The Invidiata Team visits Ontario wine country and experiences a day to remember.

Picture this – perfect weather, excellent company and a whirlwind tour of three wineries in just one day. That’s just what happened this past summer when the Invidiata Team visited Niagara-on-the-Lake for a special day of sightseeing, wine tasting, fine dining and just a few surprises.

Niagara-on-the-Lake is a spectacular oasis for wine lovers. Located just kilometres away from the GTA and Oakville, the landscape is dotted with mature trees, orchards, and vast rows of grapes. There are over 30 wineries in the area, each offering their own unique wine tastings, tours, dining experiences and events that cater to every kind of wine and food enthusiast imaginable.

Over the past decade, Ontario’s wine region has caught the world’s attention. From established wineries with years of family history behind them to new players in the game, the spirit, skill, and innovation of our Ontario winemakers is second to none.

Peller EstatesPeller Estates – Where history and hospitality reign supreme.

First on our list of destinations was Peller Estates Winery, located at 290 John Street East, RR #1 Niagara-on-the-Lake. The winery recently celebrated their milestone 50th anniversary. Famous for their world-class wines from Winemaker Katie Dickieson, their restaurant, which has the highest Zagat rating of ‘Extraordinary’, is run by Executive Chef and CityLine TV personality Jason Parsons.

When we arrived at the main building that houses the wine shop, we saw guests enjoying an afternoon of wine tasting around a large centre bar while others were browsing through the shop’s many gift and speciality food items.

Our tour guide, Maurice, took us directly to the vineyard. Maurice’s knowledge of the topography (vines are planted on slopes to allow for optimal drainage), the age of the vines (ranging anywhere from 20-35 years old) and other cool facts about the vines’ ancestry (many were brought here from Europe) was impressive, as was his hospitality. As he explained the harvest cycles and production process behind Peller’s award-winning wines, we could hear guests enjoying lunch on the Restaurant’s beautiful stone patio overlooking the grounds.

After enjoying the view outside, we went downstairs to the Estate’s barrel cellar. Beside the cellar is a tasting room where Peller hosts a number of wine tasting and food pairing events for small to large sized groups. One event caught our eye in particular – Chicks & Chocolate – Pairing Wine & Chocolate, where guests learn how wine and chocolate complement each other. Yum!

From there we went to the private tasting room where we sampled the 2011 and 2012 Cabernet Franc. Both were delightful.

Peller has won many prestigious awards for their Icewines, Chardonnays and Rieslings and they have also earned international acclaim, being named Best Canadian Winery of the Year at London’s International Wine & Spirit Competition.

Most recently, Peller was named the 2014 Canadian Winery of the Year by the WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada held in B.C. Peller also nabbed a platinum medal for their 2012 Signature Series Sauvignon Blanc and four gold medals for their 2012 Private Reserve Gamay Noir Carlton Vineyard, 2013 Private Reserve Rosé, 2011 Signature Series Merlot and 2012 Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. “Everyone in our Peller family is thrilled that our winemakers at Peller Estates have been recognized for their relentless pursuit of quality and commitment to making great tasting wines,” said John Peller, CEO, Andrew Peller Limited of winning the coveted prize.

Peller Estates is the flagship VQA brand of Andrew Peller Limited, which also owns Trius and Thirty Bench in Ontario, Calona Wines, Sandhill and Red Rooster, along with Wayne Gretzky Winery, in both Niagara and the Okanagan.

From group bookings to private tours to food and wine pairing events and great perks for wine club members, Peller’s hospitality is impeccable. “We have some amazing experiences on our property,” said Katie Mueller, Peller’s Communications Specialist. Katie met us in the private tasting room and like our guide Maurice, was incredibly gracious. “We are ranked among the best-of-the-best,” she added. “We offer several tours/ dining events and we also have several Winery of the Year Highlights tours being rolled out in September.”

Megalomaniac WineryMegalomaniac (John Howard Cellars of Distinction) – Cheeky yet, “Oh so

The second stop on our tour was Megalomaniac where our timing could not have been better. Greeting us was none other than John Howard himself, the owner of this relatively “new” wine brand.

It’s not often that you get to meet a megalomaniac in person, not to mention one as nice as Howard, but before we tell you about the man behind the brand, we first need to tell you about the thrilling ride to the winery itself.

Located at 3930 Cherry Avenue, Megalomanic can be found at the top of a long, winding gravel road passing through rows and rows of grapevines. At the top of the hill sits the main building. Modern in design, the ceiling is lined with gigantic crystal chandeliers hand-picked by Howard, creating a classic yet contemporary effect. The building houses a wine tasting bar, a glass enclosed wine tasting lounge, underground cellar, and office space.

The Cellars of Megalomaniac sit on a 96-acre site of the Vineland upper bench at what many argue is the highest vantage point on the Niagara Escarpment. We were fortunate to be granted access to the building’s rooftop terrace, still under construction, to take in the spectacular view. Despite the hazy air, we could definitely see the Toronto skyline.

