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The Weather Network
Oct. 17, 2019 | Thursday
Entertainment News
Four wineries and a bicycle
Reporter Tim Taylor, with his wine walkabout peloton, Kate (right) and Stephen Fish, in front of Jackson-Triggs Winery. (Supplied)

It would be almost impossible to complete a satisfying summer walkabout to the wineries around Niagara-on-the-Lake.

So, we did the next best thing — we rode our bicycles.

I was joined by our daughter Kate, an acting elementary school principal in St. Catharines and her husband, Stephen, a Grade 5 teacher in Niagara Falls. It was their last summer hurrah before the back-to-school frenzy.

We chose four wineries within the Niagara Lakeshore sub-appellation (an area descriptor for wine regions with similar climate and soil characteristics). There are 10 wineries on the Niagara Lakeshore, 99 across the entire Niagara Peninsula.

Our criteria? The cycling needed to be brief, easily accessible and incidental to the winery visits. And there had to be at least a little food available along the way to soak up the wine.

We gathered on a clear and brisk morning at Sweet’s and Swirl’s Café at the community centre. Lots of parking and we had a chance, over coffee, to finalize our strategy.

Kate and Stephen had taken one look at their flat bicycle tires and decided to rent wheels at Zoom Leisure (www.zoomleisure.com) on Mississauga Street. They report the process was efficient, fast and affordable; and an easy ride to our meeting point.

First stop, just along the walking path on Niagara Stone Road was Jackson-Triggs(www.greatestatesniagara.com).

The lineage of Jackson-Triggs goes all the way back to 1874 with the founding of the Niagara Falls Wine Company by Thomas Bright. Suffice it to say, almost 150 years later, both the company, and the industry, have come a long way.

Jackson-Triggs, with eight other well-known Canadian wineries, are now owned by Arterra Wines, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan (no, Kate and Stephen don’t get free wine). Arterra means “earth” in Italian.

When the winery opened in 2001, the dramatic architecture and production design wowed the community and the industry alike. Today it seems a little tame, as new winery after new winery, attempts to outdo the last.

Kevin, a Niagara College tourism management student and part-time tasting consultant, puts us through our paces. He tells us the winery harvests grapes from 11 acres on the winery property, 600 acres near the Niagara airport and over 1,300 acres cultivated by other growers.

We share a flight of four wines: 2018 White Meritage, 2018 Sparkling Moscato, 2017 Pinot Noir and 2016 Gewürztraminer. The Gewürztraminer is our favourite of this visit.

It’s too early for food, but we take a look at the light menu, offered from noon, in the Entourage Room and the patio in good weather: cheese and charcuteries, salad, soup, grilled cheese. Another time.

Before we mount up for the next stop, we pause to chat about our thoughts. “It certainly is a large operation and really well-designed for visitors. You really feel immersed in the experience.”

On to Stratus Vineyards (www.stratuswines.com). You can see Stratus from Jackson-Triggs, above the flourishing vines, just a few hundred metres on the path along Stone Road.

The Stratus winery gained early notoriety as Canada’s first winery to achieve a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) designation.

As you open the massive doors to enter the retail and tasting area, that design achievement is evident from the huge, south-facing windows that overlook the patio and vineyards beyond.

David, our tasting guide and seven-year veteran of the Stratus story, adds to the design leadership saga, explaining the gravity-flow winemaking process, the environmentally sensitive field practices, water and heating management, and the list goes on.

David also tells us the story of the Stratus signature wines, simply named Red and White, and how they are “assembled.”

It seems, throughout the growing season, Jean-Laurent Groux, Stratus’ well-known winemaker and his team, stalk the vineyards — they have six white and 10 red grape varieties to choose from — searching for the perfect grapes for each year’s blend. Stratus uses only estate-grown grapes from the 55 acres surrounding the winery.

After up to two years aging and regular sampling of the wines, the winemaking team creates the blends that will highlight the year’s unique selection.

