The summer is here, and many experiences in Wine Country Ontario – whether in the Lake Erie North Shore, Prince Edward County or the Niagara Peninsula – are just a short drive away from the Greater Toronto Area.
With tourism greatly restricted in light of the COVID-19 pandemic (and rightfully so), a more “local” vacation in Ontario has never seemed better, even if we’re intimately familiar with the beauty of the great province and the bounty of Wine Country!
On that topic, we couldn’t be happier that Wine Country Ontario is slowly and safely opening up again.
Yes, Wine Country is OPEN!
Many Ontario wineries are now open and some are beginning to resume tasting experiences at their vineyards, and we couldn’t be happier. Many restaurants – which depend on tourism and support from locals – are also opening, adding to the enjoyment of visiting Wine Country Ontario!
That said, we remain in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we must do our part to help stop the spread. As wineries are taking precautions to keep consumers safe (including enhanced cleaning protocols, masks and guards for staff and physical distancing requirements while queueing or indoors), it’s important to keep a few things in mind on our end when visiting. First, make sure to check any requirements from the local government or public boards of health, which will reduce surprises when arriving at a winery or restaurant. Second, when in doubt, bring a mask and some hand sanitizer for personal use. And third, remember to respect staff’s space and time. A little patience – and, if you can afford it – generosity will go a long way.
We recommend you check winery and restaurant hours and guidelines before visiting. A pre-visit check would also help disappointment if patios are closed for inclement weather, for example.
Wine Country Ontario is known for its relaxed vibe, but in many places reservations may be required now for dining and experiences. Those reservations should also be made well in advance, just in case everyone else has the same idea!
A Few Highlights from the Niagara Peninsula
Recently, we paid a visit to the beautiful Niagara Peninsula and had the pleasure of experiencing a taste of that wonderful Wine Country Ontario hospitality, together with its exceptional food and drink.
We’re sharing a few of those experiences below, and we hope you will consider them when visiting Wine Country. Of course, there is so much more to discover, in addition to the list below, and always check service details and hours with the establishment before visiting.
Stratus Tasting Experience
Stratus‘ outdoor patio is the perfect place for the winery’s Summer Sips on the Terrace experience. From their Unfiltered Chardonnay to their selection of reds – including a surprising Sangiovese based-blend – there is plenty to taste and experience at this beautiful winery.
Exploring the wines is the highlight of any visit to Stratus, and wine service is available throughout the day on the winery’s sun soaked terrace (that offers beautiful vineyard views).
Seating is available for two to five guests, and reservations are limited to one hour. Reservations can be made here.
Trius Tasting Experience
Trius is always a highlight when visiting Wine Country, from the wines to the service to the experience.
When we visited, tastings were offered outdoors in the Trius Brut Bar, with flights of three wines being served. We recommend making a reservation, as outdoor seating is limited and weather dependent (so check in before visiting!).
#TheTriusTour is also back, but just a little different this time around: groups of up to 10 for $300 may take the tour (which just might be the most Instagrammable winery tour on the planet). The Trius Tour blends world-class wines and out-of-this-world art installations to create an experience that is unlike anything offered at other wineries.
Reservations can be made here.
Westcott Tasting Experience
Lovely Westcott is always a treat to visit when visiting the Bench side of the Niagara Peninsula. The winery is open for patio dining (with eats by the lovely Ricky + Olivia) and a fun, relaxed Muskoka Chair experience (note: there is no lake in sight, but the winery does have a cozy, cottage vibe).
Reservations can be made here.
Ruffino’s Pasta Bar and Grill
Recently launched by Chef Ryan Crawford in the old Backhouse space in “uptown” Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ruffino’s offers outdoor seating for lunch and dinner and a “Super Mercatto” selling fresh pasta, sauces, soups, accoutrement, and local wines and beers and ciders with takeout.
Ruffino’s is a neighbourhood restaurant, and the staff tend to farm that supports it and deliver the fresh vegetables making their way into the Italian-inspired fare. Aside from the vegetales being super fresh, the meat is ethically sourced and cooked on the open fire and the pasta and Chef Ryan’s well known sourdough bread is made daily.
For dinner, the outdoor patio space is transformed with barrels, Chianti-bottle candles, right orange umbrellas and classic red checkered tablecloths. Squint, and a strip plaza will be transformed into a quaint Italian trattoria, and the flow of traffic on NOTL’s Niagara Stone Road will remind of Vespa’s zipping around Napoli.
Details on the restaurant and shop can be found here.
BarrelHead at Pillitteri
Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Pillitteri recently opened their outdoor patio dining space called BarrelHead (where the wine, dine and sunshine are available in spades, though sunshine is not always guaranteed!).
This new outdoor wood fired pizza restaurant adds to the dining options along Niagara Stone Road, and includes Italian classics and a couple new twists (like the broccoli topped pizza, yum!). We loved the Calabrese pizza, which included a little bit of spinach (nice twist!). The salads are also delicious, particularly the Niagara peach and blueberry topped salad – can you get any more local than that?
Beer (aptly named BarrelHead) and signature Icewine cocktails are available (and it should be no surprise, as Pillitteri is the world’s largest estate producer of Icewine!). Pillitteri’s wines are also available by the glass. For daily updates and specials, check out @barrel.head.
Speaking of wines, we were lucky enough to be treated to a sneak peek of their two soon to be released bubbles, which will surely add some sparkle to the winery’s portfolio.
Details can be found here.
We love pizza, and we love Pie’ZA and we are so glad they are able to open their patio – a fun, cozy frontyard space nestled between the restaurant itself and the boulevard.
Pie’ZA is one of 9 pizzerias in Canada, and only 4 in Ontario, to be certified by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana. The pizza here, and pizzaiuolo Maurizio, are straight outta Napoli (Maurizio was born and raised in Napoli and trained and certified by the Associazione). Though you may be tempted to reach for Chianti or Prosecco, rest assured: the wine lines also includes plenty of VQA options for a taste of home while dreaming about Italy with each bite.
Reservations are not taken at this time, but hours and patio seating information can be verified here.
A winery, restaurant and all around destination, Honsberger is one of our favourite spots to dine in the Bench. While COVID-19 has switched things up, Farm-side Pick Up, the retail store and now patio dining is available! The outdoor patio space offers a cozy, country vibe and a full menu of delicious fare – including pizza, sandwiches and the delicious polenta fries we somehow can never not try.
Reservations can be made here.
For additional details on visiting Wine Country Ontario, and to download a copy of the new 2020/2021 Travel Guide, please visit WineCountryOntario.ca.