Halleluiah! Wineries are re-opening and offering up tastings to the public again.
For those of you who haven’t noticed, this past month has been a busy one for getting things back on track in the wine industry. And albeit at a gradual pace and with careful intent, this is simply great news for all us wine fans.
After weeks turned into months of uncertainty, we’re finally at a point where light is beginning to shine again on the global wine industry. That light I’m referring to, of course, is the ability to welcome visitors back to wineries and offer tasting experiences. It’s really the industry’s bread and butter when you think about it, and as consumers, we’re more than happy to slather that butter on.
We missed it. The wineries missed it. Despite curbside pickup and online ordering, nothing could ever compare to the personalized interactions and connections one experiences while at a winery. And so as more and more wineries are opening with their best practices in place, we’re reminded that although this is helping us all get back to normal, at the same time, we must continue to digest and respect the fact that normal has been re-defined.
Wineries are opening with the understanding that constant and careful monitoring of the number of customers on premises at any given time is paramount in order to ensure that physical distancing requirements are being maintained to comply with capacity restrictions imposed by local or federal regulations. Usually this means initiating a reservation-only policy so as not to create an undesirable situation if too many people show up at one place around the same time.
Wineries are also enhancing their cleaning procedures and protocols with special attention to high-touch surfaces (many are handing out disposable or souvenir cups to use for tastings). The key has always been to recognize that there is absolutely no rush, and to re-open on their own terms, understanding that there needs to be a modification to the guest experience.
In Niagara, Ontario – where I live the closest to and therefore spend much of my time visiting and writing about – I was curious as to how things would go once wineries decided to open. Despite only about 25 percent of Niagara’s wineries being open to date, the list is steadily increasing, from the five or so that opened a month ago to more than 40 being open now.
Since those initial days of getting back into the swing of things, I have visited seven wineries. It’s safe to say that all have had to adapt to the new situation at hand and have had to modify their guest experience – mostly by conducting tastings strictly in an outdoor environment, allowing a few people at a time into retail shops to make purchases. And what a summer it’s been to do this in!
Did I feel safe? Absolutely. All wineries should be applauded for their hard work in getting prepared and organized – which includes effectively communicating to guests what their new protocols are and what needs to be known before making the decision to book or show up for a tasting.
Just knowing that the industry is operating with the customer’s safety in clear view is very satisfying and re-assuring. And for that reason, I look forward to visiting many more wineries this summer.
Here’s what I’ve experienced to date, including some of my highlight must-try tasting takeaways:
Wine tastings are mainly being offered under a pavilion located behind the main property and situated comfortably within the vineyards. There’s also an open field space for laying out blankets and having a picnic – with some wine, of course. All transactions and wine purchases are happening outdoors.
Smitten Sparkling: Made entirely with riesling grapes, this is a very expressive, aromatic and off dry (not to mention very popular with buyers). Enjoy aromas of melon, apple and pear, with a sleek acidic back bone.
Rose Coloured Glasses: This is the estate’s rosé made with pinot noir and gamay. It’s candied with flavours of strawberry, orange zest and lemon rind. Great for picnics, pre-barbecue charcuterie or sipping in the sunshine.
Tastings are conducted on the property but far removed from the main entrance to the garden and dining areas. It’s an outdoor experience unlike most, with tastings being conducted over a barrel for a table top and with the vineyard to your back and free-range chickens and a rooster roaming around at your feet. Pretty cool experience.
Rosé: Such a fresh and vibrant wine, so palate and pocket friendly it will have you wanting to buy half a case. If its strawberry, raspberry and floral aromatics don’t seduce you, its fresh, semi-sweet with a touch of tartness on the palate will.
Big Fork Red: A great any day wine, suited for most meals and not trying to be more than what it is. An interesting blend of 71% cabernet franc, 26% pinot noir and 3% syrah. It’s medium-bodied with flavours of wild strawberry, fresh pepper and fig. Soft tannin structure. Another best value wine.
Wine tastings are offered outside, in front of the winery, right next to the vineyard. Picnic tables with umbrella tops provide seating and ample shade from the sun and heat. Thirty Bench is one of my go-to places for premium Ontario wine.
Merlot: Quality merlot here with red plum, cherry, smoky oak, cedar and spice notes. It’s ripe and long on the finish. Thirty Bench is among a (very) small number of producers in the region that are making merlot at such a quality calibre year in, year out.
Steel Post Riesling: From a very small vineyard block on the property, this particular riesling always tastes so good. Wet stone and mineral characteristics complement its juicy flavours of citrus and green apple.
Tastings are being conducted on their new and quite luxurious outdoor vineyard lounge, complete with couches, tables and chairs, astro-turf at your feet and all under a tented cover to keep you well shaded. Enjoy tastings, a glass of wine and craft cider and artisanal cheese plates daily all with a perched, bird’s eye view of the vineyard and Lake Ontario off in the distance.
Sauvignon Blanc: Vibrant and mouth-watering aromas of grapefruit, candied lime and mandarin orange. The citrus fruit notes are abundant on the palate which is light and easy drinking with bright acidity and a crisp, refreshing finish.
Cabernet Syrah: This wine has expressive aromas of ripe blackberry and black cherry along with distinct notes of smoke, fresh pepper and mocha. It is fruit-forward and juicy on the palate with present but well-integrated tannins.
Now offering a variety of experiences to guests, including food service and wine by the glass or flight tastings on their tented patio; muskoka chair reserved seating is also available with a view of the vineyard directly in front. Westcott is always a great place to visit with warm and inviting hospitality service. (Click here for a full report on Westcott Vineyards, including a review of their portfolio)
Pinot Noir Rosé: It’s fair to say that this is one of the best Ontario rosés on the market. It’s wonderfully bright, crisp and so flavourful. Red berry, subtle herbs and a fresh mineral edge gives this a complex and satisfying mouthfeel.
Temperance: A blend of pinot noir and gamay, this isn’t a straight-forward simple tasting red wine. It’s mineral, herbal and savoury with brambled fruit, earthy underbrush and cherries. A great wine to go with barbecue and, well, just summer.
Wine tastings are being offered by reservation only and are usually hosted by the winery’s owner and mastermind Adam Lowy. There’s outdoor seating with a brilliant view of the vines in the background. (Click here for a full report on Cloudsley Cellars, including a review of their portfolio.)
Twenty Mile Bench Chardonnay: A blend of two Twenty Mile Bench vineyards make up this tasty chardonnay that’s salty, mineral-driven and vibrant with carefully balanced acidity. It’s not even their best chardonnay, but it’s a really great introduction to their magnificent portfolio.
Homestead Pinot Noir: A real showstopper of a pinot. Single vineyard all the way. Deep and intense in flavour with savoury notes, brambled fruits, minerality and balanced acids. This one had me pondering it long after I tried it – as in a week later, I was still thinking about this wine!
Wine tastings – either by the glass or a flight – and food are being offered outdoors on the back terrace of this truly magnificent property, located off the beaten path next to Hockley Valley Resort, near Orangeville, Ontario. Yes, it’s a bit far, but it’s worth the visit. The wines here won’t let you down. (Click here for a full report on Adamo Estate, including a review of their portfolio)
Estate Gamay Rosé: Fresh strawberries, grapefruit and watermelon. There’s plenty of structure here to go with its refreshing taste. Made with 100% estate grown gamay fruit.
Estate Vidal (Frank’s Corner): A bouquet of citrus notes jump from the glass. Lemon curd, key lime, pineapple and grapefruit rind. It’s concentrated, fresh and lively with the hallmark acidity that’s found in the wines specific to the terroir from this area.