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Wine Travel

Viewpointe Estate Winery

March 6, 2017
Viewpointe's award-winning wines

It’s hard to describe the beauty of Viewpointe Estate Winery. As you round the corner and drive up to this estate and see it juxtaposed against Lake Erie, you can’t help but be a bit in awe. It’s just a stunning property – especially on a day as beautiful as the one when Shawn and I visited last year.

Viewpointe12Viewpointe is both a winery and a restaurant, although it’s unique in that the restaurant is all outdoors. This was particularly impressive for us since our visit coincided with an absolutely brilliant thunderstorm that blew up off the lake as we waited for our lunch to arrive – we entertained ourselves while we waited by taking photos of Shawn with enormous storm clouds behind him.

Viewpointe Estate WineryThe covered section of the patio offered ample cover when the storm finally hit and it was absolutely amazing to watch it move across the water as we ate our local perch (delicious) and enormous salad (so very good) and I enjoyed a glass of their very good local Riesling (dry, but fruity – nice acidity, green apple and pear on the palate). Mother Nature might not always provide such striking entertainment, but the patio is a must-do if you’re visiting in summer. Right on the lake, the views can’t be beat and the food here is very good.

Viewpointe Estate WineryWe toured the entire property while we were there and got to see their busy tasting room and ample space for corporate events and weddings (both inside or out). It’s a big estate with lots of options. They opened in 2006 and celebrated 10 years this past November. They are focused on local as much as possible in both the wines and their restaurants, including the weddings and events they cater. All wines are made from grapes grown on site and they are very proud of keeping things regional.

With three separate vineyards, all with different terroir, Viewpointe offers a range of wines, from their easy-drinking Big Bluff red blend (11 months on French oak, big, fruity and Merlot-dominant), to their rich and spicy Cabernet Franc, which has lots of deep red fruit and hints of black pepper. They have a barrel-fermented Chardonnay that is big and oaky with lots of butter, lemon and vanilla on the nose and a nice richness on the palate. This one screams out for big, creamy foods.

After a tour and tasting and our delicious meal, Shawn and I made sure to pick up a bottle of the Cabernet Franc, which we look forward to enjoying one evening soon. I’m hoping Mother Nature might gift us with a storm that night – it won’t be half as spectacular from our balcony in the city, but it would be a wonderful reminder of our visit to this lovely estate.

We visited Lake Erie North Shore as guests of Ontario’s Southwest and Tourism Windsor Essex, so my tasting and lunch were complimentary. My opinion, including that you should totally buy the Cabernet Franc and order the perch when you visit, are my own. Seriously, the perch is incredible.

Wine Travel

Oxley Estate Winery

October 10, 2016
The grounds at Oxley Estate Winery in Lake Erie North Shore.

I was speaking with someone on our recent trip to Lake Erie North Shore (LENS) about how much I had enjoyed interviewing Oxley Estate Winery’s owner Ann Neydon Wilson and they said, “Don’t you just wish you were related to her?” And it was so true. From the moment she greeted us at the winery and ushered us out to the gorgeous patio at Oxley’s restaurant, you felt like she would be the most fabulous aunt ever. She tried to coax Shawn into trying dessert more than once, told us all about their lovely neighbours, had us laughing about her experiences booking hip, young bands for their events and just made us feel like old friends and not tired bloggers from Toronto on an epic LENS adventure who she’d literally just met.

Oxley Estate Winery in the Lake Erie North Shore wine region.If you visit Oxley and meet Ann, you will probably want to hug her when you leave – even if you just met her – and that’s sort of how I felt about Oxley overall. It just feels comfortable. The patio is so pretty and the tasting room is modern and fresh, but it’s the kind of place where they sell $5 jars of relish and the staff seem genuinely happy you’re there.

We didn’t have a meal here, as we were completely booked for meals on our whirlwind tour and I’d just tasted through the Oxley portfolio with Ann’s husband Murray at a recent Toronto event (you can read about that here), so this was really just a chance to see the space and have a fabulous chat with Ann. It was awesome.

Oxley is a labour of love for Murray and Ann – one that they gave up corporate careers to pursue, but things seem to be coming together nicely. While they’ve struggled a bit with their vines through some rough winters, they’re starting to see the grapes develop and the wines are proving popular.

Ripper Red wine from Oxley Estate Winery in Lake Erie North ShoreThe restaurant, which wasn’t even in the original plan, is a big success. They had planned to just be a country winery and Ann thought she’d add on a small kitchen so they could do some catering. In talking with others in the industry, though, she was persuaded to put in a larger kitchen – just in case. When they opened the winery, just in time for that year’s “Explore the Shore” event, they weren’t really ready, but they had hired a chef to make some food and the compliments on those offerings were so prolific that they decided to consider a restaurant. It was a good idea – even on the blisteringly hot Thursday afternoon when we visit, the patio and indoor seating are quite full, and if you’d like dinner it’s best to book ahead.

