The Niagara wine region is lovely. It reminded us both of upstate New York, which makes sense, since it's pretty much the same land mass. The foliage, the country roads, the farm stands, small towns and old churches - it was all very familiar, in a very good way. And so nearby! That's extra nice. We can pop down there to buy some wine any day, and I'm sure we will.
Yesterday it was gray and off-and-on drizzly, but not too prohibitive, and today it cleared up and got cold. The foliage was beautiful. This is my favourite time of year, and I love to be outside, drinking it in. (I guess that's another unconscious pun?)
On Wednesday we went to many wineries and sampled many wines, enough that my ordinarily great navigational skills took a nap and we got lost a few times. Nothing major, just a few missed turns and some extra back-and-forth driving. But enough that I was proving myself all day today with extra back-road short cuts.
Most of the wineries we visited were in the Grimsby/Beamsville/Vineland area (Hi, Vera!). By the time we got out to Niagara-On-The-Lake, we were three sheets to the wind and in need of a nap.
The inn was very nice, but the town itself, which everyone says is so great, is just too touristy for us. We prefer the towns no one talks about. We had dinner at Strewn, a winery with a good restaurant.
This morning we took in Fort George, complete with musket demonstration and tour. It's so different to hear history from a Canadian point of view! ("The Americans were preparing, and we could see them across the river...") As you know, I love history, and I generally find the interpretative guides fascinating. Imagine fighting with a weapon that takes 15 seconds to load, blackens your hands, can't be used in the rain, and has only a slim chance of hitting its target.
After the Fort, we drove on a beautiful stretch of the Wine Route right along the Niagara River. Passing an old stone building, I saw a sign: "Mackenzie Printery and Newspaper Museum". Newspaper museum?? Screeech, one-eighty, where do we park. A newspaper museum other than the one Allan keeps in the basement! It's this place. Like most early newspapers, this one was used for political reform and rebellion, so we want to know more.
Unfortunately it was closed for the season, but we'll get there one day. Which means I've begun my list of little out-of-the-way historic places to visit, just as I always had in New York. Very cool.
After lunch in a converted fire hall, we did one last winery, then wound eastward on the country roads until hooking up with the QEW again.
At several wineries, we heard a lot of resentment, even anger, at the LCBO. Most Ontario wineries don't produce enough to meet LCBO minimums, so they can't get stocked there. The wines are only available at the wineries themselves. Yet the wineries are still regulated heavily, or, as they put it "controlled by the government".
I don't know the story from the LCBO's point of view, but it seems like they should do more to support Ontario winemakers. From a consumer's point of view, the wine selection at LCBOs sucks. The fact that it's the largest importer of wine in North America only means that it's a single entity that buys wines in huge quantities. It doesn't mean that it buys a great variety of wines. Even the "Vintages," the LCBOs that feature more wine, wouldn't come close to satisfying true wine lovers. We buy very basic table wines, but people we know who are serious wine lovers would be aghast at what Ontarians have to settle for.
The Niagara region wineries themselves are all pretty laid-back and unpretentious. The wines are all fair, nothing tremendous, nothing awful, drinkable and affordable. We bought something in almost every winery we visited, and we certainly couldn't do that in most wine regions. The only semi-pricey bottle we bought was a Reisling Icewine that just knocked my socks off. Allan didn't love it as much as I did, but it may be my new best friend.
Here are a few pics. The weather prevented any really spectacular views. We did see Fort Niagara across the water from Niagara-On-The-Lake, but we never caught a glimpse of the Toronto skyline which is supposedly visible from there.