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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.

Featured, Wine Travel

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

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.