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Lake Erie North Shore – A Wine Lover’s Getaway

August 22, 2016
The patio at Viewpointe Estate Winery is a gorgeous place to enjoy a glass of wine.

Planning a few days away to explore the wines of Lake Erie North Shore (LENS)? Shawn and I were recently invited to check out the area and we highly recommend it! Over two days, we visited four wineries, a distillery and a wealth of other local venues. From the bountiful local fruit stands to the delicious restaurants (many offering amazing local perch) and beyond, this is a gorgeous part of the Ontario’s Southwest and well worth visiting.

Below, is a short version of what we discovered on our trip. I’ll have even more info in future posts where I go in depth into our winery visits and winemaker chats.

A glass of local Chardonnay and a fish hoagie at Billy's Taphouse in Windsor/Essex.We started out from Toronto on a Wednesday morning and made it to Billy’s Taphouse in time for lunch. Billy’s is a great option for local craft beer and wine (I tried the Colchester Ridge Estate Winery Chardonnay), along with locally-sourced ingredients (they have their own garden). They have an extensive menu of delicious pub-style fare and a relaxed and fun atmosphere.


John R. Park Homestead in Essex, Ontario is a great stop for lovers of history and local food.The John R. Park Homestead was our second stop and a huge surprise for me. Pioneer homesteads and wine trips seemed like a weird fit, but after a few minutes chatting with curator Kris Ives, I was completely sucked into the experience. The Homestead itself is a fantastic way to step back into the past and truly immerse yourself in pioneer times and the staff and students in period costumes do much to make this as realistic an experience as possible. We enjoyed visiting the blacksmith shop and learning about the process of making authentic textiles with a student expertly working a loom, but it was the foodie experience that had me hooked. This is a locavore’s dream with a working orchard from which they make authentic pioneer-style cider and they recreate pioneer recipes from items grown on site. While walking through the extensive grounds Kris mentioned their pick and sniff tours, where school children learn about the many things grown on site and I thought that would be a brilliant tour for wine students wanting to better understand the aromas of so many of the scents that are found in our wines.

While we were sad to leave the homestead, we were excited to move on to winery stops at North 42 Degrees Winery and Sprucewood Shores Estate Winery. North 42 Degrees is under construction right now, with their new tasting room and restaurant set to open in November 2016. I had the chance to taste through their wines and interview winemaker, Martin Gorski, so watch for a full report on North 42 Degrees and all our winery stops coming up soon. We did enjoy a visit to their Serenity Lavender store, though, where we picked up a gorgeous bar of lavender soap.

Serenity Lavender shop in Essex, Ontario has lovely lavender soap.At the gorgeous Sprucewood Shores property, I toured and tasted with co-owner Steve Mitchell and learned much about their planned expansion and got to taste their new apple wine (a surprising winner in the fruit wine category for me).

Blimey's British Store & Gift Shop in Harrow, Ontario.We ended an intensive day of exploration at the brand new Wolfhead Distillery, where the restaurant was absolutely slammed (pretty impressive for a 10-week old business on a Wednesday night), but they made room for us to enjoy a delicious dinner and tasting experience. We both very much enjoyed our entrees (I had the drunken shrimp and scallops and Shawn had the ahi tuna) and I loved the unique mojito they make with their grapefruit vodka. There’s nothing minty about it, but it’s a fun and refreshing cocktail for a hot night.

On day two, we headed out early to check out the shopping in Harrow, Ontario with a special stop at Blimey’s British Store & Gift Shop. The couple who own Blimey’s are just the loveliest people and they have created a space that embodies what they love about England and the surrounding areas. The shop features a wealth of British goods, as well as an extensive grocery section, but it also has French glassware, Scottish jewelry and lots of Irish touches too. Why? Because they liked the products. The shop is so genuine and full or truly lovely things, I couldn’t resist picking up a wooden duck with rubber boots from England and a box of delicious Irish tea. Shawn had fun picking out some fun things from the grocery section too and there were dozens more things we wished we could bring back with us. We will definitely make a special stop at Blimey’s when we’re next in the area and I have no doubt there will be lots of British and European items to tempt us. This really is a must-stop shop.

