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Winery Tour: Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario

There is a cluster of wineries around the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, which makes wine touring in this area very convenient. Discover five of the most popular ones in this charming and historic town

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1. Southbrook Vineyards

581 Niagara Stone Rd, RR4, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0; (905) 641-2548
You can’t miss Southbrook as you drive down Highway 55 to Niagara-on-the-Lake from Queen Elizabeth Way. You’ll see a wall 670 feet (205 metres) long and painted fuschia or periwinkle blue, depending on the light. The ultra-modern winery behind was designed by Jack Diamond, the same architect who created Toronto’s opera house. This elegant building, all glass and polished wood, is as stunning to the eye as its wines are appealing to the palate. The winery is the first in Canada to be certified as biodynamic. In the vineyard, the rows between the vines are kept grass-free by grazing sheep (who themselves have to be organically raised to qualify the winery as biodynamic). Owners Marilyn and Bill Redelmeier have created a series of wines under the Poetica label, which features poems by Canadian poets. Winemaker Anne Sperling’s Triomphe wines (red and white) are just that. Sample them with a slice of pizza from the outdoor wood-burning oven.

2. Stratus Vineyards

2059 Niagara Stone Rd, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0; (905) 468-1806
Continuing down Highway 55 (Niagara Stone Road) past Hillebrand Estates, on your right, through the town of Virgil, past Pillitteri Estates on your left (great country produce here) and Joseph’s Winery on your right, you will arrive at Stratus. The winery houses the most sophisticated winemaking equipment in the province, governed by a rigorous Old World winemaking philosophy: The finished wine is a blend of the best barrels, sometimes of different grape varieties (as in Bordeaux) or different clones of the same grape (as in Burgundy). J-L Groux, a Loire Valley native who trained in Burgundy and Bordeaux, is the winemaker. The winery is 100 per cent gravity fed for the grapes and the wines, to ensure the gentlest handling at all phases of production. Stratus is one of the few Canadian wineries that use large French oak vats rather than stainless-steel tanks to ferment their grapes. The flagship wines are simply labeled Stratus Red and Stratus White. Wines not selected for the Stratus label go into a second label, called Wildass.

3. Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Winery

2145 Niagara Stone Rd, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0; (905) 468-4637
You can see Jackson-Triggs from Stratus; it’s the neighbouring winery. The imposing modern building that houses the Jackson-Trigggs winery covers 47,000 square feet (4.366 metres squared). It looks like an airline terminal at first glance, but architecture buffs will be fascinated by its reverse-trussed roof and harmonious use of glass, wood, cement board and stone. An outdoor ramp leads the visitor up to the catwalk that crosses the building, affording a bird’s-eye view of the stainless-steel fermentation and storage tanks. Below ground, the vast vaulted barrel room with its stone arches resembles the crypt of a latter-day cathedral. The wines to taste are those from the Delaine Vineyard and the Proprietors’ Grand Reserve series. If you’re there in the summer, you can enjoy the musical entertainments performed in the outdoor amphitheatre.

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4. Inniskillin Wines

1499 Line 3 Rd, Niagara Pkwy, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0; (905) 468-2187
Inniskillin is a short drive beyond the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, along the picturesque parkway. Inniskillin has a historic presence. The barn, built in the 1920s and inspired by the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, contains the shop and tasting room. A smaller, adjacent barn, part of the self-guided tour, is now a museum. Think of Inniskillin and you think of icewine. Under the winery is a room dedicated to icewine, where you can watch a video onhow this “gift of winter” is made and admire some of the oldest vintages in Canada.

5. Château des Charmes

1025 York Rd, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0; (905) 262-4219
Continue along the Niagara Parkway to Queenston, then turn right onto York Road until you arrive at Château des Charmes. The French heritage of Paul-Michel Bosc is evident in the magnificent Loire-style château that is the home of Château des Charmes. There is a sense of grandeur here as you enter the main door and see the curved staircase and the well-appointed tasting room on the ground floor. There is also a state-of-the-art winery.

With his wife, Andrée, and two sons, Paul-André and Pierre-Jean, Bosc has created an impressive portfolio of wines in the French style, based on four separate vineyards, totalling 279 acres. Along the way, he has introduced several new French varieties to the province, such as Aligoté, Viognier, and Savagnin, and, from his original vineyard he has developed a new clone of Gamay (Gamay Droit).

A dedicated equestrian with his own horse-breeding stable, Bosc named his flagship Bordeaux blend Equuleus. The winery excels in sparkling wines, Chardonnay, Late Harvest Riesling, Riesling Icewine and Bordeaux-style reds. Enjoy the outdoor Vineyard Courtyard, where you can eat lunch and sample their impressive wines, with the romantic rose gardens just beyond. There is also a wine boutique and tasting bar.