It’s been a few years since that frantic opening – when 3000 people stopped by on the first weekend, far more than the fledgling winery had expected – but enough time for them to realize they could have a successful business on their hands. That said, they’re still not at a place where they’re resting on their laurels. Wine is a tough business and while the restaurant helps, they are also growing root stock to sell to Niagara and for export as a secondary income stream. Like North 42 Degree’s lavender farm, the root stock provides a back-up revenue stream that is a wise idea in the fickle business of wine.

And continued growth for Oxley is on the horizon. Since they bought the original property, they’ve gone on to buy the neighbouring farm and are hard at work creating a space that draws from their own wine tasting experience. They wanted to develop a fun community, with a great spirit and make Oxley the type of space they liked to visit when they were touring. On this warm summer day, under a bright yellow awning, chatting with a lovely woman who we kind of wish we were related to, it’s hard not to think they’ve succeeded at that.

Wine Travel

Two Nights in Bacharach: Wine Travel in Germany

September 12, 2016
A wine tasting flight at Weingut Karl Heidrich in Bacharach, Germany.

I discovered Bacharach on a travel forum, where it was described as a slightly less touristy option for wine travel in Germany. Inspired by our discovery of Bernkastel-Kues in 2013, I made it the first stop of our epic German travel adventure this July. It did not disappoint.

Bacharach lived up to its billing as a traditional German wine town that, while full of things to discover, was not so packed with summer tourists as to make exploring stressful. It had all the charming nuances and stunning vineyard views I love about Germany and two nights was more than enough time to fully explore the area.

Bacharach is full of fabulous traditional buildings!

Day 1 in Bacharach:

Wine tasting at at Weingut Karl Heidrich in Bacharach, Germany.We arrived early after our flight and an hour’s drive from Frankfurt airport (the train is also an easy and central option), and well before we could check into our hotel, the charming Hotel Am Markt, which is a lovely gem located in the centre of town. We spent our time before check-in exploring the nearly empty town and then walking up to the Burg Stahlek to take in the stunning views. This trail is great for those who want to enjoy an activity that combines physical fitness and local history with breathtaking vineyard views.

The rooms at Hotel Am-Markt in Bacharach are comfortable and clean.After a quick snack, we checked into our spacious, clean and comfortable room at Hotel Am Markt (note there’s no elevator, if that’s an issue for you), took a quick nap and then headed out again to enjoy some of the local charm.

The Riesling gelato at Italia-76 Eiscafe is a can’t miss for wine lovers and something I’ve only ever seen in Bacharach. The family who runs the store is lovely and they also make a rose gelato that is so unique and flavourful. The small portions of a one scoop cone is easily walked off by a walk along the Rhine or an afternoon strolling the cobblestone streets. I love how not everything is super-sized in Germany, making it easy to enjoy small indulgences.

Sampling the local wine is a must-do and we settled in to taste a flight of trocken (dry) wines from Weingut Karl Heidrich. Their adorable patio was so relaxing that we visited twice during our stay and were impressed both times by the service and the wines. Our flight came in traditional Mosel-style glasses, which aren’t ideal for swirling and sniffing, but we opted to make this a relaxing travel adventure and not a structured tasting. We purchased our favourite wine from the flight, the 2015 Riesling Spatlese, as most of the local wineguts offer bottles for sale as well as lunch and/or dinner menus.

 

Pasta a la Bacharach at Hotel Am-Markt is named after the quaint town!For dinner, we returned to our hotel and Hotel Am Markt filled our bellies with delicious German cuisine. I had the pasta ala Bacharach (spaghetti in mushroom sauce) with a glass of local Riesling and Shawn had the schnitzel with a Fruh Kolsh beer. Both were very good and it was lovely to enjoy a summer evening on the outdoor patio.

It was an early night for us after a long travel day, but many of the beer gardens stay open until 11 or so on the weekends, if you want an evening out. Keep in mind that this is definitely not a late-night hot spot, but I suspect if you’re visiting a tiny German wine town that isn’t what you’re looking for.

The Rhine River as seen from Bacharach, Germany.Day 2 in Bacharach

I started my morning with a run along the Rhine, with fantastic views of the river and the vineyards. I had the path along the water practically to myself and it was a great way to start the day.

Afterwards, we opted to take a Rhine cruise, which is easily done from the waterfront. We went from Bacharach to St. Gore and back, which took about 45 minutes on the way there and an hour on the way back, due to the currents. In retrospect, I would have liked to take the train to a city a few stops ahead of Bacharach on the route in order to see more of the region. It really is magical to see from the boat tour and with drinks, snacks and full meals available on board, it’s easy to cruise for hours if you’d like.

