Wine & Spirits

Wine & spirits: Vineyard visits

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Wine & Spirits

Wine & spirits: Vineyard visits

Call it a shopping trip, call it a picnic, call it a mental health day. Use whatever pretext you need, but call a friend and get yourselves to a nearby winery. It may just be an excuse to chum and yak, but can you think of a more pleasant way?

Visits to Canadian wineries are growing in popularity, and high season in B.C.'s Okanagan Valley, or the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario, can mean roads get busy. Consider "roads" less travelled, like Vancouver Island, the Annapolis Valley, N.S., the bustling Lake Erie north shore region, or Prince Edward County, Ontario's newest grape haven.

Ontario
If you must hit the A-list regions, a fine way to get around from vineyard to vineyard is by bicycle. In Niagara, Ont., Olympic cyclist Steve Bauer runs cycle tours with preset itineraries; however, he will also customize a special outing.

Ontario's Wine Route is well documented with maps, websites and highway signage. Visit industry biggies Jackson-Triggs and Peller Estate, which bookend the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. You'll get a sense of perspective as, compared to these two outfits, every other winery is tiny. Find time for technologically and environmentally advanced Stratus winery (in the morning shadow of Jackson-Triggs), then move on to the picturesque estates along the Niagara Escarpment between Jordan and Grimsby. Toast the day with a bubbly at Henry of Pelham. Sip Sauvignon Blanc at Peninsula Ridge. Sample Riesling at Vineland Estate and Cave Spring Cellars. Savour Cabernets and Merlot at Angels Gate, Kacaba and Stoney Ridge. Focus on Pinot Noir at gravity-flow wineries Flat Rock Cellars, Malivoire and Tawse.

In southwestern Ontario, the brand spanking new Viewpointe Estate is located just a few klicks south of Windsor. Or you can take the ferry across Lake Erie to Pelee Island Winery, where you'll find their wines on tap every day at the island pavilion.

British Columbia
Vincor Canada has again compiled a tour book with maps and driving directions to its high-end properties in the Okanagan Valley. Called Great Estates of the Okanagan, the tour takes you on a day-long trek, starting with the fabulous vistas at See Ya Later Ranch, south to Osoyoos and Nk'Mip Cellars (Canada's only aboriginal-owned winery). Then head north to Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Estate and Inniskillin-Okanagan, and finish up in Summerland at Sumac Ridge, the oldest estate winery in the province. The $10 "passport" tour book includes coupons for a variety of special offers available at the winery outlets.

Mission Hill Family Estate near Westbank in the central Okanagan, is a showpiece on the grandest scale. With fine architecture, fine art and fine wine, this one is definitely not to be missed. Ask to taste Oculus and some single-vineyard wines.

Eastern Canada
I also cherish an afternoon I spent at Domaine de Grand Pré near Wolfville, N.S. One memorable welcome diversion was a taste of the superbly refreshing Stutz Cider, produced by a sister company.

There are numerous small wineries in Quebec's Eastern Townships and a few along the shores of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and even Newfoundland. Some produce exceptional wines from lo-cally grown grapes while others only produce fruit wines where no grapes can grow.

Wherever you go, some wines will taste as sweet as cordials, and others as sour as vinegar. However, for each of us, there will be one that tastes like magic.

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Wine & Spirits

Wine & spirits: Vineyard visits