Two hours south of Toronto is one of Ontario’s most popular wine country, Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL) – home to 20+ wineries surrounded by a vast landscape of vineyards and orchards. With its well kept 19th-century village and charm, it is no wonder it’s been voted as Ontario’s prettiest town.
- City: Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON, Canada
- Dates: July 21-23, 2017
- Wine Tour Company: Zoom Leisure
- Wineries: Jackson Triggs Winery, PondView Winery, Caroline Cellars Winery & Reif Esate Winery
- Brewers: Oast House Brewers
- Ice Cream Parlour: Walker’s County Market
During the summer months, the Niagara escarpment is bustling with tourists, from families visiting the iconic Niagara Falls, couples enjoying the love and charm of the bed and breakfasts to bachelorette parties or just a simple girl’s getaway of wine touring.
My best friends and I hit the road on a Saturday morning for a last minute girl’s getaway of wine touring on a budget. We left Yorkdale at 7:30am to avoid traffic and arrived in NOTL just after 9am. Since it was a last minute plan, accommodations were hard to come by in the NOTL region at a reasonable price, so we booked an Airbnb in the next town over, St. Catherine’s. I would highly recommend booking accommodations at least two months in advance if possible during the summer. Too early to check in at 9:30am, we stopped by Sunset Grill for breakfast as it accommodated for a non-pork and -gluten diet. Nothing special, but enough to fuel us up.
Once we finally checked in, we called an Uber into NOTL to pick up our bikes. When we were researching for tour companies, we found a variety of companies but we decided to go with Zoom Leisure for it’s price and flexibility. Instead of joining a planned wine tour, we booked a self-guided tour which allowed us to tour on our own time and go rogue if we wanted. All three of us went with a hybrid bike as it allowed for easier riding in comfort. What comes with the self-guided tour is a brochure which acted as a ticket for our wine tastings, a graphic map, two snacks and a bottle of water.
Our tour consisted of four wineries and one brewery tasting, a few historical pit stops and lastly a bakery for a scoop of ice cream. The historical monuments along the way would’ve been very interesting to a history fanatic but three girls on a wine tour, it is safe to say that was not out priority this trip.
1. Jackson Triggs Winery
Our first stop was Jackson Triggs. A favourite of ours for the scenic views and natural light. The building resembles a modernized barn with the picturesque vineyard at the back. For iconic pictures of the field, head to the top of the ramp to the right as soon as I exit the back door – it’s the best view of the vineyard and gives you an awesome backdrop (see my main image for this blog). Our tasting came with three wines, I chose: Grand Reserve Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Reserve Vidal icewine. The icewine was my favourite – a sweet way to hit off our tour.
2. Oast House Brewers
Our next stop was Oast House Brewers, a quick 5 minute ride along the bike path. The clouds were spitting just as we arrived but even with the light rain, there was still outdoor seating with umbrella covers at the tables as well as at the bar with the. Inside the brewery was your typical merchandise shop and tasting area, but they also had a ping pong table in the back nook which is where we spent most of our time. We tasted 2 beers each: Black Sow’r Sout and Barn Raiser were my choices – the sour stout was definitely my favourite but I recommend you tasting that last. The sourness did not jive with the Barn Riser. Even though Oast was only our 2nd stop, it is a good spot for a decent rest from the 3 wine and 2 brews we just downed in a matter of 45mins.
Detour: PondView Winery
Our third spot on the tour was a bit of a ride so we made a slight detour to Pondview for their wine slushy – how can you say no to watermelon and lime wine slushy on a humid summer day? By this point, we were 5 glasses in so we hung out on their patio for a lunch break, while sipping on our slushies like the adults we are.
3. Caroline Cellars Winery
We continued about five minutes along the route to stop three, Caroline Cellars. Caroline was hands down, the best winery on this tour and I don’t think we were the only ones feeling this way. Their restaurant was bustling (inside and out) and the tasting counters started to forms lines! Once we had a taste for ourselves, we understood why. Again we tasted three wines but I was honestly blown away by the Farmer’s Blueberry Wine I didn’t want to taste anymore than that – all three of my tastings was just that. My girlfriends enjoyed the blueberry wine as well but ultimately fell in love with their Vidal Icewine – a tad too sweet for my taste buds.
Aside from their delicious wines, their food is well worth raving about. Reasonable prices, large portions and deliciously prepared with the freshest ingredients – you should definitely lunch here if you can. We ended up coming the next day for lunch and wine purchases before we headed back to Toronto. We had their Ontario rainbow trout, shrimp linguine and peach crumble.
4. Reif Esate Winery
We continued towards the lake to our last wine tasting, Reif Estate. Reif’s was easily the more aesthetic winery. As soon as you arrive, you’re welcomed by a beautiful fountain with a vibrant green lawn at the front entrance. We had the option of doing a simple wine tasting inside the shop or during their complimentary wine tour – we opted for the tour. As we walked along the tour, our guide poured us the wine he spoke about so that we could taste his descriptions – quite a unique experience!
5. Walker’s County Market
We ended our tour at Walker’s County Market for a complimentary scoop of ice cream. On a hot summer day, we couldn’t have been more grateful for free ice cream. As delicious as the ice cream was, Walker’s also sells fruits and vegetables, baked goods and locally sourced pantry goodies. I bought a small blueberry pie which was absolutely fantastic.
Our self-guided tour lasted about 6 hours – the distance was perfect for a general person who doesn’t bike on a regular basis but still lives an active lifestyle. We probably could’ve ended it sooner but we took many rests, spent time taking pictures, visited additional wineries and took our time enjoying the ice cream and baked goods at the farmers market.
Zoom Leisure was better than what we expected and I would totally recommend it to others.
*This review is not affiliated with Zoom Leisure nor was I given compensation for my review. This is a true review of my experience which I wanted to share.