A Weekend in Wine Country: The Niagara Escarpment & Twenty Valley

This past Victoria Day long weekend we were lucky enough to head out to the Niagara Escarpment & Twenty Valley in Wine Country Ontario to promote the new 2017 Travel Guide! The Niagara Escarpment & Twenty Valley is home to 47 wineries, 16 historical sites, 14 restaurants, 8 cycling trails, 6 music festivals… and a whole lot more!

The temperature along the Escarpment is moderated year-round by Lake Ontario, providing ideal conditions for grape growing and the production of high quality wines. Two very popular cool climate grape varieties thrive here – Chardonnay & Pinot Noir – both synonymous with sparkling! The wineries in this area are typically more “boutique” in style, with a laid-back approach and incredibly friendly and welcoming people who are eager to share the fruits of their labour, and their knowledge about Ontario wine! Check out all the #SparklingShenanigans that ensued during our 48 hours in Wine Country…

Day 1

We arrived in Jordan (from Toronto) in a speedy 59 minutes! As we would both be tasting, we hired a designated driver – the amazing Tammy from Wheelz Niagara. We knew it would be a perfect fit when she told us she loved to take photos (and we caught her snapping paparazzi style photos of us at various points throughout the day). Driver and photographer? We were all set! 😎

1st Stop – Redstone Winery

Redstone Winery is the latest venture by Moray Tawse and his award-winning winemaking team. The first time Moray strolled through the vineyard his boots got covered in red dust (from the intensely red clay soils full of large stones) – hence the name Redstone! The vineyards are farmed organically and biodynamically and are planted with late-ripening varietals like Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Pinot Gris.

We’re big fans of the 2013 Redstone Sparkling and couldn’t wait to try their new Sparkling Rosé that was released just in time for Mother’s Day (if there’s one thing we love as much as our moms – it’s our bubbles!) And this bubbly new addition to the Redstone lineup certainly didn’t disappoint. With a striking watermelon hue, it’s bursting with red fruit flavour and a hint of baked strawberry pie. Not a bad way to start the day! 😎

Beyond Bubbles: we love Redstone’s savoury 2013 Viognier, as well as their bold 2013 Syrah – aged 18 months in french oak displaying notes of black fruit, tobacco and spice! BBQ anyone?! 🙋

2nd Stop – Kew Vineyards

Kew Vineyards is perhaps one of the most Instagrammable spots in Wine Country, which should come as no surprise as to why we love it so much! 😜 The property itself was granted to the Kew family after the war of 1812, and the beautiful historic home was built by the family in the 1850’s, who resided there until 1975 where they ran a carriage building company. The first vines were planted on the property in 1975 by a gentleman named Herman Weiss, a grandfather to the region who was responsible for many of the first vineyard plantings along the Beamsville Bench.

But at Kew the beauty goes waaaay beyond the surface! They are most known for their stunning traditional method sparkling wines made using the 3 classic Champagne varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier. They also grow a small amount of Marsanne & Rousanne which are very uncommon in the region. Our favourite Kew sparkler is constantly changing, but this spring we’ve been all about the 2010 Rosalie. Named in honour of the proprietor’s mother, this 100% Pinot Noir bubbly is aged for 6 years on the lees (!) making it deliciously rich, yet refreshing, on the palate – with notes of ripe strawberry, fresh baked raspberry tart, and a crisp hint of grapefruit on the finish.

Beyond Bubbles: let’s get real – Kew is a vineyard after our own sparkling hearts, and each time we visit we always opt for their flight of 5 sparkling wines. That said, we’ve received glowing recommendations for their 2013 Soldier’s Grant Cab Blend and their 2014 Marsanne! Oh, and definitely get a cheese plate and hang out on the patio.

3rd Stop – Creekside Estate Winery

Creekside Estate Winery’s mantra is “make great wine, and never stop experimenting” – which is exactly why we love them so much! Since 1997 the folks at Creekside have refused to follow trends or be pigeon-holed, and have developed a reputation for embracing new grape varieties, wine styles and winemaking techniques to create a portfolio of wines which are unique to Creek! They were among the first to see the potential of Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah in Ontario, which have gone on to become their signature wines. Creekside continues to produce wines that are unmistakably distinctive and reflect the unique micro-climates of the Niagara Peninsula. Oh and did we mention how much FUN they are?! 💃

Our visit to the Creekside vineyard can be summed up in one word: EPIC! Britnie and Josh pulled a secret bottle of their sold-out 2013 Backyard Bubbly, and literally… took us to the backyard for some bubbly! Let us tell you… there’s nothing quite like sippin’ wine, among the vines, under the sunshine. We talked all things sparkling, including some exciting things that Creekside has coming down the pipeline, all while sipping their sparkling Sauvignon Blanc. Sauv Blanc can be difficult to do in the traditional method – but Creekside does it right! Bursting with flavours of citrus and tropical fruit (and Sauv Blanc’s distinct grassy note) this is pretty much the closest thing you’ll find to summer in a bottle. And fear not – because another batch is being released very soon!