The views from the terrace and the incredibly vast amount of land that surround the main building are what make this winery so distinctive. “When guests arrive, especially those from the U.S. or Europe, the two things they point out the most are the fact that the views are amazing and that they just can’t believe the amount of land our winery sits on – 100 acres of vine land is unheard of outside of our region,” explained Howard.

The underground cellar houses the barrel-aging facility that produces their Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot single varietals. The Sous Terre Cabernet Merlot Reserve 2007 took honours as the top limited edition red at Cuvée 2011.

To say the name Megalomaniac is cheeky is an understatement. “I originally wanted to christen these wines in my name, John Howard, and then my good friends accused me of being yet another “Bleeping” megalomaniac. Regrettably the name stuck,” laughed Howard.

After sampling some red wine in the glass lounge, Howard, whose plane to France was, fortunately for us, delayed, invited us to the adjacent Home Vineyard where he shared some great stories about the industry. Howard is a warm and personable man, and he generously shared his time and thoughts about wine – most notably that wine is meant to be shared with friends.

In addition to Megalomaniac, Howard Cellars holds a 35% shareholding in two Grand Cru Chateaux’s in the St. Emilion appellation of Bordeaux France which operates four estates in Bordeaux from Grand Cru to Bordeaux Superieur, including the coveted Chateau La Confession. “Sue-Ann Staff is the consulting Winemaker for all varietals and acts as liaison to our two sister properties in Bordeaux,” Howard explained.

Among Howard’s red and white blends and varietals is Homegrown, Vineyard 4379 (named after the latitude, 43, and longitude, 79, of the vineyard where the grapes are grown) beginning with the 2006 vintage. Its initial release took off from the get-go, making it the fastest-growing VQA wine in Canada.
Launched in 2007, the collection of Megalomaniac wines include Narcissist Riesling, My Way Chardonnay, SonOfaBitch Pinot Noir, Bigmouth Merlot and and Coldhearted Riesling Icewine, all cheeky names, too.

A savvy businessman and wine industry veteran – Howard is the former owner of Vineland Estates – this Canadian icon is also a champion of kids, supporting Kids Health Links, a philanthropic organization that donates computers and technology aids for children in 11 children’s hospitals. The goal of Kids Health Links is to help hospitalized children communicate with family, friends and school. For each bottle of Megalomaniac, one dollar is donated to Kids Health Links.

Vineland EstatesVineland Estates – An Ode to the Senses

Our last stop of the day was for a tour, wine tasting and dinner at Vineland Estates. As we approached Vineland we took in the carefully restored historic buildings – the stone tower that stands proudly over the former Mennonite homestead with structures that date back to the 1840s. These include the former farmhouse, the century barn that houses the retail store and wine tasting bar, and the Carriage House.

Our guide, David Hulley, Vineland’s Director of Customer Experience, started our tour in the underground barrel cellar, a pseudo library of sorts that showcases Vineland’s 30-year history. The cellar houses vintages that date back to the 1980s.

The next stop on our tour was to see the Estate’s new sensory garden, a project Vineland undertook with the help of Sheridan Nurseries, where perennials and annual herbs have been planted in nine beds by wine varietal: Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Icewine (Vidal), Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Chardonnay and Chardonnay Musque. The centre round bed is Pinot Meunier.

After taking in the amazing aroma from the lemon thyme and other herbs in the garden, we made our way to the restaurant patio overlooking the vineyard for dinner. In the distance we could see the vineyards, the forests of the Niagara Escarpment and Lake Ontario. We could even see as far as Toronto from our vantage point. The cuisine was exquisite as we enjoyed tasting Vineland’s Expressions in D Riesling.

Nestled on the northern edge of the property sits Field D. Led by Winemaker Brian Schmidt, the Rieslings that come from this parcel of land show stark differences which Hulley attributes to the change in topsoil as you move from east to west. Divided by east, centre and west plantings, four different Rieslings come from three parcels (the fourth one is a combination of the three). The base of the terrier is limestone/clay but the 15 inches of topsoil differs in the field as you travel west to east. On the western slope, gravel defines the top layer of soil, with the centre consisting of sandy soil and the eastern portion defined by loam. This wine series is named Alto, Soprano and Falsetto with the blend called Concerto.

After sampling all four Rieslings, we were hard pressed to choose a clear winner, opting instead to sample a bottle of Cabernet Franc instead.

Vineland Estates Winery produces premium Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc, signature Red Meritage, and other varietals including Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and their premium icewines.

Even though we have been a leader in the cutting edge growth of the premium wine industry for over 30 years, we have no intention of easing up,” Hulley explained. “From our ground breaking, other-winery inclusive wine club, to our much loved home delivery to our globally recognized restaurant led by Executive Chef Justin Downes, we continue to push the boundaries of hospitality and fine wine and food production. We strive for excellence every day and love to let our passion show.”

As the day came to a close, the Invidiata Team had only one regret: that we could not have stopped at every winery in the region.

Be sure to make a tour of Ontario wine country a part of your next travel experience.