A new report released today says wine tourism is a growing and important part of Canada’s tourism industry.
That’s not really news, but the report from the Canadian Vintners Association (CVA) and the Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC) finds that wine tourism attracts a whopping 3 million visitors a year and drives $1.2 billion in spending a year for the critical national tourism sector.
Canadian wine regions are world-class, not only because of the great wine, but also the hospitality, infrastructure and natural beauty, which we believe can be further promoted to would-be international visitors,” said Dan Paszkowski, President and CEO of the CVA. “Our wineries already welcome more than 3M visitors annually and are in a position to substantially increase the number of guests they receive.”
“Canada’s beautiful and accessible winery experiences strengthen our competitiveness in the growing global market for culinary tourism,” said Charlotte Bell, President and CEO of TIAC. “Discerning travellers want high-quality authentic experiences and are finding what they are looking for with Canada’s award-winning vintages, local culinary treasures and beautiful geographic settings.”
I’ve had the privilege – and the fun – of visiting wineries across the country the past few years, including a visit to Inniskillin and Jackson-Triggs in Niagara some 10 days ago, courtesy of the GO Trains that connect Toronto’s Union Station to Niagara wine country. So, in no apparent order, here are a few of my favourites…
Ravine Vineyards – This is a glorious winery located in the town of St. David, south of Niagara-on-the-Lake. They make excellent Cabernet Franc and have one of the best winery restaurants I’ve ever been to. Great barbeque nights and other fun events in a winery that’s housed in a centuries-old farm home with tons of charm.
Angels Gate – They not only make excellent wine (try their sparkling wines for a real treat), but the winery is situated high on a hill on the Niagara escarpment and offers tremendous views of Lake Ontario and the shimmering skyline of Toronto off in the distance. A lovely garden out front, too. One of their workers once described a variety of wine they make as being “like sex in a glass.” How’s that for getting your motor running?
Colaneri – This Niagara winery is designed to look like a Tuscan village, with turrets and an Italian bell clanging in a tower. A bit gimmicky, sure, but it’s lovely and restful and makes you feel like you’re in Europe. Very good wines, too, especially the Pinot Noir.
Burning Kiln – This is a fabulous, lesser-known spot on the shores of Lake Erie. They dry many of their grapes after they’re picked, resulting in deeper, fuller flavours than you might expect from an Ontario wine. Their Strip Room 2011 is one of my favourite reds from Ontario. A pretty tasting room, friendly staff and a nice patio overlooking Lake Erie, too.Inniskillin – They have an excellent patio and a fantastic head chef, so be sure to stop in for lunch while you’re in the area. They make some of the best Icewine on the planet, including a sparkling Icewine that would be quite lovely with Niagara peaches.
Jackson-Triggs – I didn’t have a great opinion of their wines until I tried their Sauvignon Blanc reserve the other day, as well as their reserve Meritage red blend. Both are lovely, full-bodied and full-flavoured examples, and both are about $25. Not cheap, but a good deal for the quality. Jackson-Triggs also does informative winery tours.
Covert Organic Farms – Probably my favourite British Columbia winery, with environmentally sensitive growing methods and tremendous red and white wines. Take a tour of the Okanagan Valley vineyards in a restored 1952 Mercury pickup truck and learn how they do it, then repair to the tasting room for some samples.
Mission Hill – Very good wines in an extraordinary setting outside Kelowna. Grab a table at the wonderful restaurant, called Terrace, and gaze down at the vines as they roll their way down the hill to Okanagan Lake. They do a great concert series in the summer in an elegant setting.
Tinhorn Creek – Very good wines and an exceptional restaurant called Miradoro, with great food and even better views out over the Oliver-Osoyoos area of B.C.
Rustico – You’ll likely find owner Bruce Fuller all dressed up in his cowboy gear at this somewhat goofy but very tasty winery in Oliver, B.C. Tons of fun, with cheeky names for wine blends such as “Farmer’s Daughter” and “Threesome.”
Luckett Vineyards – I personally don’t find Nova Scotia wines as good as Ontario or B.C., but they’re coming along; especially the whites. Luckett is a fun spot on a hill overlooking the pretty town of Wolfville, complete with a working red British phone booth in the middle of the vines.
Speaking of Niagara wines, I got a nice release from the folks at Pondview Winery offering tips on visiting the area. Here’s what they had to say…
With spring finally arriving, it’s the perfect time to plan your Niagara getaway with friends and family. There are plenty of unique wineries to explore throughout the region, and putting together a wine tasting itinerary is an easy and inexpensive way to try some old favourites and discover news wines best suited for your palette.
“With scenic vineyards and gorgeous wineries, Niagara-on-the-Lake is a popular destination for wine lovers during the summer months,” says Marcel Morgenstern, a Sommelier and national sales manager at Pondview Estate Winery. “With new wineries opening every year, there is never a shortage of things to do or vineyards to explore. Niagara-on-the-Lake’s convenient wine route offers the perfect opportunity to make the most of your vacation – and it’s as simple as grabbing a map and choosing your destinations. Many people come to Niagara to visit the smaller, family-owned wineries that offer exclusive wines and tasting experiences that you won’t find anywhere else. ”
When you are heading out into Niagara’s wine country, Marcel offers the following tips to help you make most of your excursion.
