Grapes at Vineland Estates in Niagara, ONIt’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Vineland Estates – Winemaker Brian Schmidt has been a great help in my growing wine education and Vineland’s wines have quickly become some of my favourites. When we had the chance to finally visit the winery in September it was well worth the wait.

I had arranged a tour in advance and our guide, Stephanie, was a fantastic host. She started off by taking us out to see the grapes, which were so lush on the vines at that point. She also filled us in on a little of Vineland’s history and told us about all of the interesting buildings on the property. I hadn’t realized that there was a B&B on-site, though I definitely made a mental note about that for future stays in the area.

Vineland Estates in Niagara, Ontario

The Carriage House is an absolutely charming little building that sits in between the restaurant and the winery and we were able to peek our heads in as they were setting up for a wedding. What a lovely place for a reception or family gathering. It’s cozy and intimate – a great option for a smaller event.

From there, we headed back to the crush pad. I’ve been following Brian Schmidt’s Twitter feed for ages, so I felt like I was very familiar with this area of the winery already – Brian is always posting photos of the action, as he and his team work to create some of the area’s best wines. I highly recommend following him on Twitter, as his photos really bring to life the process. And, well, he’s a much better photographer than I am!

We moved back inside to take a look at the tanks and bottling area. I loved that Vineland has a bottling operation, as I hadn’t yet seen one on our tours. Many of the wineries in Niagara and Prince Edward County have their wines bottled by trucks – mobile bottling operations that travel from winery to winery. This makes great economic sense in many cases, but I still think it’s interesting to see a winery that is able to bottle its own product too. I just wish we could have seen it in action. Yes, I am kind of a nerd about these things, but after having seen the bottling operation at the Bushmills’ Distillery in Ireland, I’d be interested in seeing it happen in a smaller setting.

At this point in the tour, Brian was able to take some time out from his crazy harvest schedule to visit with us. It was so nice to finally meet him! And especially nice when he suggested we skip straight to the tasting portion of the tour, so he could walk us through some of the wines himself. Brian is perhaps one of the most enthusiastic people you will meet in the Ontario wine industry and it’s impossible not to get excited about VQA when you spend time talking to him. He really is an amazing ambassador for this wine region.

First up was the 2011 Elevation St. Urban Riesling – this was the one that my friends in wine had been buzzing about on Twitter. Paul Dearborn (@whitbywino) had likened this wine to “sour grape freezies,” which naturally intrigued me. And, what can I say? This wine had me at hello. The minute it hit my tongue, the pop of flavour filled my mouth and I was in love. I didn’t get sour grape freezies right then, but I’d say I get it now. It’s that mix of acid and sweetness that just brings to mind sweet and sour summer treats. It’s definitely a wine I wasn’t willing to leave without.

Next, we tried the 2011 O’Leary Unoaked Chardonnay. Being that Vineland’s 2010 Unoaked Chardonnay is my go-to wine these days, I expected to fall just as hard for this version. It has a great nose – I love any wine that has an apple undertone – and I really liked the mouth-feel, but I wasn’t sure about this one on first sip. I think it’s because it seemed a bit heavier than the Vineland 2010. This was a great lesson for me, as it showed just how versatile two wines (both unoaked, both by the same winemaker) could really be. I liked this wine, especially after a few more sips, but it felt like a richer, more luxurious style chard – pretty perfect for Kevin O’Leary, don’t you think? I’d try this one with dinner – I think it would be a great pairing wine – and I’d like to spend a bit more time getting to know it.

Brian had to get back to his duties after this tasting break, but I really appreciated him taking the time to meet with us and to showcase two of his newest wines for us.

Stephanie got us back onto our tour route and took us down to see the cellars. It’s pretty amazing to see all those barrels lined up and she was great about answering all my newbie questions about them.

It was also very impressive to see the Vineland wine collection – where all of the winery’s vintages are stored in a lovely wine library. Pretty stunning – and there’s so much history here. Stephanie showed us a bottle from the winery’s first vintage in 1983. I’m not sure if it would be drinkable at this point, but I think it’s fantastic that they have these wines to showcase their history.

Next, we headed back upstairs to finish off our tasting, with Stephanie suggesting the 2009 Chardonnay Reserve to start. I loved the apples and honey on the nose of this wine and it struck me as very drinkable and refreshing. Crisp with a nice kick of acidity, this one is definitely worth it’s slightly higher price tag. Delicious.

I had been very interested to try the 2010 ‘Oh Really’ Rosé, which is a very dry wine. Made from Gamay, this is definitely a very different rosé, but I liked it – a great pairing option. The web description says that it’s a rosé that red wine drinkers will enjoy and I think that would be very true. For me, a confirmed white wine drinker, it was an interesting selection – not sweet at all, but very refreshing.

We finished up our tasting (which, as you can probably tell, was not flights but simply the wines we wanted to try) with the 2010 Cabernet Franc. I have been a fan of #CabFrancTuesdays on Twitter for months and have enjoyed the photos that Brian and Tinhorn Creek winemaker Sandra Oldfield post every week. I’m not much of a red drinker (headaches), but I love the way this Cab Franc tastes – it’s such a great, complex red. I’d definitely recommend this to my red wine drinking friends.

After our tour and tasting I hit the winery for the shopping portion of
the evening. That part was super fun, though Shawn rolled his eyes a bit
when he saw my haul. If we weren’t only three wineries into our tour at that point I suspect it would have been much larger.

Wines from Vineland Estates in Niagara, Ontario

And then it was time for dinner! We opted not to do the chef’s tasting menu, since I have some food restrictions, and ordered from the regular menu. I started with a glass of the Elevation St. Urban Riesling (of course I did) and Shawn had a beer (of course he did).

For our first course, we shared the Estate Smoked Salmon. This is fantastic – the flavours are so fresh and light. We would definitely opt to order two of these next time, as it’s far too delicious to try and split. Luckily, my husband is a gentleman and I got to enjoy the last bite. Delicious.

For the second course, I chose the Upper Canada Ricotta Gnocci, with smoked chicken. This was the dish I was most excited about, but I actually found it a little bit heavy. Not that I didn’t enjoy it (I ate every bite), but it was just a very stark contrast to the smoked salmon.

Shawn had the Roasted Pork Belly for his second course and quite enjoyed it. I don’t eat pork, so I couldn’t try it, but it seemed a bit of a lighter option than the gnocci.


Course number three was West Coast Halibut for me. I loved the ‘crackling crust’ on this fish – it was such a nice, light breading. It worked perfectly for this fish and wasn’t at all overpowering. I’m a bit hit and miss when it comes to eating fish, but this was done just to my taste – light, melt-in-your mouth pieces and no overwhelming fishy flavour. Plus, the sauce and vegetables were a perfect compliment.

Shawn had the Citrus Cured Trout, which he liked very much. I tried a bite, but since I’m not a fan of trout I will stick to his review – he thought it was excellent.

Chef Justin Downes came out to meet us after our main courses and that was a nice treat. I think our enjoyment of his meal was voiced quite well by the fact that we finished every bite.

Vineland’s restaurant is definitely a place for a special occasion meal (it’s on the pricey side), but we felt it was well worth the splurge. While I wish they had a vegetarian option (I would guess they could make that by request), I was otherwise very pleased with everything. Plus, the woman who waited on us was just lovely – great staff always make a huge difference.

Assorted photos from our Vineland trip:

* The fine print. We received a complimentary tour and tasting from Vineland Estates.