When it comes to Ontario wine country, the arrival of September can only mean one thing — it’s Niagara Wine Festival time!
While the vast majority of wineries of the Niagara Peninsula are open all year long, and many participate in various events throughout the year, it is during the Festival that the industry puts on its best face to celebrate the grape harvest and the incredible wines that get their start in vineyards across the region. For wine lovers, it the ideal time to get out and experience what Niagara wine country has to offer and discover some hidden gems.
“There is so much going on during the Niagara Wine Festival that it can be quite easy to get lost or overwhelmed by everything that is going on,” says Sommelier Marcel Morgenstern, Sales Manager at Niagara-on-the-Lake’s PondView Estate Winery. “But it is still a great time to make new discoveries at Niagara wineries. There is nothing quite like trying new wines and old favourites in the quaint setting of a winery amid the vines.”
Montebello Park in downtown St. Catharines may be the heart of the Wine Festival, but most, if not all, of the wineries in the park are only offering a portion of their wine roster. Likewise, you can’t get everything a winery offers at the liquor store.
When planning your tour through wine country during the Niagara Wine Festival, Marcel offers a few important tips to make your trip more enjoyable:
Plan your transportation. First and foremost, make sure you have a driver. A couple of samples at this winery and a few samples at that winery can add up, and you don’t want to be drinking and driving.
Plan your route. Gas is expensive. Wine Country Ontario’s Wine Route Planner can help you prepare a logical route that will prevent backtracking and zig zagging throughout the Peninsula.
Plan around events. Many Niagara wineries will have special events during the Wine Festival. On Sept. 17th, PondView will be hosting a Harvest Party, with a wine bar, delicious food, their famous wine slushies and live entertainment by Sandy Vine and the Midnights. Admission is free, and food and wine packages are available. Use the promocode PVEARLYBIRD for 20% off until August 22nd.
Plan for your purchases. Simply tossing your purchases into the trunk of your car is a good way to end up with broken bottles. Bring along a cooler or two (recommend using frozen gel packs as opposed to ice cubes) or simply ask for an empty box from the first winery you visit.
Plan refreshments and sustenance. At some point in your tour, you will want to grab a bite to eat. And no matter what part of Niagara wine country you are touring, you are likely to pass by a fantastic local restaurant serving up a chef-inspired menu that is unparalleled. Or simply make your self some sandwiches before you leave and put them in your cooler. It is also wise to bring along some water or other soft drinks to help cleanse your palate between winery visits.
Plan to have fun and learn some new things. A tour of wineries is a chance to open yourself to new flavour experiences. Look down the sample menus for wines you haven’t tried before, or go to a winery you have never visited and try their version of your favourite varietal. You may be surprised by what you discover!
“By all means, your Niagara Wine Festival must include a few hours in Montebello sampling different wines, trying new foods, listening to live music and enjoying the sunshine,” says Marcel. “But it should also include a stop at more than a couple of wineries for a more diverse, and intimate, wine tasting experience.”