· Plot your approach. There are free maps of the Niagara-on-the-Lake wine region in almost every local winery and hotel as well as online at wineriesofniagaraonthelake.com. Planning your approach is key to making sure you have enough time to explore the many boutique wineries serving unique wines not commonly available in larger retailers.
· Tour by bike. Biking is a great way to travel between wineries and enjoy the scenic countryside. Whether you plan on bringing your own bike or renting from a local bike shop, it’s ideal for getting around the Four Mile Creek appellation where there are bike paths and wide shoulders designed for rider safety.
· Set aside a weekday. For a quieter experience, visit during the week when the wineries and restaurants aren’t as crowded. If you’re looking for a weekend getaway, be sure to book your meals and private winery tours ahead of time.
· Tour the actual winery. Plan to visit more than just the tasting room. Many wineries offer private tours of the facilities or grounds that you can book according to your schedule. At Pondview, private tours starting at $8 get you into the vineyard and barrel room where you can sample wines paired with artisan cheeses.
· Get your wine home. Don’t let your wine purchases weigh you down. Ask the winery if you can pick up your bottles at the end of the day, or take note of the wine you want to purchase and return to get it later. Some smaller wineries may even deliver within Niagara-on-the-Lake, so be sure to ask about your options.
And remember, don’t drink and drive!
Please visit www.pondviewwinery.com for more information, Like Pondview on Facebook and follow it on Twitter @pondviewwinery.
On yet another Niagara angle, there’s a new Niagara River cruise being offered on the Niagara Belle, a restored paddle wheel steamer. It sounds great. Here’s the release I got on that ….
The Niagara Belle, which previously operated as a cruise boat in Toronto Harbour on Lake Ontario and in the Upper Niagara River, has been given a new lease on life by Niagara Sunset Cruises, a sister company to Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours of Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Niagara Sunset Cruises bought the boat in 2013 and gave it a complete overhaul, including more than $1 million in renovations.
After running private charter trips last summer, the Niagara Belle is offering cruises for the general public for the first time ever this season. Departures are available to passengers on both sides of the Niagara River from docks in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. and Lewiston, N.Y. Dinner cruises depart from both the Canadian and American docks, while lunch, wine tasting and a special Sunday Captain’s Cruise are offered from the Canadian side only.
“The Niagara Belle offers a unique opportunity to take in the beautiful scenery along the Niagara River like Fort Niagara, Fort George, General Brock’s Monument and the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge,” says John Kinney, President of Niagara Sunset Cruises and Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours. “Whether it’s a dinner or wine tasting cruise, guests will get to taste and experience some of Niagara’s best offerings in one excursion.”
The Niagara Belle takes visitors on a leisurely cruise down the Lower Niagara River, through Queenston and Niagara-on-the-Lake, to the mouth of Lake Ontario. The ship can accommodate up to 80 people for a seated dinner and about 140 for cocktail cruises.
Niagara-on-the-Lake departures include:
· Dinner Cruise – Watch the sunset over Lake Ontario on a three-hour cruise that includes a buffet-style dinner prepared by the award winning culinary team, followed by post-dinner dancing to the professional sound system.
· Lunch Cruise – Spend a relaxing afternoon on a two-hour sail of the Niagara River that includes a delicious buffet-style lunch.
· Sunday Captain’s Cruise – Enjoy a two-hour afternoon ride featuring a unique surf and turf lunch of Beef Tenderloin and Lobster Tail available only on Sundays.
· Wine Tasting Cruise – Sample some of the finest VQA wines, from rich reds to robust whites and world-famous ice wines, made on the shores of the Niagara River in the heart of Ontario’s wine country. This 90-minute cruise includes a wine tasting flight paired with a complimentary bar snack.
Lewiston, NY departures include:
· Dinner Cruise – Enjoy the three spacious decks and take in the sunset and sites along the Niagara River as you enjoy a buffet-style dinner prepared fresh by Waterstreet Landing.
Along with public cruises, Niagara Sunset Cruises also offers private and corporate charters on the Niagara Belle in Canada and the U.S., which can be booked in advance for events such as birthday parties, banquets, fundraisers, team-building retreats or VIP events.
Thrill-seekers can also try the Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours, which provides the exhilaration of getting soaked by Class 5 whitewater while speeding along the Niagara River in custom-built jet boats.
For more information on Niagara Sunset Cruises, visit www.niagarasunsetcruises.com, follow @NiagaraBelle on Twitter and Instagram and Like Niagara Sunset Cruises on Pinterst and Facebook. To learn about the Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours, visit www.whirlpooljet.com, follow @WhirlpoolJet on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest and Like Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours on Facebook.