Do you have a crush on Niagara? I do – and so do Crush on Niagara Wine Tour owners Andrew and Christina Brooks who – in 2003 – bought up a 10 acre derelict acreage between Vineland and Beamsville and have turned it into a wine country gem.
I first learned of Crush on Niagara Inc while staying at the Oban Inn when I saw one of their vans around Niagara-on-the-Lake. After connecting with Christina I was delighted to learn that not only does Crush Tours offer winery tours around Niagara Region, they also grow their own vineyard and have recently launched Back 10 Cellars. And (as if that wasn’t enough) they also have a guest house – called the Harvest Guest House – for those wanting to make more than an afternoon of it in wine country.
BACK 10 CELLARS
And so, on a sunny and clear(ish) April day hubby and I drove to Back 10 Cellars just outside of Vineland to meet Andrew for a tour through the vines. Andrew not only co-owns Back 10 Cellars and Crush Tours with his wife Christina, he is also a Sommelier and author of Crush on Niagara: The Definitive Wine Tour Guide and Crush on Niagara: The Definitive Wine Tour Guide for Niagara, Lake Erie North Shore, Pelee Island and Prince Edward County.
We started in the Cab Franc where Andrew taught us about how to choose the canes that will eventually bear the grapes for their 2013 vintage. We also took a good luck at their red clay, took a look at the coop that will house chickens in a few short weeks and did our best to imagine the up-and-coming heirloom garden out-back. And then, with much anticipation, we headed into the Back 10 Cellars office to taste the 2011 Riesling.
At Back 10 Cellars the winemaker is David Johnson – of Featherstone Estate Winery – and with his expertise Back 10 Cellars makes quite the amazing Riesling. It is crisp, has a great acidity and is like biting into a granny smith apple. Not to mention their tasting venue is fantastic – a huge and inviting island bar sits in the centre of the room and is framed by a fireplace and mantle. The modern light fixture above the bar welcomes you in and the black-board menu wall announces what’s being served. Come October I am excited to try Back 10 Cellars first Cab Franc vintage.
CRUSH TOURS NIAGARA
It wasn’t soon after we tasted the Back 10 Cellars Riesling that hubby and I were whisked away to meet Jerry, our tour guide, or better named our Niagara ambassador. A retired executive, Jerry and his wife moved to the Niagara region from the GTA; his wife grew up in Niagara Falls and desired to move back. I’m glad Jerry agreed because he is a wonderful guide to spend the afternoon with, not to mention he has his own line of Trinidadian hot-sauce that you can find in select wineries across Niagara (and beyond I’m sure).
Our Crush on Niagara adventure started at Kacaba Vineyards where Rachel – one of their great retail and production representatives walked us through the tank room and then took us through a tasting of some of their new 2012 vintages. I like Kacaba firstly because of their well-known red wines and secondly because of their intimate atmosphere. I especially like that during the summer their bistro is the perfect place for a family pic-nic. Bring your basket and take rest at one of their patio tables while they uncork something fresh. We left with a bottle of their Cab Syrah and 2012 Riesling (which I’ve had the pleasure of tasting right from tank, through filtering and then in the bottle) and I was very tempted to purchase more Syrah, but I already have a few bottles left-over in my wine cupboard.
After Kacaba, Jerry drove us through the vineyards explaining the history and plantings in each. For example, as it turns out the vines behind Kacaba belong to Vineland Estates and, many of them are quite old dating back to some of the original plantings in the 70’s and 80’s. You can tell the older vines from the younger one because the latter’s roots are smaller in girth. It wasn’t long before we pulled into the Vineland Estates driveway and through the front doors of the large barn-like wine boutique. The barn is quite old, refinished of course, and now houses the tank-room, wine-bar, boutique and upstairs marketplace. In the winter the boutique is quite a site as one of the largest Christmas Trees I’ve ever seen sits in the middle of the room and soars high into the ceiling. It was their Twitter guru Andre who took us through a tasting of a handful of Vineland Estate wines and we left here with a bottle of their Unoaked Chardonnay – the first Chardonnay to ever grace my wine cupboard.