David offers us four wines to showcase their library: 2017 Sauvignon Blanc — an old-world Sancerre style, 2017 Weather Report Chardonnay — unfiltered and bottled on the lees, 2016 Cabernet Franc and Semillon Botrytis — late harvest.

The Chardonnay and Semillon were our highlights of the visit.

After-thoughts about Stratus: “Very sophisticated. Knowledgeable, wine-passionate staff. We learned a lot.”

An important note. If your party includes one or more beer lovers, and what group doesn’t, it’s here on the tour that you can make them happy. Before you cross Stone Road, at the traffic lights, take a brief left turn to sample the wares at Oast House Brewery (www.oasthousebrewers.ca). Call it a palate cleanser.

Big Head Wines (www.bigheadwines.ca), less than a kilometer along Hunter Road, is our next stop.

If you heard about Big Head wines from a friend, that’s exactly the way Jakub Lipinski, Big Head Wines’ proprietor, wants it. “We pretty much only market by word of mouth,” he says as he readies a large tasting kit for a restaurant tasting experience in St. Catharines he will be leading later in the day.

Jakub’s father, Andrzej, is the winemaker. Andrzej made his first wine as the head winemaker for another winery in 1998. Since then he has acted as opening-winemaker for many Niagara wineries. He opened his own, on the current site, in 2015.

It won’t be long before the family has another small winery in Vineland and it has plans to open a permanent facility on Four Mile Creek Road.

Big Head harvests 20 per cent of its grapes from its own holdings. Eighty per cent come from trusted local growers.

Talking to Jakub is fun, if a little daunting. He was a business major and now is studying for a number of advanced wine industry accreditations. He really knows his stuff.

Big Head markets 37 different wines, with a number on offer at the tasting counter. You get the feeling if you really showed interest, Jakub would open just about anything for you.

We tried: 2017 Chenin Blanc “Raw” (fermented in large concrete vats; minimal intervention; large cluster fermentation), 2017 Big Head Red, 2017 Pinot Noir and 2016 Petit Verdot.

The Chenin Blanc and Petit Verdot captured our attention.

We liked the simplicity of the Big Head offering. “Wow, very knowledgeable. Friendly and really approachable.”

Our final stop, takes us to Strewn Winery (www.strewnwinery.com), along to the end of Hunter Road, turning right on Four Mile Creek Road to the Lakeshore.

Strewn Winery first planted grapes in 1997 on 10 acres surrounding the former Niagara Canning Company. Grapes from this acreage and 16 local growers are the foundation of their wines.

It’s still a labour of love for Joe Will, president and winemaker, and his wife Jane Langdon, who also operates the Wine Country Cooking School out of the re-imagined former canning factory.

Another drawing card at Strewn is OLiV Tapas Bar and Tasting Room (www.olivtapasnotl.com), an independent restaurant highlighting the company’s wide array of olive oils and balsamic vinegars.

We had a moment with Jane — Joe was in the vineyard with the field crew — to talk about wines, tasting and her cooking school. She reminded us that her Joe started his working life in a business suit and tie in Calgary.

After a mid-career epiphany, he jumped corporate ship, ending up at a British Columbia winery. Then it was on to oenology school in Australia and the last 20-plus years in Niagara nurturing their dream.

Before we tasted a 2018 Robust Rosé, a 2016 Gewürztraminer and a 2016 Meritage (our highlight), we had a late, light lunch on OLiV’s sunny patio — a flavourful mushroom bisque, and a cheese and charcuterie antipasto board.

We agreed that Strewn and OLiV are a great all-round stop, showcasing interesting wines, crafted with personality, and a satisfying place for a brief lunch.

On the final leg of our tour, riding along Lakeshore Road back into town, we passed Sunnybrook Estate Winery (www.sunnybrookwine.com), best-known for its fruit wines and ciders. Worth a stop, if you have time.

As we returned the rental bikes, we agreed we had achieved our goals: We got a little exercise. We discovered a few stretches of quiet road. We tasted a good sampling of the wines our local wineries are most proud of. And we learned a great deal about how they are made.

Pretty much a win all around.

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