Food & Drink Living


January 4, 2016
Winery Corks

An Off-Season Visit to the Niagara Wine Region and 5 Local Wineries.

Wow the first post of 2016! To kick things off, let’s talk about wine, local wine to be specific. As a Hamiltonian I am fortunate enough to live only a quick jaunt away from Niagara, one of Canada’s major wine producing regions. And I want to say this one thing: finally Niagara wine is being recognized as not only good, but exceptionally excellent! It’s about time too.

Here’s a few reasons why Niagara wine is what it’s cracked up to be!

  • The soil of the Niagara peninsula is rich and great for growing all kinds of grapes, making for good wine.
  • Winemakers have been growing and tending to vineyards for generations now in Niagara, making now a great time for wine.
  • The cool climate of Niagara lends itself to creating some complex wines and great varietals including two of my favourite Pinot Noir and Riesling.
  • VQA Ontario ensures wines labelled as made in Ontario are in fact made from 100% Ontario grapes only:

You can learn more about Ontario wine at VQA Ontario and Wine Country Ontario.

Visiting the Wineries

I’ve always enjoyed Niagara wine and believe it’s important to support our local wineries. There is a lot of good Niagara wine that is not available in the LCBO making this a trip worth taking if you live in the area. Thankfully  Niagara  is dense with wineries making it very easy to visit multiple within one trip. It is also great to have different regions you can visit one at a time, like the Twenty Valley and Niagara-on-the-Lake. If you want you can use a tour organizer or you can plan your own trips as long as you have a designated driver. They also have bike tours in the summer! Keep in mind that wineries do have hours that tend to change throughout the year.

Some wineries offer free tastings, while some offer free tasting with a purchase only. A flight of tasting can cost from $4 to $10, and some places offer $1 per tasting for regular wine and more for reserves or ice wine. This can make this a really affordable trip!

Five Wineries – Niagara-on-the-Lake

1. Small Talk Vineyards 

Small Talk Niagara Winery

The colourful welcome at Small Talk!

This Niagara-on-the-Lake winery is over 50 years old! They used to be known as Stone Church, but was rebranded years ago as Small Talk. Each of their wines is bottled with a different label that makes them unique talking points at a dinner party!

Winery Tasting

Small Talk’s white wines and a tasting.

I did a tasting fleet here which included: RSVP 2013-Pinot Gris, Burning Ambition 2013-Riesling Gewurtztraminer, Conversation 2012-Pinot Noir and Dessert Anyone? 2011-Riseling Ice Wine.

Small Talk Winery

Outside Small Talk before the tasting.

In addition to white and red wine and ice wine, Small Talk also has hard cider, including Shin Apple Cider which you can get at the LCBO and which I blogged about in my Autumn Ciders post.

2. Palatine Hills Estate Winery

This family-owned winery is quite cute! As a boutique winery, their wine is not in the LCBO (though apparently their 1812 wines were for a bit). Their 1812 estate wines are called so because when they were planting in the vineyard they discovered artifacts local to the area from the era. Very cool!

Winery in Niagara

Palatine Hills Gewurstraminer

While here I tried their 2014 Gewurstraminer, which they are known for, their 2013 Gamay Noir Rose and their 2013 1812 Merlot Cabernet. I purchased a bottle of the latter.

Winery food

They even sold local goodies like cheese and biscuits for wine pairing.


3. Rancourt Winery

With 25 acres, Rancourt is a small-scale winery that was established by a French family from which they get their namesake. The winery is no longer owned by the Rancourt, but is still owned by a father-daughter duo.

Rancourt Winery

Tasting at Rancourt.

We enjoyed some great tastings here of their 2012 Riesling, 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2012 Merlot and one of their Rose wines. Their wines are great for people who are new to wines as they are mellow and easy to enjoy.

4. Sunnybrook Winery

Fruit winery

Sunnybrook’s doors mimicked the beautiful colours of their fruit wines.

Sunnbrook Farm Estate Winery produces only fruit wines, that is to say their wines do not include any grapes unlike most fruit wines. They are recognized as Canada’s original fruit winery. When we came in they were featuring a tasting of their spiced apple wine, served warm and it was quite good!

Fruit Winery

A huge selection of 8 fruit wines in addition to ciders and ice wine.

I also did a flight of 4 wines which included: 2013 Burgundy Plum, 2014 Montmorency Cherry, 2012 Bosc Pear and 2013 Chocolate Embrace (which actually included dark chocolate as an ingredient). My favourite was the plum wine which was flavourful and unique!

5. Big Head Wines

Big Head wines was our last stop on the tour. This winery uses a technique that dries the grapes before making the wine and you can tell they put a lot of love into their wines.

Big Head Cellar

In the Cellar at Big Head Wines

I did a flight of 4 wines for $10 here, where each pouring included a great description of the wines and how they are made, including the fact that many of their grapes are hand-picked and some of the things they do differently than other wineries in the region.

Niagara Winery

Enjoying a tasting of a red wine at Big Heads Wine

I tried the Pinot Noir, Bigger Red, Petit Noir and Chenin Blanc. The first three picks were excellent reds, which they are most known for and you won’t find any of these in the LCBO!

Micro Winery

Big Heads wines tastings.

My last word would be that each of these wineries had their unique take on wine and each one certainly featured a variety they were strong at. It was fun to try wine in Niagara-on-the-Lake for the first time and even though it was winter it was very enjoyable. I strongly suggest you make your way out to Niagara, you can even take the route I took and try these 5 wineries – just be sure to stop for lunch in between. We also stopped at some breweries which I’m excited to talk about in my nest post – so stay tuned!

Let me know if you have a favourite Niagara wine or winery!

You Might Also Like

1 Comment

  • Reply DATE NIGHT ON A BUDGET - Discover Happiness February 5, 2016 at 8:03 AM

    […] Earlier in January I blogged about a trip to the local wine region in Niagara to visit wineries. This was extremely affordable since most tastings were only a few dollars. They are also very good at ensuring that driver’s can have tastings too while being responsible so you can both enjoy it. The scenery is beautiful and wineries are naturally romantic. For more ideas on what to expect when visiting wineries, check out my post Visiting 5 Niagara Wineries. […]

  • Leave a Reply