Next we drove to Flat Rock Cellars where Retail Manager Deanna greeted us with a glass of Twisted – their Riesling, Chardonnay and Gewurtztraminer fusion wine and walked us through their ecologically advanced, gravity based tank room and one of their wine barrel cellars. I like wineries that use gravity to transport their grapes from the crush table into the tanks and beyond. This is just one of the ecological features of this winery – some others are their rooftop garden and row plantings, to name a few. We also tried their Pinot Noir and have my fingers crossed that Flat Rock will be participating in this year’s The Pinot Affair.
Although the Upper Canada Cheese Company was on the Crush Tours menu, we made a decision to skip it and move to the final winery. We made this decision not because we don’t like Upper Canada but because we hadn’t ever been to the last stop on the tour and because due to some unforeseen plumbing problems at our house that morning we had arrived late to the tour in the first place. Luckily both my husband and I have visited the Upper Canada Cheese Company many times and are especially in love with their maple smoked comfort cream cheese (not to mention their Niagara Gold and Guernsey curds that are fresh-made every Thursday).
Our last stop on our Crush on Niagara tour was Di Profio Wines – less than a year old and just moments from downtown Jordan, this winery is owned by Joe and Caroline – a couple who decided to stay busy and retire by buying a winery. Their son Fred is the winemaker and we especially enjoyed their Gamay Rose (which is now also living in my wine rack). We also tried their Cab Merlot, Late Harvest and Riesling. Not to mention that Caroline’s homemade pizelle’s (Italian cookies) infused with vanilla are a great compliment to any of their reds. This is a small and mighty winery that I will be visiting again.
HARVEST GUEST HOUSE
With our bags of wine in one hand (and Jerry’s Trinidadian hot sauce in the other), we headed back to the Crush on Niagara Harvest Guest House to spend the night. Built in the 1930’s this quaint house has been lovingly restored, renovated and redesigned by both Andrew and Christina (although it is Christina that needs to be credited for all of the decorating). The house has 4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, a full kitchen, living room with fireplace, dining room, upstairs balcony and back patio.
Christina’s style of old world tradition and new world charm give this guest house a modern feel without taking away from it’s obvious history. From the moment we entered we felt right at home.
Just on the other side of the threshold is a small sitting room and front table, perfect for dropping purses, shopping bags, bottles of wine and other merchandise taking up “hand-space”. Just beyond the sitting room is the dining room with large table and 30’s artwork on the walls. To the right of the dining room is the entrance to the living room with the wood-burning fireplace. Andrew and Christina had a log in the fireplace and DVD’s ready underneath the TV, not to mention a blanket on the couch (which pulls out), everything you need for a stay-in movie night (except for the popcorn). The full kitchen is spacious with a large island – this is where we ate our delicious breakfast the next morning – in the sunshine.
On the main level is also two bedrooms that sleep two each and the Twilight room has a fabulous view of the vines in the back; these two rooms share a full bath. Upstairs are another two bedrooms, one being the master with a fireplace, and upstairs there are two full bathrooms so that each bedroom has a private space. All in all, the house can sleep 12 people (if you include the two pull-out couches). Personally I think that I’d keep it to 8 max so that the whole space can be rightfully enjoyed and not feel crowded. This is one of the most perfect places for a group of friends to come and stay the night and I will be recommending the Harvest Guest House to any family looking to vacation in wine country.
Before we took off that morning we took some time to walk the vineyards – we walked up Riesling row 6 (to be super-specific). Why? … Well, because 6 is my favourite number and because their Riesling is so delicious. I loved the feel of the red clay under my feet and we were fortunate to discover a cat bird at the edge of the property. We knew it was a cat bird because of the unbelievable way they mock the calls of other birds; we must have heard over 20 different calls including Kill Deer, Cardinals, Gulls, Sparrows and other birds found in Niagara. There is something absolutely wonderful about walking through a vineyard on a sunny but crisp spring morning. Especially just a few short weeks before the buds are about to burst. It was such a pleasure and is an absolutely fantastic memory.
I’VE GOT A CRUSH ON CRUSH TOURS
All in all, Crush Tours and Back 10 Cellars are a petite heaven on earth. Andrew and Christina’s vision for Crush on Niagara really does cover the whole gamete of Niagara wine experiences. If walking among the vineyard, tasting wine, touring some of the best wineries and spending the night among the vines tickles your fancy then it sounds as if you – like me – have quite the Crush on Niagara and I can think of the perfect people to call to do something about it.