Twenty Valley is a unique area of Niagara. Tucked between the escarpment and Lake Ontario, it is made up of Beamsville, Vineland and Jordan Station (and arguably a wee bit of west St. Catharines). On any day you could drive from one end of the Valley to the other in less than 15 minutes. Little would you suspect that in that small strip of land are over 30 wineries – many are award-winning. From small operations that bottle a few thousand cases to large producers with over 30,000 cases each vintage – you will find it all.
In the words of the 20valley.ca,
Twenty Valley is not a destination. It’s a way of life. Pure and simple. Our people are welcoming and our entrepreneurs are always thinking of new ways to create the most memorable experiences.
Having been to a few of the Twenty Valley wineries during The Pinot Affair I was excited to visit more during Wrapped Up. Wrapped Up in the Valley happens in November of each year and this year 24 wineries participated. For $40 per ticket you choose a weekend and can visit each of the 24 wineries, try their wine paired with a tasty food.
Also this year, care of Provisions Food Company, each Wrapped Up participant went home with 16 savoury shortbread cookies. They also make some great salted caramels and rosemary candy pecans – delish!
I had a lot of fun over the two days, here’s the rundown of Day 1 that I spent with my brother Michael. It is safe to say that we had a great time and I especially had a lot of fun introducing him to some of the wines that we have in Niagara.
The Good Earth Food and Wine Co – One of my favourites, I wanted to start at The Good Earth. The morning was crisp and cool and the construction on the new stone patio out back had just begun (it’s done now and looks great!). Kara (the Wine Wench) and Chef Michael Pasto were both in good spirits and their friendly banter reminded me of what makes a great winery – it isn’t just the wine; it’s the experience in interacting with the “good people”. It was a great way to start my Wrapped Up weekend. Want to learn more about the Good Earth – read: Great Times at Good Earth Winery.
- Wine: 2010 Dry Reisling
- Food Pairing: Mini-Choucroute Garnie – Apple infused horseradish with sausage and a thick slice of bacon
Peninsula Ridge Estates Winery – Having never been to this winery before Wrapped Up, it was a pleasure to finally acquaint myself. From the road it looks like a large farmhouse at the top of a hill. As you make your way up the winding driveway you will drive by the winery restaurant on the right, round a corner and the wine shop is tucked in behind. The shop has vaulted ceilings and is constructed of wooden beams; the lookout from the patio faces the lake. Although only mid-November, their Christmas tree was up and I enjoyed the festive vibe.
- Wine: 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
- Food Pairing: Chanterelle Scented Cabernet Onion Soup with Golden Blyth Crostini
Rosewood Estates Winery – Another one of my favourite wineries (and suspecting that the “Enerbee” Sonia Vitali was cooking for this great event), this stop was a must for me. Rosewood Estates is also a Meadery – they make honey wine and keep the hives and bees onsite. The winery is owned by the Roman family – Eugene and Renata (the Queen Bee) and their children Krystina (the Social Bee) and William (the Bee Master). We stuck around Rosewood a little longer than some other wineries to try their Mead Noir, Mead Royale, Mon Cherie and Ambrosia. Want to know more about Rosewood – read: Mead Me at Rosewood Estates
- Wine: 2010 Cabernet Franc
- Food Pairing: Beef Tagine with Apricots and Honey
Angels Gate Winery – Neighbour to Rosewood (above), I have been intrigued about Angel’s gate for a little while now. I cannot say that I know much about this winery other than they celebrated their 10th anniversary in 2012, bottle over 30,000 cases each year and the building resembles a church in commemoration of the Christian Sisters that used to own the property. Something on my “To Do” list for summer 2013 is to visit this winery and enjoy a glass on their patio that has quite a spectacular view of Lake Ontario.
- Wine: 2010 Cabernet Merlot
- Food Pairing: Slow-roasted Pork Slider with Green Peppers, Onions and Estate BBQ sauce
Thirty Bench Wine Makers – Thirty bench embraced the last rays of the autumn sunshine and celebrated Wrapped Up outside. Well, the truth is that we were outside because of the release of their 2010 reds, but my version is much sexier. Anyways, being my first visit to the winery we “snooped” inside the shop before heading out to the vineyard. I couldn’t believe that it was mid-November and the roses there were still in full bloom. How I love Niagara! And, it’s worth mentioning that Thirty Bench is now my favourite Reisling in Niagara. Delish!
