By Aaron Binder
Photos by Erin Burrell
In 1931 Herman Hupfeld wrote the lyrics to a song that would later become famous as a recurring tune in the film Casablanca. Some of the most striking lyrics in the song are simply put:
So we must get down to earth at times
Relax relieve the tension
Humans are always trying to figure out ways out make our lives easier, what other reason for inventing alcohol and the opposite gender in the first place? For city dwellers the ability to relax and get down to earth at times becomes difficult with lives that move ever faster, that is why a place like Niagara is so valuable – within minutes of arriving you feel your muscles surrendering their tension.
By the time you’re ready to leave it feels as though your body and mind have gone through a most stupendous metamorphosis. By the time we were ready to leave though, it felt like our bodies were ready for just a few more samples of wine and on this day our journey would take us along the lake and out of Niagara.
On the way out are some of the most understated wineries in the region – Palatine Hills, Konzelmann, Hinterbrook – for whatever reason seem to be outcasts among the company of kings. The company of kings isn’t always interesting though and these wineries are proving that even without the budget and profile of places like Inniskillin or Peller it is possible to flourish through quality alone.
Some of the best moments are made on the spur of the moment, making the snap decision to stop at Hinterbrook Estates paid off so well. This small, family-owned and operated winery is one of the first on the route out of Niagara-on-the-Lake when taking the beautiful lake-shore route. Officially opened in 2009 by the Nickel family, the winery was designed to facilitate zero-footprint techniques from geothermal heating/cooling and 1,000 square feet of solar paneling. This has aided them in developing a relationship with the sun that, according to them, defines their wine.
Their retail store is a brick and steel-clad barn and often you will find yourself greeted by the matriarch of the Nickel family who gladly works her way through the different wine on their roster. The most striking colour in their family is easily red; while their whites are delicious and their Riesling is undeniably one of the best in the area, their reds are bright, refreshing and robust.
Much like Colaneri, Konzelmann is a must-visit every single trip for the simple reason that the building housing the retail store is magnificent. Also, their wine is bloody good. This sprawling, estate style winery was started in 1984 by Herbert Konzelmann after leaving Germany for the rolling view provided by the Niagara Escarpment. While the scenery may not contain a black forest, the techniques and style remain steeped in German heritage to this day.
Konzelmann Winery has a great reputation for providing a diverse selection of well-priced wine while offering an amazing experience at their retail bar. It’s always nice running into a fellow cyclist, it’s even nicer when they happen to be the person on the other side of the counter. Slinging wine all day isn’t an easy job but the experts we ran into at Konzelmann made it seem effortless as they ferried us from one wine to the next.
Their most popular label is the Canada White/Canada Red series but they have a number of other varieties available at the LCBO plus a number more through their website and retail store. Being one of the larger independent wineries in the area means they are able to produce a huge amount of varieties and even parlay into an credulous peach wine.
By the time we had reached our 4 sample maximum a great sadness overwhelmed us both, we knew we had to move on into a world without Konzelmann and sometimes that’s just a world in which I don’t want to live. However, live we did. Actually, as soon as we checked our next destination before hopping on our bikes life seemed worth living again because we were about to hit up the official winery of 1812 festivities, Palatine Hills.
It was about the time we arrived at Palatine Hills where one thought became prevalent, a thought that thousands must have postulated over before “We only have about 200-250 pieces of gravel to roll over before biking home”. The painful reality gave way to refreshing bliss and temporary ignorance as soon as we parked our steeds and walked into another barn. If walking into so many barns over this trip proves one thing it is that the stereotype of the turtleneck-wearing, high-browed, wine swishing, uptight snob really doesn’t exist in anything but fiction and the occasional crazy.
Palatine Hills is one of the more relaxed wineries you can visit but don’t mistake their bubbly nature with unprofessionalism, they certainly know their stuff. In fact, at Palatine it has become their mission to know their stuff even better. After discovering some musket balls and other artifacts, the owners of Palatine began the mission of unearthing the history behind the property. A portion of what they have thus far discovered sits beside their tasting bar to peruse as you’re enjoying their varietals.
Producing over 100,000 cases of wine per year, they are well known for their high quality blended wine. As we didn’t want to be too light-headed for the ride home it was difficult to hold ourselves to five samples, but eventually self-control managed to beat out the desires of the mouth. Before that self-control mechanism kicked in though, we were able to invigorate our senses with the impeccable Quattro, a blend of four different whites produced by the winery. Rounded and finishing crisp, this is a beautiful dinner or sipping wine and one of the best we tasted while touring.
Unique to Palatine Hills is their 1812 series, a white and red that is both affordable and conveniently delicious. As the War of 1812 commemoration is going until 2015, these particular wines are being updated every year, we recommend collecting them all.
This trip isn’t for the faint of heart, while it isn’t abnormal to bike 150 kilometres in a day on performance bikes, when you’re bogged down with 30 pounds of equipment it truly becomes a man vs. self situation, you are the only person that is capable of pushing yourself onward. If you decide to forego the biking to Niagara part and are more interested in touring around when you arrive Zoom Leisure are a great option we’ve used in the past. With locations in Niagara-on-the-Lake and Niagara Falls you can decide where and when you want to travel via bike.
After our whirlwind tasting experiences at three great wineries along the lake it was time to leave. As we traveled over those crushed gravel stones, counting down from 200, the reality of endurance biking kicked in much to the chagrin of our butts. While the journey back would prove to be a little more painful there was one thought that kept us going – just how awesome and toned our bootys would be the next day.