Warm weather, patios and a chilled glass of wine. For me, there’s no better combination. If you’re looking to grab a spot at a scenic, relaxing patio this summer, does anything really compare to the atmosphere of being at a winery? A recent visit to Essex County, Ontario provided the opportunity to experience some of the most picturesque that I’ve come across!
If you haven’t visited Ontario’s most southern located wine region, I highly recommend getting in your car and driving there asap!
About a three-hour drive from the Greater Toronto Area, or 40 minutes from Windsor, Essex County – or more officially referred by Wine Country Ontario as Lake Erie North Shore (LENS for short) – is designated as an official VQA region of Ontario and is perhaps the province’s best kept secret… for now. I have no idea why it took so long to visit, but I was very impressed with my experience there.
The wines were delicious and spoke of the region’s unique terroir, and the wineries themselves were beautiful – some rustic, some on sprawling estates – and the winemakers and winery staff were literally some of the nicest people I have met in the industry. It’s definitely a place I look forward to venturing out to again.
For those looking for a winery patio with unbelievable views, delicious food and refreshing wines to match, here are seven of my favourite winery patios in Essex County, within Ontario’s Lake Erie North Shore wine region:
I loved this Tuscan-inspired estate winery so much, I visited twice! Opened in 2013 by the Paglione family, it is a little slice of Italian heaven in the middle of Harrow, Ontario. The menu has all of your Italian favourites – pizza in their wood-fired oven, traditional arancini balls, Sausage Puttanesca pasta, and fresh salads with a herb pesto vinaigrette that’s out of this world! You can see why there was the need to go back. I paired my meals with their 2019 Santino Rosé and 2019 Pinot Grigio.
A very cool vibe at North 42 Degrees Estate Winery. I sat on their top deck and had a fantastic view of their 17-acre vineyard, while grabbing a bite from the bistro menu. For foodies, their menu will impress. They only use local ingredients, source sustainable seafood and cook everything from scratch. I had their mouthwatering cobb salad with pan-seared chicken breast, avocado and the creamiest blue cheese. I paired it with their 2019 Sauvignon Blanc.
As the name suggests, the view is one of the area’s best. This sprawling lakeside winery sits on the Lake Erie North Shore, so grab a seat under their pavilion or near the shore and enjoy a flight. Their menu serves patio favourites including tacos, wraps, salads and pizza, so it’s a perfect lunch spot!
Did someone say private beach?! Yes, Sprucewood Shores Estate Winery has its own private beach so don’t forget to bring your swimwear! Not only can you enjoy your tasting flight on the beach, but the estate has gorgeous patio seating everywhere. Make the experience extra special by ordering a grazing box or picnic box with locally baked bread and charcuterie bites.
An Essex County hotspot! Reservations are a must, as the winery can get very busy. Nestled on 38 acres along the wine route, Oxley Estate Winery is a comfortable, yet spacious winery with gardens and multiple private picturesque spots to sit. Perfect for a date night! Their iconic barn overlooks the main dining patio, where I enjoyed confit duck wings and Lake Erie perch.
This family estate is an idyllic country setting, complete with chickens roaming the grounds and goats grazing. It’s a patio that takes you back to simpler days. Wood-fired pizza is available daily from 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. and you may even see Nonna Muscedere behind the counter!
To get here you do have to book in advance (I booked three weeks ahead of time, but recommend as soon as you know your travel plans). The reason? You have to get on a 1.5 hour ferry ride first, and if you’re taking your car over, you have to arrive at the dock an hour before departure. To make the most of it, I spent the day on the Island, but don’t miss the last ferry back or you’ll have to spend a night on the island. Though with only approx. 300 residents on the island, this is the place where everyone knows your name, and I’m sure any number of residents would step up to offer you their guest house. To be clear though, there are a few accommodations on the island.
The highlight of Pelee Island for me was the winery pavilion. It’s a very short drive from the ferry dock (after all the entire island is only 12.5 kms long and 6 kms wide), and it is steeped in Canadian history. Not only is Pelee Island the oldest wine region in Ontario, but its first commercial winery was built in the 1860s to world acclaim.
Though the original burned down and its ruins still on the island, the current Pelee Island Winery is a welcome escape from the world. Surrounded by water, with a serenity unlike other wineries, it’s a peaceful spot where the journey is worth the destination. Their outdoor wine garden is surrounded by 700-plus acres of vines.
– Paula Henriques is Managing Editor and Co-founder of VineRoutes