Sweet Retreat ice cream in Leamington, Ontario serves Kawartha Dairy ice cream.We headed to Viewpointe Estate Winery next and driving up to the winery I let out an audible gasp – it’s stunning. Right on the shores of Lake Erie, the winery comes into view as you turn into the driveway and with the sun shining on the water it was just breathtaking. The tour and tasting were fantastic (more to come soon) and lunch on the patio was just delicious. We were treated to a special show direct from Mother Nature when a storm came in across the water while we were eating. We stayed dry under the canopy and were able to watch the storm drench the area and then disappear just as quickly as it rolled in. A wonderful treat during lunch on a crazy hot day.

From there, we visited Oxley Estate Winery – another beautiful property with a warm and inviting restaurant. We had a wonderful chat with owner Ann Neydon Wilson under the pretty yellow canopy, which I’ll share in a future post.

The seating area at Sweet Retreat ice cream in Leamington, Ontario is so pretty!On a hot day, an ice cream break seemed in order, so we headed to Sweet Retreat in Leamington where I quickly fell in love with the gorgeous décor and Shawn was won over by the Kawartha Dairy ice cream they served (it really is the best). On top of the dollhouse-adorable indoor décor, Sweet Retreat has a fabulous backyard with a koi pond, Muskoka chairs and all sorts of nooks and crannies for little ones (or big kids to explore). A delicious and delightful stop.

We ended the day at our delightful bed and breakfast, The Iron Kettle (more on that soon too), and were thrilled with all that we were able to achieve in our two days of wine tourism in the Windsor/Essex area of Ontario’s Southwest.

As always, Shawn played designated driver – a must if you’re going to spend time tasting (and especially if you’re not spitting). Be sure to stay safe and keep this in mind when planning your wine trail adventure!

Have you been to the LENS region? What were your favourite stops?

*While our trip was complimentary, our opinions are (as always) our own.




Wine Travel

7 Finger Lakes Wineries to Visit

August 2, 2016
The View from Standing Stone Vineyards in The Finger Lakes.

Last year’s Wine Bloggers Conference took place in the Finger Lakes, one of New York’s must stunning areas and a wine region well worth visiting. With summer and fall wine touring top of mind, I wanted to suggest a few Finger Lakes must-stops for wine lovers looking to explore the area. Technically, this is six wineries and a distillery, but that didn’t fit nicely into the title so I hope you’ll cut me some slack there–the distillery visit is definitely worth it.

Hermann J. Weimer Winery in The Finger Lakes makes incredible RieslingHermann J. Weimer Vineyards – This was on our must-visit list, as I had heard good things about the Riesling Weimer is best known for. The experience certainly didn’t disappoint. This is a lovely winery and, while not as show-stoppingly beautiful as some of the most exquisite properties, the wines will take your breath away. If you love Riesling, in particular German-inspired Riesling, this is the place for you. They make several different styles, from sweet to off-dry, to dry and they are very reminiscent of the Mosel, including the 2013 Reserve Dry, which reminded me of a Kabinet.

Standing Stone Winery – This property is absolutely stunning, with a gorgeous lake view. The winery itself is quite modest, the staff are friendly and the wines are good. We tried an absolutely lovely Reserve Saperavi, which comes from 20 year old vines that produce this lovely, big and rich wine with great balance. If you’re not familiar, Saperavi is reminiscent of Sangiovese. If the reserve is too rich for your blood, they also offer a non-reserve version that is not quite as lush and intense, but is quite good and very reflective of the style. Shawn and I brought home a bottle last year that we plan to open soon. We also enjoyed Standing Stone’s 2013 dry Riesling.

Wagner Winery and Brewery in The Finger LakesWagner Vineyards—Sitting on the patio enjoying lunch at Wagner’s Ginny Lee Café, it’s hard not to fall in love with the Finger Lakes. Looking out over the water, sipping a glass of Wagner’s lovely dry Riesling and enjoying a hearty and affordable lunch, you can see why this is a popular stop with both locals and tourists.