St. Gore is another charming town similar to Bacharach, but we found there was less to do. We enjoyed visiting an artisanal beer stein emporium and marveling at their amazing creations and had a lovely walk around their old town before heading back to Bacharach on the next boat (depending on the timing, they run once an hour or so, but sometimes they skip an hour so be mindful of how much time you want to spend in a place).

Discover delicious flammkuchen in Bacharach, Germany.Back in Bacharach, we spent more time exploring the town and then had some of the best flamkuchen ever on the patio at Postof Bacharach. While the town isn’t huge, there are lots of small local wineries to explore and several interesting shops. After a glass of wine on the patio at Weingut Karl Heidrich, we headed back to the hotel for another early night, fully charmed by this wonderful wine town.

Have you been to Bacharach? Share your travel tips in the comments below or on social!

 

Wine Travel

Where to Stay in Lake Erie North Shore

August 29, 2016
The Iron Kettle Bed and Breakfast in Comber, Ontario is a wonderful place to stay when wine touring in the area.

When Shawn and I set out on our recent trip to the Lake Erie North Shore wine region in Ontario’s Southewest, we were lucky enough to be invited to check out two very different, but equally fabulous local accommodations. We liked them both so much that we decided to do an entire post to tell you about them! Either would be a great option for wine touring as a couple or (small) family, depending on the type of traveler you are and the kind of experience you’re looking for in your accommodations. Please feel free to post any questions about them below, or ask me on social. And if you have any suggestions for other places to stay in this area, please share them in the comments so other readers can find out about them!

Gorgeous patio at The Vineyard Suite in Essex, Ontario.The Vineyard Suite – Essex, Ontario

When we rolled into The Vineyard Suite, we were exhausted. We drove four hours from Toronto and then filled our entire day with wine and food adventures (learn all about our trip in this recent post). Our hosts greeted us with a wealth of warmth and hospitality and quickly made us feel right at home.

Sitting room at The Vineyard Suite in Essex, Ontario.The Vineyard Suite is a guest house and not a bed and breakfast or inn, but since the owners live right on site and are so friendly and helpful, it seemed a bit more b&b-like. The space itself is gorgeous – they have done a wonderful job creating a home out of this converted garage. It has a cozy living room and kitchenette, a big bedroom with a comfy bed and a bathroom that’s just fabulous. The jetted shower is a wonderful and surprising luxury and the whole space is just so comfortable and lovely. We settled in right away.

The outdoor space is equally impressive – there’s a big outdoor seating area where you can watch the fireflies in the surrounding fields and enjoy a glass of wine around the fire pit in the evening. It’s relaxing and refreshing after a busy day and a lovely option for a cup of coffee in the morning.

The location is also pretty perfect – it’s a short drive to all the local wineries and several other great attractions, including the John R. Park Homestead. There’s much to do in this area and The Vineyard Suite is a fabulous home base for couples and solo travelers.

The Iron Kettle Bed and Breakfast – Comber, Ontario

Suite at The Iron Kettle Bed and Breakfast in Comber, Ontario.You can’t miss the iron kettle outside this bed and breakfast in charming Comber, Ontario. Our GPS failed us, so we were using Google maps to find the location and as soon as we saw the kettle we knew we had arrived. Owner Benjamin Leblanc-Beaudoin greeted us with a huge smile and we immediately loved the relaxed charm of this restored home. Our room was big and comfy and had so many of the perfect little touches that make a bed and breakfast so special – including a bowl of fresh-picked local berries and vases with local wildflowers scattered throughout the space. The communal spaces are big and comfortable – you can read a book in the sitting room, watch the world go by on the patio or relax by the backyard pool.

Shawn and I spent our evening by the pool (well, he spent his evening IN the pool, I had cut my foot earlier in the day and settled for a magazine and a lounge chair), a great way to enjoy an absolutely perfect summer evening. We had a fantastic sleep in our big, comfy bed and woke up to the smell of Benjamin baking downstairs. It was pretty much the ideal b&b experience.

Delicious breakfast buffet at The Iron Kettle Bed and Breakfast in Comber, Ontario.And that baking? So, so good. Melt in your mouth blueberry waffles and homemade croissants with preserves made by his wife’s grandmothers. Add to that a delicious omelette made with locally-sourced ingredients? And fresh, local fruit? We had to force ourselves to stop eating because it was all just SO good.

The Iron Kettle is a wonderful gem about 30 minutes from wine country and is an oasis at the end of busy day. It books up fast on weekends, so plan ahead or look at weekday options when you’re booking. Want to see more images from The Iron Kettle? Check out my Instagram (@kristavino), where I highlighted so many of the amazing little touches that make The Iron Kettle a b&b gem.

Where are your favourite places to stay in Lake Erie North Shore? Share them in the comments below or on social!

*While our stays were complimentary, our opinions (as always) are our own.