When you’re touring wine country, whether its California, Bordeaux or Niagara, if you’re a wine snob like me, one of the best experiences is finding and trying a new winery. When we visit an area for the first time, we normally hit the well known wineries first, knowing that they’ll have regular hours, should be easy to find, and should have a good amount of wines to sample.
But when you’re looking for something unique, or you’ve already hit the well-known spots, finding those small, one-owner, out of the way wineries can be a fun adventure on its own.
Living in Ontario and being a self-declared wine snob, Danielle and I have found some of the best small wineries in the Niagara region through a number of visits to Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Here are 10 of my favourite wineries in Niagara.
1. Big Head [www.bigheadwines.ca]
Not only do I love the branding of this winery, but the owner is Polish and being half Polish myself, I feel like I could be at home here.
The winery is located in an old fruit packing building on an orchard near Niagara-on-the-Lake. It has a new-industrial/rustic feel (aka it looks like a packing plant still), but they make good use of the space. There is a nice simple tasting bar where you can do flights of 4 wines. The Cab Franc is amazing. Just saying.
2. Pond View Estate Winery [www.pondviewwinery.com]
Pond View is a nice small winery run by an Italian family with 3 generations of wine growers. The tasting room is big and airy, and you can buy a glass of wine to enjoy on their front patio. The Italian influence is evident in their options for wine pairings – either though an instructed tasting or on your own with a cheese and charcuterie platter to enjoy with your wine. The Arepa Republic sometimes makes an appearance there as well, and you’ll get some of the best corn meal sandwiches you’ll find.
3. Small Talk [www.shinyapplecider.com]
One of our favorite wineries, and some of the best wine labels out there, Small Talk is funky and fun, and the wine is great as well. Formerly known as Stonechurch Vineyards, this winery is now a combination of two wine brands – Small Talk, Big Ideas(their ‘reserve’ label), and a cidery as well – Shiny Apple. Just go knowing that everything is good here. I’m a huge fan of their Shiny Apple Pinot cider, which combines apple cider and (you guessed it) Pinot Noir wine. They even have growlers of small batch ciders.
4. Frogpond Farm [www.frogpondfarm.ca]
If organic is important to you, then a stop at Frogpond is essential. Probably one of the smallest wineries you’ll find – their tasting room is really only about a 10×10′ area – they make up for the space with flavourful wines. They are dedicated to making fresh, organic wine without the use of chemical-based herbicides, fungicides or pesticides. They also have random wandering chickens, dogs and you may also find some sheep around too. If you want to try something really different, sample the Chambourcin – its rich-tasting and very unique.
5. Coyote’s Run Estate Winery [www.coyotesrunwinery.com]
A bit of a drive from Niagara-on-the-Lake, but just off the QEW, Coyote’s Run is a quaint winery with some excellent wine. The tasting room is small, so be ready to wait on a busy day, but its really worth it. The wine is great (if you’re lucky, they sometimes have some cellar aged wines to buy), you can do a self-guided vineyard tour, they have a delicious sangria you can get by the glass, and a food truck is sometimes there for a quick bite on a warm day. I have seen people bicycle there, but it’d be a good 45 minute ride from NOTL, so good on you if you do it! Being close to the highway, we normally make this a stop on our way into Niagara-on-the-lake, so we can start our purchases before even arriving!
6. The Ice House Winery [www.theicehousewinery.com]
This is one place that we have to stop at every single time we go to NOTL. Ice wine is one of Danielle’s favorites, and the wine at the Ice House is some of the best. We like making this the turnaround point on a bikeride from NOTL along the river – it’s a challenging but beautiful ride that takes about 2-2.5 hours there and back depending on how many wineries you stop at. The reason we make this the turning point is the ice wine slushies that they have in the summer. If you’ve never had one, just think crushed ice mixed with ice wine. Basically one of the best summer treats in the Niagara area. Stay for some samples of the ice wine as well.