- Wine: 2011 Reisling – Gold Medal Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Excellence in Ontario Wines 2012
- Food Pairing: Mushroom Soup with Foie Gras Crumb Garnish
Tawse Winery – Having been to Tawse once before it was nice to return especially since Tawse has been named Canada’s Winery of the Year for 3 years running – 2010, 2011 and 2012.. The Wrapped Up event was hosted in their Members Room and, unlike other wineries showcasing just one wine, Tawse was showcasing three – each a Pinot Noir. If you aren’t familiar with Pinot Noir let me say that it is typically very smooth and is known as the “red for people who like white”. For the full scoop on Pinot Noir read: Cheating on White, The Pinot Affair
- Wine: 2009 Cherry Ave Pinot Noir
- Food Pairing: Crispy Duck Roll with Niagara Fruit & Cayenne Marmalade
Aure Wines – Not only had I never been to Aure winery before Wrapped Up, I had never even heard of it before. It turns out that it has only been open for a year so when I found that out I did not feel so out of the loop. I knew, though, the moment I drove into the parking lot that I would like them because of the Floyd Elzinga metal sculpture out front. Inside was warm and cozy with a firing burning and comfortable chairs to cuddle up on. They also have a sizeable loft with chairs and board games and other ways that I would love to spend some time sipping wine. If I had more time I would have made my way up there – it is certainly a reason to return.
- Wine: 2010 Gamay
- Food Pairing: Duck Paté with Pumpkin Bread with Cranberry Jelly
Mountain Road Wine Company – At first, while driving down Mountain Road, I thought I missed the winery. It is very inconspicuous compared to others I have been to. I was a little confused driving up the laneway – passing broken down cars, trucks, and tractors is not something I am used to on a wine tour. Inside is not much to look at either; however, the hospitality was top notch and it turns out that their vines are some of the oldest in 20 Valley. Not to mention their icewine is fantastic and the tastings are free! We tried some 1999 Vidal Icewine on top of taking part in Wrapped Up. I would have tried more but Michael and I had to pace ourselves – there were still more wineries on our list.
- Wine: 2006 Reserve Chardonnay
- Food Pairing: Stuffed Grape Leaf Roll
Malivoire Wine – How Malivoire made it onto the Wrapped Up map without actually participating in the event, they are not sure. But, I am happy they did. It turns out they were showcasing Malivoire with some free tastings through November so anyone that was participating in Wrapped Up who stopped there – it was a BONUS stop. The Cheesy Guys were there and they were sampling some of their Aged Farmhouse cheese. If you have ever tried it before then you know why I go to the St. Catharines market to pick this up. I also left Malivoire with some Chocolate Cheese and some Sauvagine … stay tuned for a piece on The Cheesy Guys coming soon.
- Wine: 2011 Pinot Gris
- Food Pairing: Aged Farmhouse Cheese
Megalomaniac Wine – Owned by John Howard this winery is pretty incredible looking from the road. It is built right into the side of the escarpment and the driveway winds through the vineyards before ending up at the cellar door. It is pretty common to see photographers setting up their tripods at this winery because the view of Lake Ontario and the Niagara region is spectacular. This is one of the wineries that, once you visit, you will want to go back again and again with people who have not ever been so that they can experience for themselves the impressive architecture.
- Wine: 2011 Big Mouth Merlot
- Food Pairing: Big Mouth Merlot Marinated Pulled Pork Slider in Mini Pita with Fresh Sprouts
Vineland Estates Winery – This winery was the highlight of Wrapped Up for me. It was the first time that I had visited Vineland Estates and it will not be the last. I have plans to eat at the restaurant in the new year and certainly want to investigate some of their well talked about events. The stonework reminds me of a church I visited in Italy so right away the mood was perfect and inside the perfection continued with my favourite pairing of the event. I was happy to discover that Vineland Estates has a great 2nd floor marketplace that sells cheese and local Pingue cured meats and other gourmet sauces and cannings.
- Wine: Sparkling Brut and 2007 Vidal Select Late Harvest
- Food Pairing: Wild Hibiscus Flowers in Syrup Topped with Brut; Parfait of Blueberries in Peach Spirits with Chevre
I had the pleasure of spending Day 2 with my husband, David. All of the wineries that we explored on were new to the both of us so it was a day full of eye-opening adventure in our own backyard.
Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery – If you love history and intrigue then I suggest you visit Henry of Pelham. Just a few short minutes outside St. Catharines, this winery was home to Henry Smith who built an Inn on the property in 1842. The Inn became one of the first taverns in Upper Canada and you can still explore much of the original building (including the tavern) today. Also located on the site is a family cemetery. The Speck brothers (Matthew, Daniel and Paul) currently own the winery and are direct descendents of Henry Smith – I love when this much history is tied to one property. To read more about the history check out their Family History.
- Wine: 2010 Reserve Baco Noir
- Food Pairing: Rice Balls
Rockway Glen Golf Course and Estate Winery – Until Rockway I had not ever been to a winery that doubles as a 18-hole championship golf course. I wonder which came first? As you might suspect with most golf courses, there is a restaurant on site. There is also, however, a wine museum that you can walk through. It houses many wine-making antiques and takes you through the history of wine from hundreds of years ago until today. I also noticed that across the road is a Rockway Glen Bed and Breakfast – for wine lovers who are also golfers I can see how this would be the perfect marriage of the two for a weekend getaway.
