At the beginning of the summer, I made a pact with myself to explore and promote as much of my home province as I could. I distinctly remember as the days started to get longer and the warm weather returned, having an epiphany and kicking myself because of how little I have written and promoted this beautiful place I call home. Even though I travel all over the world for work, have explored many different countries, I still walk away from those experiences feeling like Canada doesn’t get enough credit - and it’s true! There is so much to see and do in this beautiful country and I will be the first to admit I take my proximity to so many amazing destinations in Ontario for granted. You don’t need to book two weeks off from work and spend three months of savings to have a great getaway, you can drive there on a weekend in an hour and a half - and that’s exactly what Krystle and I did!
We knew off the bat that planning a road trip to Beamsville and Niagara-On-The-Lake wouldn’t be complete without a couple key essentials: 1) a Winemakers Selections Tasting Pass; 2) a reservation at Kitchen 76; 3) a cute place to stay for the night; and 4) the perfect vehicle to get us there. Thankfully getting these items in order was a breeze and before you could say ‘Happy 30th VQA’ we were hitting the road in our Buick Encore.
Now before I dive into the amazing adventure that ensued there are a couple things about this vehicle that I need to point out because frankly they completely elevated our entire weekend. Having never driven a Buick Encore before I was surprised right off-the-bat at how spacious the compact SUV was. Krystle and I are known to travel with way too much stuff (content creation props, outfit changes, computer and camera equipment, etc.) and the Buick Encore accommodated us perfectly. That said it was actually the keyless entry feature that was the lifesaver! If I had my hands full – say with luggage or purchases – I didn't have to put my stuff down and search through my purse to find the keys to unlock the vehicle door. As long as I had the keys on me the car would unlock at the press of a button on the door handle - it was that easy! Also, being unfamiliar with the area, the ‘real time traffic’ data available through the navigation system along with the 4G LTE Wi-Fi Hotspot (which can connect up to 7 devices) made traveling in rural, unfamiliar territory so easy. We never had to worry about being stuck in traffic or getting lost, which made sticking to our fun filled weekend plans even easier! There were also a couple extra bonus features like the heated steering wheel, which definitely came in handy (pun intended) on the last day when the temperature dropped, and safety features like the back up camera, blind spot alert, and forward collision alert that gave us that extra cushion of comfort and made driving the Buick Encore a dream.
Circling back to our Niagara and Beamsville road trip, Krystle and I were warriors when it came to ticking things off our ‘to see/do’ list. Although all the places we visited were amazing and a lot of fun there were a few special places that really rose to the top for me. So without further ado - here is a list of NOTL road trip ‘must do’s’!
With our Winemakers Selections Pass ($25 + Tax) Krystle and I were able to get a tasting at numerous wineries including a couple of the ones I am going to list below (I will indicate them with a ‘*’). The pass gets you one tasting at each winery and the head winemaker at each vineyard has selected the wine you get to taste. Krystle and I didn’t have time to hit even a fraction of the wineries that were on the list because we were on bikes while visiting the participating wineries and part of the fun for us is also creating content along the way (which as you can imagine also slows our pace down significantly). That said the pass is still a great option to consider.
*Although I am promoting getting the Wine Makers Selection Pass and visiting wineries in NOTL I do not condone drinking and driving. Krystle and I made sure to visit the majority of the wineries in NOTL while on bike and in the instances we were driving, one of us was appointed the designated driver for the day and abstained from consuming ANY alcohol what so ever.
Angels Gate (Beamsville) - Of course my favourite Ontario winery made the list! Not going to lie, I usually buy three or four bottles of their Pinot Gris ($14.99 + Tax) from the LCBO at a time (it’s a staple in my house), and visiting the winery just made my love for their wine grow even stronger. Visiting Angels Gate also gave me a chance to try wines that aren’t available at the LCBO and walk away with some new bottles. The winery itself has only been around for about 20 years (the first grapes were planted in 1999, production started in 2000, and the winery only opened on 2002), but they have already carved out a name for themselves among VQA wineries having won numerous awards already.
*Reif Estate Winery (NOTL) - Reif Estate Winery is one of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s founding family wineries and has been in operation for almost 40 years. A very popular pick (there was literally a bus load of people that showed up while we were there) and still family owned, Reif is notable for their delicious full-bodied reds. It came as no surprise then when our ‘Winemakers Selection’ tasting was just that. Surrounding the tasting room is a beautiful fountain and garden with lots of chairs so you can bring a picnic and enjoy a bottle outside. There is also a large old Victorian mansion on the property that has been converted to a bed and breakfast, making this winery a NOTL heritage beauty you don’t want to miss.
