By Rick VanSickle
After at least one false start and months of consternation, wineries in most of Ontario have begun the next stage in the long road back to normal in the age of COVID-19.
Wineries shut down tasting rooms in March due to the pandemic and only allowed online wine shopping and some curbside pickup, but not tastings/tours/chilling/human contact etc. Those bleak days are over with wine regions now into Phase Two of Ontario’s coronavirus plan as of last Friday.
Most — but not all — Ontario wineries have resumed tasting experiences at their vineyards with each winery approaching it a little differently. All have taken precautions to keep consumers safe so the tasting experience that you are familiar with will now likely be different to what you are used to.
You are urged to check winery hours and guidelines before visiting (most are taking reservations with limited seating because of social distancing protocols).
If consumers are not ready to venture into Wine Country, you can still enjoy VQA wines at home by purchasing online direct from the winery. Many are still offering free shipping at this time. Ask the winery for conditions and restrictions.
For a list of all Ontario wineries that have online stores go here.
We did a quick survey of what to expect when you come to Wine Country. Every experience is different and tailored to each winery’s set of circumstances and readiness. Here’s a snapshot …
Strewn Estate Winery
Prior to the opening last Friday, I paid a visit to Strewn Winery to get a tour of their fabulous (and costly!) new back patio from Jane Langdon, who along with her husband Joe Will, founded the winery. Strewn created a space out of nothing, dug out an old foundation and poured a new one and purchased tables, chairs, umbrellas and pots to surround the new space with decorative plants. The new space looks out to the vineyard one side, Four Mile Creek on another side, and also faces the historic original wall of the former cannery. It’s a remarkable space and the team meticulously mapped out safe spacing for guests.
The are offering different experiences from an immersive, guided tour followed by an outdoor tasting by the vines, including one wine made from grapes grown in the vineyard on the tour to tasting on the expansive patio on the back lawn with a view of the vineyard. The final experience is in the Courtyard (for private groups of up to eight people). Guests can enjoy the luxury of a 45-minute, private, seated tasting in the courtyard of Winery House, the owners’ former residence.
All of these experiences require guests to book by calling the winery at 905-468-1229.
Here’s a cross-section of what some other wineries are doing with tastings.
The patio restaurant at Vineland Estate is now open seven days a week for lunch and dinner. The popular takeout option is also still available.
Place orders and reservations by calling 905-562-7088 extension 133. You can view the menus by clicking here.
The wine shop is open only for in store purchases and curbside is available. There are no tastings at this time, but the team at Vineland is working on a plan to safely offer them soon.
To order curbside pickup, call 905-562-7088 extension124.
Guests are being invited back to Ravine beginning Friday and through the weekend from 11 am to 5 pm at the new Event Centre Terrace. It’s by appointment only.
Things will look and feel a little different than previous tastings at Ravine, with new COVID-19 procedures in effect. The estate is offering tastings for groups of 4 and limited spots for groups of 6. Each tasting experience will be $15 per person that includes 4 wine samples to choose from and a GoVino for you to keep. Guests are invited to stay on site and enjoy a glass of wine in the vineyard when you are done your tasting experience. The option to add-on wine by the glass will be available after you finish your tasting experience.
Please Note: The Ravine grocery store, retail & restaurant will remain closed, but you can still purchase items from retail by curbside side pickup and assistance from staff at the Woodruff House. Curbside Takeout will also remain available Thursday to Sunday, 12 pm — 6:30 pm.
Patio season has arrived at Domaine Queylus. The patio is open 11-5 every day for tastings and wine by the glass. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to make a reservation.
Back 10 Cellars
The team at Back 10 is welcoming guests into their new outdoor “Bergola” for a seated tasting of the estate’s hand-crafted wines. Guests will enjoy a private seated tasting experience of 5 limited production wines.
The tasting is limited to six guests in accordance with government rules with a two-person minimum. This experience must be booked and paid for in advance and costs $15.
Also, Back 10 has a first-come first-served “Wines by the Vines” in the vineyard for tastings or by the glass. No reservations required for this, as well as picnic lunches.
Fielding Estate Winery
As of last Friday, the wine lodge retail store is open to the public and the estate has resumed serving wines by the glass and cold cans of cider in the new outdoor Vineyard Lounge (see very top photo). To keep the winery team and customers safe, it is not quite business as usual.
Please note some of the changes:
• The retail store will be open from 11 – 5 pm (and until 6 pm beginning July 1) however, a maximum of 6 guests will be allowed inside to shop.
• The tasting bar remains closed, however Fielding is offering wine by the glass and ciders from 11 am – 5 pm daily outside. You are encouraged to make reservations by calling 905-563-0668 or emailing email@example.com.
• Beginning Saturday, you will be able to enjoy your wine and cider under the shade of the new seasonal tent in our Vineyard Lounge. Until that time, you may want to pack a sunhat and sun screen as there is minimal shade.
• Also on Saturday, Fielding will expand its outdoor offerings to include flights of wine and cheese board offerings. Reservations are recommended.