- Wine: 2010 Small Lot Reserve Cabernet Franc
- Food Pairing: Duck Bresaola with Marinated Chickpeas in Phyllo Pastry
Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery – The reception at this 200 year old farmhouse winery was happy and furry and named Brix. He is quite the charmer and steals the show even before you step foot inside. The tasting bar is modern and welcoming and I was intrigued by the cool light feature; hand blown dishwasher-safe wine-glass bowls with removable bulbs – my kind of lighting! Sue-Ann (also winemaker at Megalomaniac) invited us into the dining room – painted in royal blue with regal draperies and pure white accents. It sure sparked my appetite for a great glass of wine and Sue-Ann’s Riesling fit the bill. Not to mention, her mom’s home-made grilled cheese was divine!
- Wine: 2011 Riesling Loved by Lu
- Food Pairing: Zippy Peach Chutney on an Innovative Grilled Cheese Sandwich
Flat Rock Cellars – The only adjective that seems appropriate to describe this winery’s location is that it is perched on the side of the escarpment. Metal beams hold the wine shop suspended above the vines. This design is about more than just eye-candy, it also effects the efficient functioning of the winery such that grapes can be carted right onto the top floor where they are sorted, pressed and then brought right to the tank instead of being pumped. Flat Rock focuses their attention on three varietals of grapes – Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. When you visit Flat Rock be sure to try their Pinot Noir truffles and the 2010 Rogue Concoction which is a blend of all three grapes.
- Wine: 2011 Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling
- Food Pairing: Caramelized Onion Tart with Goats Cheese
Calamus Estate Winery – Ever since the first time I had a glass of their Gewurztraminer at The Old Winery restaurant in Niagara-on-the-Lake I have wanted to visit this winery. To date, it is one of the best I have ever had the pleasure to enjoy. Something that intrigues me, and I’m sure many others, is the observatory attached to this winery. In the summer, weather depending, you can visit the winery for scheduled star gazing. Sometimes, on a clear summers night, while looking at the stars in my backyard I wish that I could teleport myself to Calamus and steal a peak through the telescope.
- Wine: 2010 Cosmic Red Blend
- Food Pairing: Beef Stroganoff over Noodles
Cave Spring Cellars – If you did not know that the Cave Spring Cellar doors were right on the main strip of Jordan Station you are likely to not be able to find this winery right away. Most people are used to driving up a (somewhat) majestic driveway into the land of grapes. Well, the Cave Spring Cellar Doors are a different kind of majestic. Nestled between the Inn On The Twenty Restaurant and the Jordan Art Gallery, this winery is part of the downtown core. But, step inside and this storefront transforms into everything you would expect from a wine boutique. I like stopping here for a mid-afternoon tasting while browsing the shops in Jordan.
- Wine: 2010 Pinot Noir
- Food Pairing: Duck Confit Pot Pie
Stoney Ridge Estate Winery – While driving west on Hwy 8 through the Beamsville Bench, this winery sneaks up on you. From the road it looks like a large hanger but once you park and round the corner of the building you are greeted by a beautiful garden with arbours and a winding pathway to the boutique. And, for all you cheese lovers in Niagara – Stoney Ridge has a small cheese counter inside. This winery wins the unofficial Local Lux award for “best hostess” as our Wrapped Up server Carol was funny, hospitable and quite the character. I will be visiting Stoney Ridge again to try their one-of-a-kind Cranberry Wine.
- Wine: 2009 Merlot
- Food Pairing: Chicken and Root Vegetable Fall Stew
Kacaba Vineyards – Kacaba (pronounced Ka-sa-ba) was the last stop on our Wrapped Up adventure. The sun was setting on the vineyards when we crossed the old bridge and parked outside the quaint red and white building. There was a local artist – Beverly Sneath – set up with her beautiful watercolours. She does incredible work and I especially love her paintings of the Balls Falls Conservation Area in Vineland. Once inside the winery we were taken care of by Niagara College graduate and Kacaba employee – Dan. Kacaba was one of the only wineries that ensured people got to know a little about the winery before tasting for Wrapped Up. We even got to try some of the 2012 Reserve Riesling right out of the tank. It was a great experience.
- Wine: 2010 Reserve Syrah
- Food Pairing: Smoked Pork Rillette with Bistro Blueberry Ketchup, Served on Crostini
Over the Wrapped Up weekend, I made it to 19 out of a possible 25 wineries; that is pretty good if you ask me. The wineries that I did not end up visiting were De Souza Wine Cellars, GreenLane Estate Winery, Creekside Estate Winery, DiProfio Wines, 13th Street Winery and Harbour Estates Winery.
All in all, I had a wonderful time and will certainly be participating in the event next year. I hope, however, that in the years to come they don’t require you to pick just one weekend over the month – I hope that ticket holders can choose any weekend of the month to visit the wineries. But, in the case that it stays one weekend only I will be getting a group of girlfriends together and we will rent a limo so that we can have all the fun, but in a little more style.