Beyond Bubbles: as we mentioned above, Creekside is famous for their Syrah, which we’re drinking as we write this post. 🙊 Try the 2014 Iconoclast Syrah. A distinctive peppery nose with black fruit and sweet baking spice is complimented by ripe red and black fruit on the palate… which should be complimented by a delicious charcuterie board and another glass.

4th Stop – 13th Street Winery

13th Street Winery strives to create exceptional wines that reflect Niagara’s unique terroir, as well as provide a place for guests to congregate, relax, discover and learn. Owners (and friends) Doug & Karen Whitty and John & June Mann share a common love of wine, food, art and hospitality – and all of that becomes very clear during a visit to 13th Street! There is the aroma of fresh baked butter tarts wafting from the bakery, gorgeous artworks hung throughout the tasting room (and even in the winemaking facility!) and of course there is wine. Lots of wine. 😍

We’ve been longtime fans of the NV Cuvée Rosé (so of course we had to buy a magnum of it 💁) but the real treat was getting to try the 2007 Grand Cuvée (which of course we bought as well). Remarkably complex with a mouthwatering nose of fresh butter, bread dough and warm toast, complimented by creamy, toasty and mineral notes on the palate. This Blanc de Noirs (100% Pinot Noir) was a real treat – especially if you love the delicious autolytic character of a traditional method sparkling wine. And let’s get real, who doesn’t?!

Beyond Bubbles: we love the 2016 Viognier, bursting with fresh peach and apricot flavours – and a touch of honey. Oh, and the butter tarts. Definitely get the butter tarts.

5th Stop – Westcott Vineyards

Westcott Vineyards specializes in Pinot Noir & Chardonnay – the two star players in traditional method sparkling wine. And their story is equally as interesting as their wines. After living busy lives working in IT and banking in Toronto, they decided to slow down a bit and move out to Niagara to grow grapes. Although, they’ve hardly “slowed down” at all. They produced their first vintage in 2012, and in 2015 opened their tasting room (built from a reclaimed 200-year-old timber-fame from a barn)… and its gorgeous! Grant Westcott took us on the full tour, and showed us a beautiful stone outdoor bread oven that they’re building for the summer – needless to say we’ll be back soon for a sandwich! 😍

The 2013 Violette Sparkling is produced in the Charmat method from estate grown Pinot Noir & Chardonnay, and is fruity and infectious! Bursting with fresh tree fruit like pear and peach – opt for this one if you prefer an easy-drinking sparkling wine. The 2013 Brilliant is produced in the traditional method (also from estate grown Pinot Noir & Chardonnay), and is rich and complex! With toasty notes of almond, biscuit, flint, and a hint of smoke – opt for this one if you’re a traditionalist. Or do what we do… get both! 😉

Beyond Bubbles: to say we’re obsessed with the 2016 Pinot Noir Rosé is an understatement. Although maybe we’re a little biased, as when we visited a few months back we had the opportunity to taste a few different options for the final blend! So its super cool to see it on the shelf, even though its flying off it because its seriously good. Delicate, yet vibrant, this wine is full of fresh red fruit with more complexity than your average rosé.

6th Stop – Flat Rock Cellars

Flat Rock Cellars was founded in 1999 on a stunning piece of the Niagara Escarpment known as the Jordan Bench. At Flat Rock they believe in producing wines from low yields (for higher concentration), hand picking and sorting the grapes, and using progressive viticulture and winemaking practices. They have an amazing 5-level gravity-flow system inside the winery, and use the latest in wine-making equipment from around the world. And all this hard work clearly pays off, as their wines are spectacular! Oh, and check out that view… you can see the Toronto skyline in the distance!

We’ve been drinking Flat Rock’s bubbly for years, in fact it was one of the first Ontario sparkling wines we’d ever had. So it certainly holds a special place in our sparkling hearts! 💖 The 2010 Riddled (named after the riddling process used to make traditional method sparkling wine) is made from 100% Chardonnay with the primary fermentation done in neutral oak barrels before the secondary fermentation takes place in bottle. It’s aged on the lees for 5+ years resulting in an incredibly complex wine at an insanely affordable price tag.

