After a stunning trip to Niagara Falls by boat, I’d barely caught my breath when we were whisked off to fly over the falls in a Niagara Helicopter. I have to admit to loving a helicopter ride, there’s a feeling of being closer to everything and that’s, I suppose, because of the massive expanse of glass. We headed out along the Niagara River and over the Whirlpool Rapids and on to the American Falls. I had my camera at the ready desperate not to miss a single breathtaking photo opportunity. After the American Falls we changed direction slightly and there beneath us was the magnificence of the Canadian Horseshoe Falls. From this elevation it was possible to fully appreciate the astonishing height of the spray, rising as mist into the air and the staggering might of the water, as it thundered over the rocks with rainbows appearing and disappearing as we flew across the water. The pilot banked smoothly around and instead of heading back to the heliport, we took off across wine country into the sun and Vineland Estates Winery.
We hovered lower and lower casting giant helicopter shadows across the vines until landing softly, we unbuckled and stepped out onto the grass. It was a majestic way to arrive. The posing over, we were taken for a tour of the winery and to see the new optical grape grading machinery in action, the only one in Canada and one of fifty in the world. All this just a prelude to our Long Table lunch with matching wines.
Executive chef Justin Downes introduced himself and then each of the courses as they were served. Charcuteries and rillettes with very lightly pickled vegetables as a sharing platter. Followed by roasted red pepper soup with goats cheese, sweet and smoky. The main course was a tender as can be, beef topped with local Highland Blue cheese and local vegetables. Finally an absolutely delicious light dessert topped with signature lavender ice cream, fragrant but not overpowering. The carefully chosen wines paired perfectly with each course, a fume style Elevation Series Sauvignon Blanc bright with a hint of acidity and fresh citrus notes. A Game Changer Rose with a hint of strawberries, bountiful with a seam of acidity and a Riesling Vidal ice wine, sweet and intense with honey, peaches and candid citrus notes. My favourite was the Game Changer Rose, perfect for sipping on a warm late summer afternoon.
We tore ourselves away from the perfect terrace and piled into the car for a spot of shopping and an explore of the 13th Street Winery. 13th Street Winery evolved from the desire to create exceptional wines that reflect the unique terroir of Niagara while also providing a place for guests to congregate, escape and relax. This is a winery and a Farm Gate with Witty Farm and 13th Street Bakery on one side and the winery building on the other. A wonderful mix of what Ontario has to offer in prime produce and baking alongside beautiful wine. The very charismatic Pierre Colas, originally from Burgundy and still remarkably French talked us through our tasting.
We began with a sparkling 13th Street Cuvee Rose. An extra brut sparkling wine with very little dosage (added sugar). It’s a blend of Pinot noir, chardonnay and a tiny bit of Gammay to boost the colour and berry flavour. A delicious refreshing methode champagneoise. This was followed by the 13th Street 2013 Gammay Noir, an entry level unoaked Canadian platinum medal winner. Spice and ripe red berry notes with a long finish. As Pierre enthused about the winery and the ethos of the winemaking, I began to understand what it is about these wines that makes them stand out. Our next tasting was 2013 13 Below Zero, an aromatic blend of Riesling icewine (40%) and off-dry Riesling (60%). The mix varies from year to year depending on the acidity of the wine, this is a floral elegant and fresh wine.
Pierre Colas went on to say that it was possible to make “some crazy (good) wines.” and that there is so much that can be done with Canadian wine. With twenty three wineries nestled below the Niagara Escarpment, each with a unique personality, this is a perfect area to visit for a wonderful restaurant and wine tour, amidst the landscape of vineyards and orchards. My only regret is that Niagara wines aren’t very readily available here in the UK and that in fact most people I speak to think just of ice wine, which whilst being wonderful, Niagara has so much more to offer the wine drinker.
I went to Canada as a guest of the Canadian Tourism Commission. This wonderful trip would not have been possible without Niagara Helicopters, Vineland Estates Winery, 13th Street Winery and Ontario Tourism