No summer would be complete without an exhaustive, memory-making road trip. And what better reason to hit the pavement than the promise of sweet, sweet nectar at the end of your journey? Brush up on your knowledge of chardonnays while scouring the lush Ontario landscape with these must-see wine regions—perfect for aficionados, novices and newbies. Know of some hidden gems? Add your favourites to the comments below.
See what all the hype’s about in Prince Edward County
The fastest growing wine region in Ontario, this adventure should be the first on your list. Over 35 winemakers call this area home, and most are pleased as punch to offer guided tours of their facilities and fields. A mere two-hour drive from Toronto, just outside of Belleville, this road trip might be a short one—but no less memorable. Customize your own wine tour, but be sure to hit must-sees like Norman Hardie, Hillier Creek Estates, The Grange, Waupoos and Broken Stone Wineries.
In the evening, keep it classy and dine at the oh-so-French Soup Opera bistro in downtown Wellington before skipping off to your room at the Breeze Off The Lake Bed & Breakfast. Or, if you’re looking to keep the party going, try the swanky bar + lounge in the Drake Devonshire Hotel (yes, that Drake hotel) before calling it quits.
Sip & Swim at Lake Erie
Canada’s southernmost region (spanning Lake Erie’s north shore) is primo real estate for Ontario grapes (the hot summers are offset by steady gusts of cool lake breezes) resulting in the province’s longest growing season. The picturesque journey is about four hours by car from Toronto—and once you’re there, it’s only a further 30 minutes to Detroit (if you’re up for it, visit the legendary Park Bar).
Be sure to check out Colio Estate, Mastronardi Estate or Pelee Island Winery (an additional 90 minute ferry ride, but worth it) for frequent tours and tastings. If visiting the latter, be sure to pack your swimming trunks and hop in the water after a tough day of sipping.
Cruise the winding roads of Grey County & North Niagara Escarpment
Those looking for a quick trip would best be advised to try this northern trek, just outside one of many emerging regions for growers. Before heading up to the cottage this weekend, stop in at the Coffin Ridge Boutique Winery south of the rugged northern end of the Georgian Bay. This scenic outpost is perfect for an afternoon of touring and tastings; evening concerts are offered every Saturday from 6pm – 8pm throughout the summer months.
Driving up Highway 10 to historic Belfountain, a short detour will take you through the winding Forks of the Credit and the Red Clay Hills. There is no shortage of secluded waterfront spots by which to throw an impromptu picnic. If you’re feeling sinister, you can check out a list of abandoned dwellings to creep about in; then, be sure to stop in for flapjacks at the famous Caledon Family Restaurant.
Niagara-on-the-Lake: Ontario’s essential wine lover destination
Arguably the most popular region for Ontario wine—growers and drinkers alike—is this expansive southern section of the province. A mere hour and a half journey from the downtown core, there is a ton of sights to see and a limitless amount of fun to be had. Trius Winery is not only a world-renowned vineyard, but they’ve also got a four-star restaurant (with an amazing wine list—duh). Stratus Vineyards is another winner—for wine tastings, tours and fine dining. And Konzelmann is an established estate winery that prides itself on its friendly, informative and educational pedigree. Honorable mention to Peller Estates, too.
Of course, there are tons of alcohol-free activities offered throughout the golden horseshoe. For drama buffs, the 2016 Shaw Festival season is on until October 30; for those looking for old-world charm, stroll the length of Queen Street in downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake and pop into one of many pubs or casual / fine dining restaurants like Bistro Six One or Treadwell Farm-to-Table Cuisine. Of course, before heading back, you’ll have to stop by the shores of the Niagara River and gaze across the water towards the US.
Taste the up-and-coming Norfolk County & Port Dover
Another freshly minted region on the map, Port Dover is home to many private vineyards, however, the few locations that offer tastings make it well worth the 3-hour drive. One notable destination is Frisky Beaver’s retail store, where you can sample the company’s entire range of reds, whites and blushes.
At the same location, you can also indulge on the reserve bottles at Smoke & Gamble. Burning Kiln is another fantastic spot with weekend tours and tastings, and live music on the patio, all within breathtaking proximity to the shores of Lake Erie. Stop by Urban Parisian, Port Dover’s first authentic French bakery, and grab a croissant lunch, or pair your macarons with a sweet Riesling.
(Main photo: Eric Sehr)