A cocktail from Damiani Vineyards and Finger Lakes DistillingFinger Lakes Distilling—While we both love good wine, Shawn and I are always interested in checking out local distillers. Finger Lakes Distilling makes a range of vodka, gin, whiskey and bourbon on site, as well as brandy and liqueurs. The staff were great here, though it can get very busy on the weekends and over the summer. You can taste through several of the products they make on-site and the prices are fair for craft products. We had the opportunity to try several of their spirits as cocktails during the Wine Bloggers Conference and were quite impressed.

Damiani Wine Cellars – We had dinner at Damiani as part of the conference (it was catered, as the winery does not have a restaurant on-site) and it was a beautiful venue to watch the sun set over Seneca Lake. Damiani is right next to Finger Lakes Distilling, so there’s no reason not to pop over to taste their terroir-driven wines and check out the view after picking up some whiskey.

Fox Run Vineyards in The Finger LakesFox Run Vineyards—Fox Run Vineyards has a lovely café and cheese bar on-site, as well as a wealth of wines to taste through. The winery staff are knowledgeable and happy to run you through their wines, though be warned that this is a busy spot, especially on weekends and during tourist season, so plan accordingly if you want a laidback tasting experience. Their patio is a nice option and Shawn and I enjoyed a salad while sitting out and enjoying a lake view (a theme of this trip).

Anthony Road Wine Company's award-winning red wineAnthony Road Wine Company—The last stop we made on our way home, Anthony Road Wine Company impressed us with their gorgeous views, beautiful property and impressive wines. Even though we were nearing exhaustion at this point in our trip, a walk through the grounds and a few minutes on their patio had us feeling so exhilarated to be in The Finger Lakes and enjoying such a vibrant and beautiful wine region. We can’t wait to go back.

There are many other wineries to visit in this region, making The Finger Lakes a great option to visit again and again over the years.

Wine Travel

The Wineries of Ontario’s Southwest

June 25, 2016
Oxley Estate Winery from Ontario's Southwest

The second annual OSW in the City event was a great success this year. The iYellow Wine Club produced bash brings together the best of the wine, food and beer from Ontario’s Southwest. Shawn and I very much enjoyed trying some fantastic food (the perch taco from The Combine restaurant in Norfolk is the best fish taco either of us has ever had) and tasting through some of the region’s wineries. We chatted with three different wineries during the afternoon session and what we learned gave us three more reasons to visit the area again soon.

Oxley Estate Winery Wowza White BlendOxley Estate Winery

Located in the Lake Erie North Shore (LENS) region, Oxley is a labour of love for Murray and Ann Wilson, who turned their farming backgrounds into wine success after transitioning from corporate careers. They did copious amounts of research before choosing LENS and have loved the process of turning their passion into a bustling business. While Murray still works part time in his hockey business, they have both dived into winery life, experimenting with different grapes and spending time chatting with customers in their tasting room. Ann runs the winery, while Murray handles the cellar and field, where he has grown to love the process. “You can manage the vision from conception to implementation,” he says with a smile, noting that they have a hand in every aspect of the production from grape to consumer.

Both of the Wilsons’ love interacting with people who are passionate about wine and who share their interest in viticulture, so Oxley is perfect for them. They have had their share of struggles with the weather, as have most winemakers in the region, and they have been experimenting with hearty hybrids and outside the box vinifera to grow alongside their more traditional grapes.

One such grape is Regent, which Murray explains is considered vitis vinifera and is more disease-resistant and more amenable to the weather there. Even after a recent polar vortex, their Regent survived. While he didn’t have any for us to try, he says the unique flavour and texture isn’t perfect for a single varietal wine, but they are having good results with blending it with Merlot. “It’s a fun grape to work with,” he says. “It has an inky, dark colour… it looks like Barolo and when you put it in your mouth it’s a bit thinner.”

Oxley did have four wines on hand to try, including their light and refreshing Wowza while blend, their rosé (lots of apple on the nose and palate), the earthy Cabernet Franc and the Cabernet Franc/Pinot Noir blend and the flavourful Cabernet Merlot blend. Visit Oxley Estate Winery at 533 County Road 50, Harrow, Ontario.