Hidden Bench Estate Winery
Hidden Bench has three experiences to choose from beginning Friday.
Retail shop: The retail shop is open daily from 10 am – 5 pm for wine purchases from the current release. Please note: Only four guests at a time in the retail shop. You can also order wines online (www.hiddenbench.com) or by phoning (905-563-8700) prior to your arrival for contactless “barrel-top” curbside pick-up.
Wines by the glass: Hidden Bench offers a wide selection of wines by the glass on the patio overlooking Locust Lane and Felseck Vineyards. This experience is available daily from 11 am to 4:30 pm for groups of 4 or less.
Tasting Experiences: Hidden Bench is also offering— by pre-booked reservation (or by chance) — a seated, curated tasting experience on the enclosed veranda. Prior reservations are strongly recommended (firstname.lastname@example.org). Tasting Experiences are offered from 10 am to 4:30 pm for groups no larger than 4. Tasting Experiences for non-Wine Club Members are $25 per person, per tasting.
Calamus Estate Winery
Calamus is now open Monday-Thursday for customizable charcuterie boards and the Bistro is open Friday-Sunday on the deck and under the barn for social distanced seating. There’s live entertainment on the patio Friday-Sunday.
If the weather is ideal, you can find a seat on the 2-level patio in the sun or under the new sunshades overlooking the vineyards and Balls Falls. If there’s inclement weather, you can find a spot in the barn at a harvest table in front of the waterfall and garden or inside the century barn loft.
For more information, click here.
Local wines released
at Vintages Saturday
Hidden Bench Locust Lane Rosé 2019 ($25, 92 points) — This single-vineyard sister rosé is crafted from 100% Pinot Noir and made from a combination of saignée and direct to press techniques. It shows a pale salmon colour in the glass and has a pretty nose of red berries, pink grapefruit and herbs. It’s juicy, but bone dry, with lovely texture that showcases raspberries, strawberries, integrated herbs and electric acidity on the finish. Really nice rosé.
Henry of Pelham Speck Family Reserve Chardonnay 2018 ($30, 92 points) — Showing some restraint on the nose, but swirl it around in the glass and beauty unfolds. Creamy pear, a floral/perfumed note, baked apple and integrated spice notes. It’s more open-knit on the palate with rich apple and pear, lemon accents, toasted oak and spice with gorgeous finesse and minerality on the finish. Lovely Short Hills Bench Chardonnay.
Also released, but not reviewed:
• Chateau des Charmes Brut Sparkling ($26)
• Megalomaniac Narcissist Riesling ($19, no vintage given)
• Marquis The Silver Line Pinot Noir ($18, no vintage given)
• Lakeview Cellars Vidal Icewine ($23 for 200 mL, no vintage given)
• Chateau des Charmes Blanc de Blancs Sparkling 2015 ($35)
• The Foreign Affair Viognier 2018 ($24)
• Kew Vineyards Old Vine Chardonnay 2016 ($20)
• Di Profio Estate Cabernet Franc/Merlot 2016 ($24)
• The Tragically Hip Fully Completely Reserve Red 2018 ($25)
• Southbrook Triomphe Organic Cabernet Franc Rosé 2019 ($19)
A smart buy from Italy
Ruffino Riserva Ducale Oro Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2015 ($48, Vintages now, 93 points) — This Sangiovese blend, with Merlot and Colorino, is only made in the best vintages. It has a personality-packed nose of plums, black cherries, cocoa powder, mushrooms, cassis, damp earth and integrated spice notes. It shows depth and complexity on the palate and borders on a full-bodied Chianti with overt anise, plums, cassis, cigar box cedar, mocha, savoury spices and earth that all leads to a long, juicy finish. Can cellar for 6+ years with improvement.
A pair of Tawse wines in
July Classics Collection
Ordering for the July 2 Classics Collection begins July 2 online. Only two Canadian wines are offered, both from Tawse. Here are our reviews:
Tawse Cherry Avenue Pinot Noir 2016 ($48, 94 points) — The best Cherry Avenue I have tasted, which is surprising as I usually prefer the cooler vintage Pinots in Niagara. This version, even with 16 months in French oak, is made with a deft touch (assuming mostly older barrels) and shows a lighter colour in the glass than the Quarry Road Pinot and reveals pretty darks cherries, brambly raspberries, light spiced notes and an intriguing vein of minerality/iron on the nose that is pleasingly inviting. It dances lightly on the palate with savoury red fruits, a floral note with that intriguing minerality that builds in intensity through the silky smooth and finessed finish. Niagara Pinot at its best.
Tawse Robyn’s Block Chardonnay 2016 ($46, 93 points) — Consistently one of the finest Chardonnays made in Niagara and the riper 2016 version follows that winning trend. Certainly more robust than previous vintages with pronounced pear, ripe apple, saline minerality and elegant spice notes. This Chardonnay is layered and textured with ripe orchard fruits, tingly acidity, stony minerality, creamy notes and elegance that benefits from a zesty citrus accents on a finessed finish. Drinking perfectly right now, but can cellar up to three years.