote me) shortly after his retirement. Basically why retire when you can open another winery right?
Vineland Estates was also on our route, but we opted to skip it, trying to go to smaller wineries knowing we could get Vineland wines at the LCBO.
By far the most unique wine sampling experience I’ve ever had. It was outright scandalous how backwards and rule-breaking our flight of 6 wines was…and it worked and i loved it cause I like breaking the rules (when I can!). Something has to be said about breaking the rules, and there are just so many darn rules with wine. The Sommelier was so unapologetic about it, straightforward too. I’m talking chilled reds, whites at the end of the flight… not at all what you would get at other wineries. She also did a blind pouring, not telling us which was which, and recommending that we sample the wines once through, then once through a second time. This was nothing short of mind blowing, needless to say we bought some. This was my second favourite stop on our tour, because it reminded me that with wines you can break the rules as long as you are bold! Unfortunately I can’t remember which wines we sampled! But we bought their 2011 Medium Dry Riseling.
I still don’t know how we made our way out to Featherstone. Tip: things look closer on a map than in real life. We had to bike UP Victoria Ave. I had a good sweat going as we stepped into this little winery. I was almost embarrassed, but actually not. Now give me wine, I’ve earned it! At this point Mike and I just wanted to try the wines to say “been there, done that” so we shared a flight of three focusing on whites which seemed much more refreshing at this point. They were sweet, summery and easy drinking, but nothing to rave home about. At least we got to ride DOWN Victoria Ave on the way back.
9. Cave Spring
Last stop was an easy one on our way back to the campground. We got there just before they were closing, so this was by far the fastest wine sampling I’ve done. Mostly I just wanted to have a sip of their Dolomite wines – Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc, because I absolutely love them. There is something about the unique quality of these wines and this is one of the few Chardonnays I actually enjoy. We were quickly ushered out though so they could close their doors…guess they had to go home or something.
Well, nine wineries, countless tastings and 15 km later…we were back at our campsite feeling pretty accomplished. It was the perfect evening to enjoy some dinner over the fire, smores and well more wine!
A few other wineries in the area we opted not to go to included Back 10 Cellars and Vineland Estates Winery (though I have been to both), Stoney Ridge (too bad we would have loved to try their Tragically Hip wines) and a bit further away, Pearl Morrisette Estate Winery, Di Profio Wines (been there), Calamus Estate Winery and grouped together Sue Ann Staff Estate Winery, Westcott Vineyards and Flat Rock Cellars (been there 3 times! Very good!).
The point is there are A LOT of wineries in this region and lots of them are worth trying. So it will most definitely take more than one trip.