Burning Kiln Wines from Ontario's Southwest.Burning Kiln Winery

Shawn and I have been looking forward to visiting Burning Kiln for a few years now and we enjoyed this opportunity to taste through a few of their wines and chat with representative Emily Shoff. The winery, which is housed in an old tobacco farm, is well-known for their popular and well-priced wines, as well as their unique and beautiful space. They have taken their tobacco heritage and infused that history into the name of the winery and the wines, while developing into a hot spot for tourists and locals alike. Their partnership with neighbouring Long Point Eco-Adventures has led to several unique wine touring options, like their “Zip and Sip” tours.

Emily explains that when the owners were transitioning away from tobacco, they went to Brock University to see if the land was viable for grape vines. They area is known as “Ontario’s Garden,” so they knew that there was lots of potential for agriculture, but weren’t sure wine grapes would work in the region. After studying the land, Brock assured them that grapes were a viable option and the Burning Kiln team set about planting several acres of vines.

A boutique winery working in an artisan style, Emily explains that Burning Kiln is focused on reflecting the story and history of the land in the wines they make in order to honour the tobacco farmers that came before them. Visit Burning Kiln Winery at 1709 Front Rd, Saint Williams, Ontario.

Muscedere Vineyards Riesling from Ontario's Southwest.Muscedere Vineyards

I fully admit to butchering Muscedere Vineyards name every time it slips off my tongue, but given how good their 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon is, I will have to practice pronouncing it. The family-run vineyard, located in Essex County, was planted in 2002 and opened in 2006. They have 12 acres planted and produce 2500 cases a year of primarily vinifera (they also make a Baco Noir). The wines are all hand-harvested and reflect the region’s unique terroir.

Chatting with Melissa Muscedere, it’s hard to believe she wasn’t initially interested in working in the wine industry. The youngest child in the family, she was too young to really care much about wine when her brothers talked their father into opening a winery upon his retirement. Her dad works harder than ever now, she says with a chuckle, and after finishing her degree, she felt the pull to return to become a part of the family business. Chatting with her as we taste through the family’s Riesling, Merlot and that delicious Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s easy to see that she has become a passionate and dedicated spokesperson for the family business.

With a wood-fired pizza oven operating on their patio over the weekends, Shawn and I hope to have the opportunity to visit this summer and enjoy a glass of wine while overlooking their vines. Visit Muscedere Vineyards at 7457 County Rd 18, Harrow, Ontario.

Have you spent any time in Ontario’s Southwest? What were your favourite wine and food adventures? Share them in the comments or on social.

Wine Travel

Hamburg, Germany’s Heart Attack and Wine

September 30, 2015

Having spent a week exploring the Mosel Valley in 2013, Shawn and I expected it would be easy to find good German wine during our recent visit to Hamburg. We were surprisingly off point on that one. Not that there isn’t good German wine to be had in the city, which we are both quite smitten with, it just wasn’t quite as easy to come across as we hoped.

Almost all of the restaurants we visited during our three nights in the city had no wine list  at all and a house wine that was both cheap and Italian. Shawn had no issue with this, since he was happily choosing between dozens of ales and lagers on the ten-page beer lists many offered instead. I had researched potential wine-based restaurants and did enjoy the wine at one, but Shawn said it felt like he was at an awkward business dinner with exceptionally slow service. He had a point.

So when I saw the sign for Heart Attack and Wine during a walk along the Hamburg waterfront, I was primed for disappointment. Instead, I found a perfect German wine oasis. Part wine shop and part wine bar, Heart Attack and Wine is the type of place where you can buy a glass of wine and sit outside enjoying the sunshine or pop in to grab a reasonably-priced bottle to go.

With a name taken from the Tom Waits song “Heart Attack and Vine,” this place has a hip, urban quality, but also comes across as friendly and relaxed. I happily quizzed the proprietor about the German wines he suggested. We tried four wines altogether (two half glasses each) and the selections were a good fit for wine geek vacation patio sipping.

Shawn and I are both fans of German Riesling, but we are also excited by the many other grape varieties growing in the region. In this case, the Riesling was a favourite for both of us, but we also really enjoyed the Muskateller. I liked the 2014 Juliusspital Silvaner so much, I bought a bottle to bring home.

For wine fans planning a visit to Hamburg, I highly recommend stopping in. It’s a great addition to a trip to the waterfront and is just a few blocks away from Hamburg’s famous fish market.

Do you have any favourite wine bars in Germany? Share them in the comments or on social.