But Flat Rock is all about taking things to the next level, which they did with their 2009 Crowned (named after its unique crown cap closure – Flat Rock was the first winery in Ontario to use 100% non-cork closures). The Crowned is made the same way as the Riddled, but from the best parcels of Chardonnay fruit and with extended lees ageing. It’s truly a stunning wine – and with 0nly 501 bottles produced – a very special one as well.

Beyond Bubbles: we love the 2013 Rusty Shed Chardonnay! A deliciously oaky Chard produced using the best parcels of fruit and fermented/aged in the best barrels. Also don’t miss the 2015 Pinot Noir (a beautifully expressive, fresh and vibrant example of the varietal) and the 2015 Twisted Blend (the perfect aromatic patio sipper)!

7th Stop – Back 10 Cellars

Our love affair with Back 10 Cellars is a long (and wine filled) one! In the early 00’s, Christina & Andrew Brooks purchased a property in Beamsville, and began a decade long journey to build a vineyard – which Christina documented in a book! In the beginning they launched Crush on Niagara Wine Tours (which we went on) and ran a Bed & Breakfast on the property (which we stayed at) so it was definitely a full circle moment when we were able to sit together and reminisce in their tasting room over a glass of bubbly. Such an amazing and inspiring couple! 💖

Back 10 Cellars are fanatical about Riesling (it was the first wine they crafted, and has gone on to win them multiple awards) so it seems only natural that they created their first sparkling wine, the 2016 Smitten Sparkling, from the same grape! This intensely aromatic wine is produced in the Charmat method and is off-dry in style, full of bright ripe orchard and citrus fruit on the nose and palate. You can check out our full review of it here – it should come as no surprise that we were smitten with it. 😏

Beyond Bubbles: aside from Riesling, another one of Back 10 Cellar’s specialties is Rosé Coloured Glasses. A Pinot Noir & Gamay blend rosé, inspired by one of their daughters who always wears glasses with rosé coloured lenses because it makes the world a prettier place. How adorable (and true) is that?! Also quite fitting as we had rosé coloured glasses on ourselves by this point… it was our 7th winery of the day after all! 😜

8th Stop – Malivoire Wine Co.

Malivoire’s story began in 1995, when Martin Malivoire purchased his first vineyard on the Beamsville Bench where original plantings of Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Gamay & Pinot Noir still stand. Sustainability is a huge part of their winemaking practice, and the winery was designed for minimal energy consumption and incorporates the natural pull of gravity into the winemaking process.

Malivoire produces two sparkling wines labelled Bisous (a french word for “little kiss”, used as a way of acknowledging someone fondly)! 😘 The NV Bisous Brut is a blend of Pinot Noir & Chardonnay, and is delightfully toasty with a distinct minerality and stone fruit character. The NV Bisous Rosé is a Blanc de Noirs (100% Pinot Noir) with fresh, gentle aromas of strawberry, watermelon and honey. Both are produced from 100% estate grown fruit from the Beamsville Bench vineyards, and are whole cluster pressed and fermented in older French oak barrels before the second fermentation in bottle where they are aged on the lees for 36 months (for the Brut) and 25 months (for the Rosé).

Beyond Bubbles: Malivoire does rosé like no other, and their 2016 Vivant Rosé is among our favourites. Its delicate and complex, with aromas of grapefruit, cream, peppermint and cinnamon. And their 2016 Small Lot Gamay and 2013 Moira Chardonnay are our go-to’s for red and white.

Day 2

After a relaxing evening at the Jordan House we were up and at ’em early to sniff out some more sparkling wines along the Bench. We’re like bubbly bloodhounds! 🐶

1st Stop – Angels Gate Winery

Angels Gate Winery has been crafting award winning wines for almost two decades now. They combine traditional old-world winemaking techniques with innovative new-world technologies to create wines with great balance and structure, while maintaining each varietals unique characteristics. They have 190 acres under vine, 168 of them being on the Beamsville Bench. And it’s without a doubt one of the most picturesque wineries in the area (with incredible views). Oh, and did we mention they make pizza on the patio in the summer? 😍

Angels Gate definitely wins the award for most punny wine name ever – the Handsome Brut! But they’re now focusing on their Archangel line – the 2009 Archangel Pinot Noir Rosé, the 2012 Archangel Chardonnay, and the 2013 Archangel Sauvignon Blanc. All of which are crafted in the same (traditional) method, though each are very different! The Pinot Noir Rosé is dominated by a fresh red berry character, the Chardonnay is dominated by tree fruit flavours (apple and peach) with a noticeable toastiness, and the Sauvignon Blanc is dominated by citrus fruit with a distinct herbaceous undertone. We tried (and loved) ’em all! 🙊

Beyond Bubbles: we love the 2014 Mountainview Pinot Noir! The Mountainview series of wines are a dedication to place. That place being the Beamsville Bench of course! Using the best fruit of a given vintage, these wines are a great representation of the Bench’s terroir.

