Image credit: Canadian Tourism Commission
Canada for wine tourism? I’ll drink to that, says Nikki Bayley
They’ve been sozzled in South Africa, inebriated in Napa and blotto in Bordeaux. Travellers who like a tipple can traverse the world hopping from wine region to wine region.
While Canada may not have the reputation of France, Australia or Italy, its wines are delicious and award-winning. And it’s not just its famous ice wine; Canadian reds, whites and sparkling wines have bagged international gold medals and accolades from grape luminaries such as Jancis Robinson.
Canada’s location is perfect for natural acidity, which makes for well-balanced wines that pair wonderfully with food. However, production is still relatively small and most is consumed domestically. So for most people, the only place to taste Canadian wine is in Canada.
Canada has three main wine-growing regions. In the east are the Niagara Peninsula and Prince Edward County in Ontario, while in the west, the Okanagan region is split into six main areas. Here is a guide to where to stay, sniff, sip and swirl in each.
The Niagara Peninsula
Just a 90-minute drive southwest of Toronto, visiting Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula allows clients to tick off the must-see of Niagara Falls with some wine tourism along the way. Big-name wineries include Cave Springs, Peller Estates, Tawse and Flat Rock.
Dr Belinda Kemp, a wine scientist at Brock University, says: “The Niagara Peninsula harbours a variety of soil types from ancient glacial activity that, combined with the high annual temperature ranges, allows wine styles to be produced from grape varieties such as riesling, chardonnay, gamay noir, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc.”
Stay: The Inn on the Twenty in Jordan Village offers luxury suites, some of which have private gardens and whirlpool tubs, from £138 plus tax. Across the street is the award-winning Cave Springs winery, which regularly wins awards for its riesling.
White Oaks Resort in Niagara-on-the-Lake boasts five-star accommodation with a full-service spa and award-winning restaurant, just a stone’s throw from half-a-dozen wineries. Room rates start at £75 plus tax.
Black Walnut Manor is a boutique B&B in the heart of Twenty Valley wine country offering a pool and individually designed suites, some with private terraces and spa tubs. Prices start at £88 plus tax.
See: Clients can combine two bird’s-eye view experiences on a Niagara Vintage Wine Tours helicopter trip – flying over Niagara Falls and over wine country – before landing in an award-winning winery for a tasting session, winery tour or dinner.
For a more guilt-free experience, book customers on a bicycle tour of four Niagara-on-the-Lake wineries with Grape Escape Wine Tours, where wines are paired with local cheeses (from £35). And if they want to increase their wine knowledge, a wine tour with a Niagara sommelier will allow them to blend their own wine, which they get to take home (from £49).
The Okanagan is a 50-minute flight from Vancouver to Kelowna or a picturesque four-hour drive into the interior.
There are many award-winning wineries in the area such as Mission Hill, which won Decanter magazine’s world’s best pinot noir award in 2013, and Summerhill Pyramid Winery, whose Cipes Rose sparkling wine won a gold medal in the 2013 Effervescents du Monde.
Many of the wineries have excellent restaurants on site and several offer special events, such as Tinhorn Creek’s summer concert series. Wine consultant Kurtis Kolt says: “Nowhere else in the world has so many diverse micro-climates in such a contained area, from cool lake country to Canada’s only desert.
Thanks to ancient glacial movements, the Okanagan has a mineral-rich soil that gives wines more character. Grapes that excel here include riesling and chardonnay on the whites and pinot noir for red. There is also enough heat for syrah and cabernet francs.”
Stay: In Osoyoos, the Spirit Ridge Vineyard Resort adjoins Canada’s only First Nations winery, Nk’Mip (pronounced “ink-a-meep”), which boasts desert golf, a luxurious spa and aboriginal cultural centre. Prices start at £80 plus tax.
Burrowing Owl Estate winery, halfway between Osoyoos and Oliver, offers 10 rooms overlooking the vines, with a pool and hot tub, from £64 plus tax.
Hester Creek, a winery near Oliver, offers six villas high on a hill overlooking orchards and its vineyard (from £123 plus tax). The luxury suites offer geothermal heating and soaker tubs.
See: Wine geeks will love Experience Wine Tours’ sommelier-hosted itineraries, covering Naramata, Kelowna, South Okanagan and Similkameen in a luxury Mercedes van. Starting at £60, they include a gourmet picnic. Soft-adventure seekers can team kayaking on Okanagan Lake and winery visits with Hoodoo Adventures.
A Kayak Wine Tour starts at £47. Other add-ons include yoga on the beach, a creative painting session with a local artist or a sunset beach barbecue. Those who want to pedal around the vines but save their energy for tastings should try Heatstroke’s electric-powered Pedego Classic Cruiser bikes, which have silent engines.
A four-hour tour visiting seven wineries along Osoyoos’ Golden Mile starts at £77. High-end clients may enjoy chartering a Harbour Air floatplane from Vancouver to British Columbia’s wine country.
Prince Edward County
The smallest, but fastest-growing, of Canada’s best-known wine regions is Prince Edward County, found on the northern shores of Lake Ontario in the so-called Golden Triangle between Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.
Wine writer Tom Firth says: “A fairly new wine region for Ontario wine lovers, the relatively shallow soils over limestone bedrock and the cooler climate evoke a number of similarities between Prince Edward County and Burgundy. Naturally then, we see the best successes with the cooler-climate varietals such as chardonnay, pinot noir and gamay.”
Stay: Book clients into the Inn at Huff Estates Winery, so they can stay within a cork pop of its award-winning vines. Suites feature private gardens and vine-side patios and fireplaces (from £64 plus tax).
Voted one of the 25 best small hotels in Canada by TripAdvisor for the past two years, the Merrill Inn in Picton has many rooms with fireplaces and boasts a restaurant with an acclaimed chef (from £96 plus tax).
See: Explore a handful of the small region’s wineries on a half or full day tasting experience with Prince Edward County Tours, with travel options ranging from a passenger van to a limousine. Prices start at £44.
News from Canada
Cox & Kings has launched its first brochure dedicated to Canada and Alaska, with a range of group tours, rail journeys, cruises, self-drive holidays and suggestions for tailor-made trips. An 11-day Classic Western Canada self-drive tour from Vancouver to Calgary starts at £995.
Agents can win one of three £500 vouchers towards a holiday in Canada with Travel 2 by making a booking that includes flights and five nights’ ground arrangements by March 31.
KLM will launch year-round flights to Edmonton International airport via Amsterdam on May 5. Initially flying three times a week on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, a Friday flight will be added on June 22 for the summer. The new route will operate with a wide-body Airbus A330-200. The aircraft will offer 30 business-class seats, 35 economy-comfort seats and 178 economy seats.
Rugby fans can win tickets to the World Cup match between Ireland and Canada at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on September 19 with the Canadian Tourism Commission, Rocky Mountaineer and Prestige Holidays. To enter, become a Canada Specialist and book a two-day Rocky Mountaineer rail trip in either the SilverLeaf or GoldLeaf categories with Prestige Holidays before February 28, or between May 1 and June 30.
1st Class Holidays’ six-day Ontario Wineries and Resorts self-drive tour visits the Niagara region vineyards, as well as Toronto and Muskoka. Prices start at £500, including five nights’ accommodation and six days’ car hire, but excluding flights.
Bridge & Wickers’ 12-day Grapes and Peaks self-drive itinerary spends a day in the Okanagan Valley as well as visiting Vancouver, Whistler, Sun Peaks, Jasper and Banff. Prices start at £1,570, including 11 nights’ accommodation and 10 days’ car hire. Flights are not included.
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