*Stratus Vineyards (NOTL) - I had never been to Stratus Vineyard until this adventure, but had seen pictures of its big, gorgeous, modern tasting room with massive windows and a great patio. I had heard they throw some really great parties during harvest and take a more scientific approach to wine production by incorporating gravity flow methods. What I didn’t know was how amazing their wines were, how they are a LEED certified winery, and how they are committed to producing sustainable and outstanding wines. At Stratus it’s about quality over quantity and that really shines through in everything they do. This winery not only makes amazing wines that I would happily enjoy drinking, but also exceeded my expectations in innovation and sustainability in every way.
Two Sisters Vineyards (NOTL) – Talk about being transported into another time and place. To me, Two Sisters Vinery is NOTL’s adult version of a Disney fairytale land. Once you pass through the gates of the property a long road lined with trees and rows of vines leads you to a large building resembling a mansion which houses their amazing restaurant Kitchen 76 and tasting room. Everything about this winery feels super opulent and magical. They have a grand terrace in the back with lots of outdoor seating where people can spend the afternoon drinking exquisite wine and feeling like the Lords and Ladies of the vine-lands below.
Dillion’s Small Batch Distillers (Beamsville) - This small batch Gin distillery was born out of necessity for Geoff Dillion (Distiller) and has the cutest love story. Geoff who was desperate to marry founder Gary Huggins’ daughter, was only going to be accepted into the family if he made a name for himself, thus Dillion’s Small Batch Distillery was born! With the help of Geoff’s father Peter, an engineer and spirit lover, they started producing some great gin using quality ingredients found only in Niagara and scaled the business quickly. If you aren’t really a gin person like myself, no need to worry. They are producing more than just gin these days and also offer tasting of their Limoncello, Rye Whisky, Peach Schnapps (which I grabbed), Vodka, and a variety of flavoured gins. They also started making pre-bottled Negroni’s and a variety of bitters, all of which are on display and available to try in their tasting room (which is also très mignon by the way).
Tide and Vine Sandwich Shop (NOTL) - Krystle and I just happened to walk by this cute sandwich shop in NOTL and literally stopped in our tracks. It was a small, cute, sea foam green, casual shop with a couple seats and a cute bench nook by the window that we quickly occupied. Feeling a little hungry I was keen on trying their food and since you could opt into having any of the sandwiches made into a salad, I did just that. In the end the food was really good, the place was super cute and compared to all the other overpriced ‘tourist trap’ restaurants on the NOTL town strip, this one’s cute east coast vibe really jived with me.
Kitchen 76 at Two Sisters Vineyards (NOTL) - When Krystle told me about the wood burning pizza oven at Kitchen 76 I was automatically sold. When we arrived I was taken back at how grand the entire estate and winery was, but once we sat done for our late lunch in the restaurant and actually got to experience the food, I knew this was going to have to be on my list. Our meal was hands down the best we had our entire time in Niagara and the restaurant felt so cozy with its massive fire place and large windows, which provided a view of the terrace and vineyard in the distance. The pizza here was of course amazing but I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t also recommend their burrata and orecchiette.
Grape Escape Wine Tours – By now it should come as no surprise that this bicycle tour and rental company is another family run and owned establishment in Niagara-On-The-Lake. We got to meet Richard Mell, the owner’s son, when we came in to grab our bikes and he was very accommodating in helping us plan a route for our skill level and time requirements. He also adjusted the bike to our measurements and provided helmets so we didn’t have to worry about bringing our own. I actually really enjoyed experiencing the area via bike and since the shop was located very close to 3-4 wineries you really don’t need to bike far to start enjoying yourself. Richard also mentioned that wine tours were available and they do provide group tours however they are known to run out of bikes (they had around 200 bikes) on weekends so it is important to make a reservation ahead of time.
Unfortunately this time around I don’t have any recommended accommodations for you. I would never recommend a place to you that I have never stayed at and even though there were a lot of cute looking places in NOTL, the place Krystle and I stayed was going through renovations and updates. That being said I wouldn’t recommend staying there until the updates and renovations are over. For now it felt a little too expensive for the value you were getting as well as a little far from the NOTL strip for my liking. Next time I will look at something more closer/in town and come back to provide you with a solid recommendation.
Thanks for following along on Krystle and I’s adventure to NOTL! If you have any questions please feel free to leave them in the comments below and I will do my best to answer them!