Exploring your backyard when you live in Wine Country

For the majority of my life, I grew up in Grimsby, a town in the municipality of “Niagara”. This particular municipality is home to the rather famous Niagara Falls, and it’s now also home to a flourishing wine industry.

The Niagara Wine Industry has grown significantly in the past 30 years. I don’t remember much about wine country growing up in this area, aside from driving past the occasional vineyard. Now that we’re back living in Grimsby (with my parents – hey Tony and Judy!), we’ve had the immense pleasure of exploring and enjoying all that this wine region has to offer.

The Niagara Peninsula wine growing region divides itself into two areas: Niagara Escarpment/20 Valley, and Niagara-on-the-Lake. The wineries in Niagara-on-the-Lake are closer to Niagara Falls and to the beautiful, historic village of Niagara-on-the-Lake. In our experience, it gets pretty busy as a tourist hotspot, so we try to visit the more local (for us) wineries in the Niagara Escarpment/20 Valley area.

The main benefits of that choice? Closer to home, fewer crowds, and the tastings are usually free.

To give you an idea of how the region is spread out, here’s a map. The 20 Valley/Niagara Escarpment is clustered towards the centre/left, while the Niagara-on-the-Lake wineries are clustered towards the right.

Keep in mind the map is a bit outdated, showing far fewer wineries that exist. There are currently 92 wineries in the Niagara Peninsula.

Niagara Wine Route Map (Outdated)

Of those 92 wineries in the region, we’ve only been to 30. While we’ve seen a lot, we have a long way to go!

But why exactly do we go to these wineries? To taste wine, to explore the beauty of the Niagara region, to buy wine, and to get to know the people and industry driving the economy in our neighbourhood.

Drinking wine, and really liking it, requires a lot of practice. That means trying a lot of different wines, and there’s no better way to do that than wine tastings. And when you combine in the beautiful weather and landscape of the Niagara Escarpment, satisfaction is guaranteed.

As for buying wine, one thing we’ve learned from living in Portugal is that the best wines don’t always get out of the country they’re made in. Think about it: if a wine is really good, then it’s probably going to be consumed at home. So even if you’re buying good wine from Australia, it still might not be the best version of what that wine producer makes. However, if you buy wine in your own backyard, you can taste everything they’ve made that year, you can choose to definitely get the best crop of what they’re producing. And bonus: you often do get to meet some of the wine producers.

With the decline of manufacturing, the Niagara Wine Region’s tourist industry has really positioned itself to be an economic driver of this region. Part of this includes the wide variety of events that they organize and curate each year. This past fall we attended the “Niagara Grape and Wine Festival” and “Wrapped Up in the Valley”. The events are well run and easy to understand as a participant. They provide you with clear maps, checklists, etc, and even their websites are easy to explore!

The two sites I use most when researching and booking tours are VQA OntarioNiagara Wine FestivalWine Country Ontario, and Twenty Valley Tourism.

This weekend kicks off the Winter Winefest, with a weekend of events in historic/beautiful Jordan Village. I can’t go, but I really suggest that you go! And the Icewine Festival will continue for the next 3 weekends – for $40, a Discovery Pass will allow you to try a food and wine pairing at 8 different wineries across the last 3 weekends in January. Give it a try! (don’t worry, there’s another festival coming up in the spring!)

I went to a party over the holidays, and was both surprised and impressed to hear how many people our age are out there exploring wineries, choosing favourites, and making recommendations.

In that spirit, here are our recommendations for must-see wineries on your next visit to the Niagara Peninsula. It’s a varied list, but is a great beginners list for understanding all that the Niagara Peninsula Wine Region brings to the table:

  • Red Stone Winery
  • Calamus Estate Winery
  • Cave Springs Cellar
  • Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery
  • Ridgepoint Wines
  • Vineland Estates Winery
  • 13th Street Winery

And of course, take a look at the photos we’ve taken on our winery adventures over the past few months:

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