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Graze the Bench, another Niagara wine adventure

Vineland Estate.

By Rick VanSickle

Nothing better than spending the day in Niagara exploring the wineries at their best.

Graze The Bench is a weekend event that allows wine lovers to experience Beamsville Bench wineries as you never have before—with a celebration of wine, casual and elegant grazing with food matched to wine and some great music in the vineyards.

Vineland Estate.
The cheese plate at Vineland Estate.

Graze The Bench was held June 5-6 with wineries on (or near) Mountain Road in Beamsville throwing open their doors and tents for what turned out to be a crush of people clamouring to enjoy good wine and food.

My day started at Vineland Estates, not exactly a Beamsville Bench winery, but a good place to begin nonetheless.

I wanted to re-taste the wonderful Vineland Estate 2008 Semi-Dry Riesling and Vineland Estate Cabernet Franc 2008 — both wines that winemaker Brian Schmidt will be pouring at the end of July at a new LCBO tasting series. These wines are both priced around $13 and represent great value. The Cab Franc is such a great little wine, light in style but big on taste and comparable to much more expensive wines. We tried a 2002 version of this wine and it’s tasting as good as the reserve wines. The Semi-Dry Riesling is simply one of the best bargains in Niagara and also has potential to age and get better.

Vineland wine.
Two great wines from Vineland Estate.

Our tasting at Vineland was accompanied by a cheese plate consisting of Niagara Gold, Mouton Rouge, Perron four-year-old Cheddar, Blue Ermite and Grey Owl — oh, how these wines matched up to the rieslings made at Vineland. Scrumptious!

Next up was the Bench. First stop, Rosewood Estates Winery and Meadery where Krystina Roman offered up a “VIP” tour as soon as our group arrived. Rosewood is unique in Niagara in that it makes both wine and honey-based mead wine.

The showcase wine was the Rosewood Gewurztraminer 2008, a delicious Alsatian style white with fleshy fruits and exotic spice paired with a five-spice shrimp on glass fried noodles prepared by chef Mark Walpole. Rosewood also poured its 2008 pinot noir, served with cannelloni of eggplant stuffed with Pingue’s prosciutto and chevre on a baguette.

Krys Roman from Rosewood Estate Winery and Meadery.

Our next destination was Fielding Estate Winery, where Heidi and Curtis Fielding were hosting a big crowd enjoying live music from Niagara’s own The Black Spurs and the view from the back deck of Lake Ontario and beyond.

Fielding featured the Pinot Gris 2008 and Red Conception 2008 which was paired with Wellington Court’s roasted chicken club — an amazing dish made with organic egg profiterole, Kent heritage farm capon, Mennonite bacon and truffle lemon aioli.

Truly, I could have stayed right there in one of those big, comfy Muskoka chairs all day long sipping wine and listening to the music. But soldier on, we must.

The next stop was a winery I have not been to before. Organized Crime is only a stone’s throw from Fielding, a smaller winery on the Bench with spectacular views and a producer of very small batches of premium wines that are an expression of the vineyard’s clay, loam and limestone soils.

The charcuterie plate at Treadwell.

The wines served were the Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc 2008 paired with ploughman’s plate from About Thyme Bistro. The music by the talented duo of Sarah Boulton and Priestan Ti from Mourn the Devine was spectacular — such lovely harmonies.

Every winery on the Bench was packed with people. It was great to see so many travellers from Toronto who made the drive to enjoy Niagara wines. The wineries of the Bench put on a good show. Bravo to them.

My day ended with a fabulous (and peaceful) charcuterie plate at Treadwell Farm to Table Cuisine in Port Dalhousie. Charcuterie and a nice bottle of Fielding Estate Pinot Gris Rockpile 2009. Ah, life is good!