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Niagara's wineries, pumpkins and blazing colours

© By Hans Tammemagi

It's a glorious fall weekend and you'd like to get out and enjoy the warm sunshine and spectacular display of colours. Why not take a tour of Niagara's wine country? You can leisurely drive the back roads, wending your way from winery to winery, where you can savour Rieslings, gewürztraminers and pinot noirs, at the same time passing through some of the most vibrant, breathtaking colours that Niagara's Carolinian woodlots have to offer.
     Led by blazing maples, the countryside is celebrating the harvest, with farmers toiling to bring in their produce. Tractors chug along country roads pulling wagons piled high with bushels of succulent pumpkins, apples, and pears. Road-side stands are bursting, and vineyards stretch like quilt work with bunches of grapes hanging full and ripe, beckoning to be made into wine.
     You might start with a quiet ambling drive along the Niagara Parkway with short exploratory side trips to wineries like Inniskillin Wines, Reif Estate, Peller Estates and Marynissen Estates. Armed with one (or more) of their award-winning wines you should find a quiet spot along the parkway under a majestic oak, maple or black walnut. Or continue south to Dufferin Islands just past the Horseshoe Falls along the Parkway. This delightful group of small islands ensnared in an embayment of the Niagara River is a glorious fall picnic spot with scenic walks and calm pools of water reflecting the brilliant foliage.
     As you sip and luxuriate in the fragrance of a glass of chardonnay you can watch leaves lazily falling from the brilliant canopy above you, the sunlight catching and refracting their fiery crimsons as they spin and spiral downward to decorate your blanket. The thought of the coming winter's cold wind will be banished to a far corner of your mind.
     To celebrate this mellow weekend you should also visit the wineries and woods along the Niagara Escarpment. This area west of the Welland Canal has seen remarkable growth and now more than 28 wineries are located here, many of which have only opened in the past few years. The hilly, wooded landscape contrasts with the flat plain of Niagara-on-the-Lake and offers wonderful views of the surrounding landscape and onto Lake Ontario.
     Hernder Estates, just southwest of St. Catharines, has created a story-book property, including a renovated 145-year old Victorian barn that you enter by driving under the only covered wooden bridge in Niagara.


     From Hernder Estates, it is but a short, but worthwhile, detour to North Pelham, where you will find the Comfort Maple, Canada's oldest sugar maple at 530 years. Old Glory, with his gnarled trunk and branches supported by guy wires, is in the autumn of his years but still celebrates the season with a resplendent show of crimson, yellow and orange plumage. At 34 metres high, he towers above rows of cherry orchards that surround him like doting tiny grandchildren.
     Meandering westward to the village of Jordan, you can explore Cave Spring Cellars, where an entire tourist Mecca surrounds the winery including a gourmet restaurant, luxury inn, antique stores, art shops, and more.
     Vineland Estates, high on the escarpment above the village of Vineland, has an attractive tasting centre, an 1877 carriage house for banquets, and a fashionable restaurant that offer glorious views onto the surrounding countryside.
     Further west, Eastdell Estates, which features a ski-style chalet and large deck, is perched high on the escarpment. It's a wonderfully soothing place to sit with family or friends, pondering some of life's imponderables over a glass of vintage wine, gazing at the glorious vistas of rolling vineyards.
     As you travel, you will pass many other enticing wineries, each with its own distinctive character, varying from the modest mom-and-pop operation to those verging on the spectacular.
     Recognizing that wine and food go together like Bogie and Bacall, several wineries have introduced upscale restaurants. Instead of a picnic you can indulge in a new style of cuisine that emphasizes rich and varied produce lovingly sought out from neighbouring Niagara fields and orchards.
     At Peninsula Ridge Winery's restaurant, arguably one of the best in Ontario, you can indulge in a six-course chef's tasting menu where each course is paired with an appropriate local estate wine. Most of the smaller wineries also have patios or informal decks or picnic areas.
     As the shadows become longer and the clouds on the western horizon turn into a palette of pinks and purples, you should seek out a wine deck high on the escarpment. Swirling a glass of wine so the soft golden rays of the setting sun wink and dance in the amber fluid, you can only luxuriate and wish that fall days like this would come more often.

Hans Tammemagi has written two travel books: Exploring Niagara - The Complete Guide to Niagara Falls & Vicinity and Exploring the Hill - A Guide to Canada's Parliament Past & Present. He is the environment columnist for the Vancouver sun.

Photo Credits
Hans Tammemagi

If you go
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Wineries information: www.winesofontario.ca
Riverbend Inn, Niagara-on-the-Lake, a gracious historic mansion nestled amongst vineyards: www.riverbend.ca
Niagara information: www.tourismniagara.com

Howell's pumpkin farm is south of St. Catharines on Holland Road about 2 km west of Merrittville Highway

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