Where Crushed, Fermented, Aged, Bottled Grapes Meet the Mouth
By Aaron Binder
Photos by Erin Burrell
With the smell of crushed grapes in our eager nostrils and brilliant greens, whites and reds arriving in our eye-line it was safe to conclude that we were but mere kilometres from Niagara-on-the-Lake. Our palates were soon to shift from the grainy notes of Canadian whisky into the full bloom of flavours possessed by Niagara region wines.
Wine is a strange thing in the fact that somebody, at some point in time (about 8,000 years ago in Georgia, according to archeological evidence) woke up one day and said ‘hey, this is a great idea’. 2000 odd years into the modern era of humanity and we have turned wine into a designer drink. If you can think it, some vintner can probably make it. What that means is the ability to cultivate new vines, tastes and moods with simple grafts and hybridization. Canadian vintners are becoming masters of cross-breeding different grape varieties as is evidenced by the increasing diversity of wine styles hitting happy lips.
The impressive variety of styles is the reason our first stop on the tour was Jackson-Triggs winery. Being the de facto largest winery in Niagara holds many advantages for JT, predominantly that they are able to produce far more varieties than any other winery. They may not be the wine snob’s favourite winery because of their size but they certainly are good and a great place to ground yourself before exploring the smaller wineries of the area.
JT is almost always busy but their wine experts move with an efficiency similar to a butler, silent but always there when you need them. The brisk pace in the retail store is offset by the stunning faux stone walls, barrel displays and neutral colours to create an environment that evokes a sense of relaxation. The real gem at Jackson-Triggs, however, is their partnership with Le Clos Jordanne. The price you pay is absolutely worth the experience your tongue, nose and body receive. Starting at $30 per bottle, it’s definitely a special occasion wine, however you’re going to find yourself holding special occasions more often after your first taste of Le Clos.
Another reason to visit JT is their dedication to the arts. This past summer alone their Concert Series had great Canadian artists from Sam Roberts to Steven Page and Chantel Kreviazuk playing sold out shows. The intimate setting of the amphitheater also provides an opportunity for tastings and picnic style dinners while enjoying some of our best songwriters in the country.
Up next on our self-guided bicycle tour was Rancourt Winery, tiny by comparison to many others but well established as a benchmark for inexpensive, high quality wine. Our tastemaster, Ava, spoke passionately of the Rancourt family and how they vehemently refuse to be sold in the LCBO, instead focusing on building a rapport with their community of customers. Located just outside of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Rancourt is an easy stop and absolutely worth visiting to see old world techniques colliding with new school practices.
After Rancourt, it was only a quick jaunt to what would end up being the biggest surprise of the whole trip, Caroline Cellars. The estate style winery is visible for kilometres, the massive barns brilliant red roof a great contrast in the swimming blue skies. Upon entering the monolith barn, your nostrils are greeted with the smell of barn-wood and wine and smiles galore from the cheerful retail attendants.
Caroline Cellars was started in the late 70’s by two young entrepreneurs starting their lives together. Just over 30 years later they’ve had 4 children and the opportunity to create some of the highest quality, lowest priced wine in the region. If there is one winery you visit while in the area, this has to be the one. Their dedication to quality and variety means you’re going to bring home a wine for every meal and occasion while ensuring you keep enough of your cash to visit the estate again and again.
Aside from their expansive tasting selections, the winery also houses a restaurant which also reflects the quality you quickly come to expect from their wine. It is a perfect reprieve from cycling, informal and calorie-packed. Depending on the season, their menu changes to accommodate locally grown ingredients to guarantee a happy mouth. All of these reasons combined make Caroline Cellars a place you are sure to visit every time you wander into wine country.
Colaneri Estate Winery
After taking a couple of other quick stops, our last destination of the day beckoned. Nine kilometres out and against a blustery wall of wind, Colaneri Estate Winery wasn’t just a trek on this day, it was a journey unto itself. It’s after 6 hours of biking and tasting that your mind starts to tell you to just head back to your hotel, get naked, and enjoy a warm bath.
Not this time brain, not this time.
The sun had already started its descent into bed, but we were determined to taste the almost divine offerings for which Colaneri is quickly becoming known. Pushing our tired legs up the last hill before the winery was absolute pain, but as any masochist will tell you, humans derive their best pleasure through pain. Pushing ourselves the last 100 metres down the drive, our destination’s incredible architecture welcomed us in a way that told us we had arrived home.
Sweat on our brow and thirst in our mouths we sidled up to the bar and introduced our mouths to something even the stodgiest of dowager’s would approve. Colaneri is one of the few wineries in Niagara that utilizes Appassimento style wine-making where a grapes are partially dried before pressing which ensures the finished product is sweet yet smooth.
It really doesn’t matter what you try at Colaneri, the taste is beautiful, the aromas are invigorating and the people are just absolute peaches. They may be a fair distance out from many other wineries but after one visit it is a trip that becomes necessity every single time you find yourself in the area. When you show up, make sure you ask them about their wine labels.
After a good hour of tasting and ordering some wine to be shipped it was time to say goodbye to a familiar friend and journey back to Niagara-on-the-Lake for the evening. Hitting a tail-wind after two intense days of cycling is one of the best feelings in the world. As we pulled into our lodging, the accomplishments of the day forced smiles for new friends and great tastes; tomorrow would be difficult as we began our trek back to Toronto and normalcy. We would, however, find a couple of bright surprises along the way, tune in to the next dispatch to find out.