Canadian summers are glorious but short, so enjoying them to the fullest is a priority.
During the summer heat the cool waters, sandy beaches and rolling landscape of South Georgian Bay are a magnet for Ontarians. In winter, the same region draws many to ski at Blue Mountain and Georgian Peaks. Really, one can say that the region is a four-season paradise for hikers, cyclists, skiers and outdoor enthusiasts.
Moreover, the towns of Collingwood and Meaford, as well as the charming villages of Thornbury, Clarksburg, Craigleith, and Ravenna, offer historical curiosities, thriving arts communities, culinary talent and local artisanal foods. There are a number of craft breweries and cideries – after all, the landscape is studded with apple orchards. The first plantings date back to 1846 and currently more than 2,500 hectares/6,177 acres of apples are grown.
But did you know, the area is also home to award-winning wineries?
Situated at 45 degrees latitude, this emerging wine region is bravely pushing the limits of cool climate grape growing. Slightly cooler than the Niagara Peninsula and at a higher altitude (+300 ft), it is planted predominantly with hybrid grape varieties – baco noir, maréchal foch, vidal, l’Acadie blanc, geisenheim, seyval blanc – but there is some vinifera available (pinot noir, pinot gris, chardonnay and cabernet franc) just south of the bay area around Creemore from grape grower and vigneron Chuck Magwood (fourwheelfarm.ca).
Hybrid grapes, also referred to as French-American hybrids, inter-specific crossings or modern grapes are offspring of two varietals that belong to different species. This can happen naturally in the vineyard through cross-pollination, but mostly it is the result of intentional efforts by botanists and vine breeders. The experimental vineyards of universities such as Cornell and Minnesota have developed many of the most popular hybrid wine varieties: frontenac, la crescent, and marquette. The benefits of these hybrids include cold hardiness and disease resistance.
Three wineries call this region home:
The Roost Wine Co., Georgian Hills Vineyards and Coffin Ridge Boutique Winery. Each produces a variety of styles from sparkling to still white and red wines and sweet dessert wines. Each offers wine tasting venues with a view – panoramic vistas of undulating terrain, blue waters of Georgian Bay, friendly staff, and a light food menu.
It’s a family affair! Owners Jessica (winemaker) and Michael Maish (vineyard manager) have created a beautiful little winery sitting on 100 acres of land belonging to Jessica’s family and housed in a charmingly restored 19th century barn.
Michael lovingly and sustainably farms slightly over five acres of vineyard planted with hybrid varieties on sloping escarpment loam soil. During winter, his vines are covered by Geotextiles to protect them from freezing. While walking the vineyard, Michael pointed at the slope of the vineyard and said that was key to the site and why the vineyard was thriving.
At the time of my visit, Harvey, the winery Boxer dog, was the official greeter and the couple’s son was busy labelling bottles – yes, it’s a family affair.
Both Jessica and Michael completed the Viticulture & Enology Program at Washington State University. With a little advice from Anne Sperling and Peter Gamble (wine consultants and winemakers) to get them started, Jessica and Michael are now independently crafting small-batch, minimal intervention, award winning wines. They produce approximately 2,000 cases.
Jessica describes her winemaking as highly experimental and pushing the boundaries. She uses a combination of whole berry and destemmed fruit for some of her reds. Her white wines are crisp, mineral laden and have a lovely mouthfeel due to lees contact. As a winemaker, Jessica is all about quality and control – she uses press fractions of base wines (used in making traditional method bubbly) for her Charmat sparkling wine upping the quality.
Recent accolades include double gold for The Roost 2021 Frontenac at the 2023 All Canadian Wine Championships; silver was awarded to the 2022 Foch and bronze medals allotted to the 2021 Sparkling Rosé, 2020 Marquette, and 2021 Pinot Noir Rosé (in their respective categories). Note: their vinifera grapes come from Creemore’s Four Wheel Farm.
