Instead of whipping past the smaller towns of Beamsville, Vineland and Jordan en route to the larger, better known (read: busier) tourist destinations of Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake, we suggest spending a day – or two – in the quieter regions of Ontario’s wine country. You’ll be rewarded with historic towns, scenic hiking trails, small-batch wineries and fresh-from-the-farm fruit stands.
A Perfect Day in Niagara
Thanks to rich soil and air temperatures moderated year-round by Lake Ontario, the Niagara Peninsula is the largest viticultural area in Canada and produces an array of classic cool-climate varieties, including riesling, pinot noir and cabernet franc. Thus, after a mandatory stop at Beamsville Bakery and Patisserie for a homemade doughnut or some Suikerbrood (sugar bread), it’s time to hit the wine route. (Don’t worry, in this neck of the woods it’s perfectly acceptable to try a sip of chardonnay before noon – most wineries open their doors between 10:30 and 11 a.m.)
If the entire gang is along for the ride, you’ll be glad to know that many of Niagara’s wineries are family friendly and some even serve grape juice to toddlers in their own plastic stemware. Others simply offer interesting diversions for all ages. At Rosewood Estates Winery in Beamsville you’ll find an onsite apiary in addition to sustainable winemaking, while at eco- and dog-friendly Featherstone Estate Winery in Vineland you can meet the sheep labourers that help keep the vines tidy and maybe even catch a glimpse of Amadeus, the Harris hawk trained to keep other birds from gobbling up the grapes.
For those who prefer a pint, stop by Beamsville’s Bench Brewing Company, which incorporates winemaking tradition into its farmhouse approach to brewing, on your way to some of the region’s finest fruit stands. Just off the QEW on Victoria Avenue in Vineland you’ll find a family-run stand stocked with homemade jams, butter tarts and the freshest produce of the season. In August, it’s worth heading a few minutes up the road to Peach Country for fruit hand-picked and packed on the Kowalik family’s 32-acre farm.
To work up an appetite before lunch, a short drive up and over the Niagara Escarpment will take you to Ball’s Falls Conservation Area where you can check out interactive nature displays, explore an early 19th century hamlet with an operating flour mill and wander along Twenty Mile Creek for scenic views above and below the falls.
When in wine country, a winery lunch is a must. At 13th Street Winery browse the well-stocked bakery (the butter tarts were voted Canada’s Best by House and Home in 2017) or enjoy a light bistro lunch overlooking the sculpture garden. You can also dine al fresco by the vineyard at nearby Henry of Pelham’s Coach House Café, where chef Erik Peacock taps into the best local ingredients for his seasonally inspired menu (be sure to save room for the chocolate chip cookies with sea salt and fresh strawberries).
After lunch, stock up on award-winning cheeses made with milk from the region’s farms at Upper Canada Cheese Company in Jordan Station (Niagara Gold is a guaranteed standout on any cheese plate), then explore the treelined main street of Jordan Village and it’s collection of galleries, clothing boutiques and home and garden shops. Or, if you packed your mountain bike, fishing gear or hiking boots, Short Hills Provincial Park is the perfect spot for a little outdoor adventure with seven woodsy trails offering varying degrees of intensity, including the Palaeozoic Path, which is covered in gravel to make it easier for those with disabilities to enjoy the park.
At Stoney Ridge, one of Ontario’s oldest wineries, take a seat on one of several intimate patios dotted throughout the impeccably landscaped gardens and enjoy a sampling of local cheeses accompanied by a glass of Tragically Hip Grand Reserve. You’re in luck if you happen by on a Friday (or Saturday) for the winery’s famed firepit Fridays, featuring s’mores and wood-fired pizza and wings courtesy of Avella’s Wood Fired Oven.
The rest of the week, Inn On the Twenty Restaurant’s sophisticated dining room is the place to be, with its wall of west-facing windows making it the perfect spot to watch the sun set over Twenty Valley.
Make It a Weekend
Not ready to leave? Jordan’s Inn on the Twenty offers 28 elegantly appointed rooms, many of which come with fireplaces, floor-to-ceiling windows and private gardens. Start the day next door at the Inn’s spa, which is housed in a historic building and is home to vinotherapy treatments like the Wine Country Facial and the Twenty Valley Harvest Wrap.
Suitably rested, you may want to consider sampling from the ever-changing lunch menu on the patio at Ravine Vineyard before continuing your journey west to explore the historic town of Niagara-on-the-Lake or the dramatic splendor of Niagara Falls.