2nd Stop – Rosewood Estates Winery

Rosewood Estates Winery is unlike any other winery we visited over the course of the weekend… because its a Meadery as well! It all started over 80 years ago when R.W. Roman’s passion for beekeeping and mead began in Ukraine. After a move to Canada, he continued to keep bees alongside his son Roman. Years later, Roman and his wife Renata fell in love with Niagara-on-the-Lake during their honeymoon and the dream began. Today, Rosewood’s philosophy is very simple: Earth to Bottle. Sustainable beekeeping has been at the core of the Roman family for three generations, and they apply the same practices to their winemaking. They use gentle processing, wild yeast (where possible), careful use of oak, and minimal manipulation to create some seriously cool wines.

Of those seriously cool wines, Nebulous (a Pét-Nat), is their first sparkling. A funky style of wine dubbed “Champagne’s hipster sister” which is bottled before primary fermentation is complete (so sediment naturally forms in the bottom of each bottle). This one is dominated by aromas of raspberry and cherry, and is (unfortunately) sold out – but we hope it’s a sign of more sparkling things to come at Rosewood!

Beyond Bubbles: you’ve got to try the Mead Blanc of course! An intensely aromatic blend of Gewürztraminer and estate honey, fermented together through a controlled co-fermentation in a stainless steel tank. Lots of florality and tropical fruit flavours balanced by the natural residual sugar. It’s super unique and delicious!

3rd Stop – Henry of Pelham Family Estates Winery

For the last stop on our whirlwind wine weekend tour we went back to our roots – at Henry of Pelham! Henry of Pelham was the first Ontario winery we ever visited, and is one of the oldest in the region – producing their first vintage in the 1980’s! At the time there were very few wineries producing premium quality wines made from 100% Ontario grown grapes, so the term “pioneers” certainly applies here. Henry of Pelham has won numerous domestic and international awards, and focuses on producing high quality Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir & Baco Noir.

The lovely Olivia took us on a tour of the sparkling wine cellar and production facility, which culminated in a tasting of two sparkling wines – the Cuvée Catharine Brut and the Cuvée Catharine Rosé Brut (both named after Catharine Smith. The widow of Henry of Pelham, and matriarch of the family)! Both are produced using the traditional method, and a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. And both are aged on lees for 30 months, to produce that delicious toasty brioche character! They also do a special vintage 2011 Cuvée Catharine Blanc-de-Blanc made from 100% estate grown hand-picked Chardonnay. Something tells us Catharine would approve!

Beyond Bubbles: two words… Baco Noir. The Speck Brothers (owners & operators of Henry of Pelham) are often hailed as the pioneers of Baco Noir in Canada. And for good reason! Their 2016 Baco Noir is one of our all time favourite (and most versatile) Ontario red wines. Its our charcuterie board go to!

Oh, and after our tasting we hopped over to the adjacent Coach House Café where we had the veggie burger to put all veggie burgers to shame. Try not to lick the screen! Instead check out our weekend wine haul below. 🙊 Our Mini Cooper was pretty much dragging along the highway, and we might need to take out a 2nd mortgage on our house… but hey, we’re stocked up with delicious VQA bubbly for the summer!

Alright, if you’ve made it this far you definitely deserve a glass of bubbly! Or if you were sipping one while reading, it’s time for a refill! Thanks so much for reading and following us along on our journey to the Niagara Escarpment & Twenty Valley. We hope you’ve learned something, and more importantly we hope you’ll get out there and visit Wine Country Ontario and try some awesome VQA sparkling wines! 🍾🙌

Visit Wine Country Ontario online to download the new 2017 Travel Guide, maps, apps, and so much more! Check out our Ontario Sparkling Wine Map to plan a sparkling wine weekend of your own, and learn more about Ontario sparkling wine in our blog post: Why Ontario Sparkling Wines are the Best, Eh!