- 2021 Sparkling Siegerrebe Sekt (Charmat method) $28.75
- 2021 Frontenac $24.75
- 2022 Foch $28.75
- 2020 Marquette $28.75
- 2022 Pet Nat (Chardonnay) $38.75
- 2022 Frontenac & Siegerrebe (comes in a four pack of half bottles/200ml) $25.55
- 2022 Spice Wine (an aperitif or digestive based on an ancient method of spicing wines) $22.85
Fourth generation apple grower John Ardiel and partner Robert Ketchen (with 40+ years of experience in wine and beverage marketing) founded the Georgian Hills Vineyards (2010) and have now been joined by Greg and Liam Ardiel heading up the cidery.
Two vineyard sites consisting of 17 acres are planted with cold hardy vinifera (riesling, pinot gris, gewurztraminer, chardonnay, gamay noir, pinot noir) as well as L’Acadie blanc, seyval blanc, vidal, maréchal foch, marquette and baco noir.
The winemaker Ky Ryan (graduate of Niagara College Winery & Viticulture program) took the helm in 2019 and crafts wines for the winery’s three brands. Winemaker/consultant Thomas Bachelder provides support as needed.
The Georgian Hills series of wines showcases vibrant, fruit driven, aromatic style white wines and lighter style, fruit driven red wines with delicate tannins and lower alcohol. The Notty Bay series features reserve blends. And the Wild & Inspired series allows winemaker Ky to experiment with single vineyard vinifera fruit (from Niagara) and wild ferments to showcase terroir.
This winery is a popular destination for weddings and events such as Vinestock (an annual July music fest with proceeds going to charity). The covered outdoor bar and tables are a pleasant way to enjoy the scenery while sipping a glass of wine or cider.
- 2019 Wild & Inspired Chardonnay Wismer Single Vineyard 2018 $31.95
- 2020 Notty Bay Rouge $18.95
- 2020 Bartlett Frozen to the Core (dessert wine) $23.95
- Big John Lightly Hopped Cider $3.75 (473 ml can)
Coffin Ridge was first and paved the way for others to venture north, plant a vineyard and make wine. Neil and Gwen Lamont planted vines in 1999 and established the winery in 2007. Currently they produce between 3,000 – 4,000 cases of wine from estate grown fruit covering 22 acres and bring in some vinifera grapes from Niagara for certain blends.
During my visit, I asked Gwen about the name of the winery expecting a ghoulish ghost story. Although they have ghost walks at certain times of the year, the winery’s name stems from a high ridge shielding the vineyard from the cold winds off Georgian Bay – it’s called Coffin Ridge. That theme inspired the label design and the delightfully macabre names of the wines – Into the Light White, Back From the Dead Red, and apparently a new label, Night Spirit, is in the works stemming from a partnership with Owen Sound’s Tom Thompson Art Gallery.
Will it be for a new wine, a new cider or something else? Gwen divulged that construction is underway for a brewery on site to be completed this year.
Nik Antunovich (originally from New Zealand but residing in Canada since 2013) has taken over the winemaking role from Steve Byfield.
The winery does not offer tastings but does sell tasting flights and wine by the glass at tables indoors or out on the patio. Adirondack chairs with views over the vineyard are another great option.
- 2019 Reserve L’Acadie Blanc $26.95
- 2022 Sparkling Rosé $
- 2021 Divine Intervention Orange Wine $19 (skin fermented Geisenheim)
- Forbidden Pink, Cider $24.90 (six pack, 473 ml cans)
Lidija’s interest in wine began over 35 years ago when she founded a wine club, The Grape Friends, in order to learn more about wine regions, grape varieties, and food & wine pairing. After retiring from teaching, Lidija enrolled in the Winery and Viticulture Technician program at Niagara College to deepen her understanding of winemaking and grape growing, graduating in 2015. Since then she has earned a French Wine Scholar certification and has earned her WSET Diploma. Lidija blogs about wine and travel on her site www.divinevines.wordpress.com.