Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Niagara-on-the-Lake Wine Tour

Niagara-on-the-Lake Wine Tour
25 May 2013

     The Wilfrid Laurier University Alumni Association runs a tour to the Niagara Peninsula each year to enjoy one of Ontario's most historic regions and to enjoy some fine Canadian wines. This year we were fortunate to be permitted to join the tour thanks to Karen's connections to one of the alumni. 
    We left Waterloo in a modern, spacious bus at 08:45, picking up at two other locations before heading to Niagara.
    Although this was not a birding trip, like most birders we never stop birding, and we noted every species along the way. Going over the Burlington Skyway we observed a substantial nesting colony of Double-crested Coromorants, countless thousands of Ring-billed Gulls, seven Mute Swans and a lone Mallard. No doubt we missed many other species, but the bus was travelling at highway speed and we had little chance for prolonged observation.

                                 Ship in the lock at Welland

    Three excellent, relatively new wineries had been chosen for this tour, and our first stop was at Peninsula Ridge Estates Winery which opened in 2000. Since the very beginning, owner Norman Beal has worked diligently to ensure that everything necessary to achieve the production of first class wine in the sand/clay soils of Niagara is achieved. As a matter of fact, the members of our little group were not especially thrilled with the wines (except that I liked the Sauvignon Blanc very much), but we were pretty much unanimous that the ice wine, with rich hints of rhubarb and strawberry, was the finest we had ever tasted.

                               Vineyards at Peninsula Ridge

                                        Karen and Me

    Following our visit to Peninsula Ridge we enjoyed lunch at Bistro Six-One Restaurant in Niagara-on-the-Lake, surely one of the most charming towns to be found anywhere in Canada. A menu had been supplied in advance and Miriam and I had both selected a ham and Brie sandwich on wholegrain bread accompanied by a mixed green salad. It was a fine choice and we both enjoyed it. Miriam had coffee and I had tea.
    Following lunch we had sufficient time to meander around town. It was a splendid, sunny day, albeit a little cool for the time of year. We ambled around, enjoying the charm of this exquisite location, and made our way down to the Niagara River. From a birding perspective it was interesting to see Common Grackles perched on branches above the water's edge, only to sally forth, hover briefly, and drop down to snap up a minnow. I have seen grackles opportunistically feed from the shore at the side of a stream or pond, but I have never seen them fish in this manner.
                                  Niagara-on-the-Lake Scenes

    We rejoined the bus at the parking lot at Old Fort George and left for Flat Rock Cellars at 14:45.
    Flat Rock cellars is my favourite winery in all the Niagara Peninsula. It produces fine wines and is especially noted for Pinot Noir, Riesling and Gewurztraminer. Furthermore, it has an absolute commitment to environmental responsibility; all of its grapes are harvested by hand, no pesticides are used, the natural features of the landscape are used for climate and humidity control and numerous other measures ensure that wine is produced in harmony with the natural surroundings of the Jordan Bench, as the area is called. Swooping over the pond used for thermal energy were Northern Rough-winged Swallows and an Eastern Kingbird was perched on a branch at the edge of the water.

                                                     Flat Rock Cellars

    Following a successful visit and wine tasting at Flat Rock we moved on to our final vineyard, Rosewood Estates Winery. This family owned winery is of recent origin and combines its wine production with the production of honey. The owner of the winery, Eugene Roman, has an extensive background in beekeeping, and it seemed natural to utilize this connection to the land to benefit further from its bounty.

    This is a fabulous winery, with a high quality product, already having won numerous prestigious awards. Furthermore it has the most enthusiastic staff we have ever seen, people who seem really bonded to the founders Eugene and Renata, the vineyards, the apiaries, the wine and the honey. Mary and Sonya were our guides, both proficient and quite wonderful in their own way. Sonya especially was a firestorm of uncontrolled energy, whose infectious enthusiasm permeated us all. Due to their connection to bees, the staff are all seeking bee-related nicknames. Sonya's is Ener-bee and it is well deserved. Renata, of course, is Queen Bee, but Mary has yet to select her honorific. Miriam came up with the witty idea that in the month of May, being named Mary, she could simply drop the "r" in her name and become May-bee!



    Following our wine-tasting, we were served a wonderful dinner. It was very atmospheric indeed to dine in the barrel room, surrounded by thousands of litres of wine aging in their barrels. It was really quite lovely, and I am giving the complete dinner we enjoyed:organic baby greens with a blueberry Baco Noir vinaigrette, chick peas and red pepper salad, broccoli salad, braised beef in mushroom sauce, chicken with lemon and capers, olive oil roasted potatoes and roasted asparagus. Dessert was cheesecake with strawberries, and tea and coffee. As you may well imagine, dinner was accompanied by fine wines at our table, and dessert was accompanied by Mead, a specialty product of Rosewood Estates, made by fermenting honey and water. Mead dates back to at least medieval times and I had never tasted it before, but I intend to again!
    It was Karen's sixty-fifth birthday and the lights were dimmed and she was presented with a candle on her cheesecake and we all sang Happy Birthday.

    The combination of good wine and good food is surely one of the great refinements of civilized societies and I feel sad for those who have never experienced its pleasures.
    We all boarded the bus for a relaxing journey to Waterloo, and returned home well-provisioned for enjoyment throughout the summer. Perhaps we may once again be invited to join this tour. 

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