In twenty-five years, Ontario has gone from being nowhere in the wine world to a mini-Napa North. The province now has over 70 wineries, the majority of which are in the Niagara Peninsula. Almost all offer at least a tasting room that includes reserve wine available for sale only at the cellar door. There’s much more than wine-geek appeal, however, as most offer a range of activities for visitors.
The Niagara Wine Route starts about an hour’s drive from Toronto. Just off the main QEW highway, travelers can begin their tour, which meanders along 40 kilometers of rural roads from Grimsby to Niagara-on-the-Lake. The route, starting on Regional Road 81, traverses gently rolling landscape through small towns, vineyards and orchards. Half the Niagara Peninsula is still devoted to agriculture and many of the farms are proudly preserved century properties, with roots tracing back to the days of the Empire Loyalists. The Niagara Escarpment on one side and glittering Lake Ontario on the other handsomely bracket the route. The top ridges of the craggy cliffs of the escarpment were once the shoreline of Lake Iroquois, an ancient lake that receded with the glaciers, leaving behind the five Great Lakes as we know them today, and fossil-rich land that is perfect for grape-growing. The route takes in many side roads up and down the escarpment. Signage is generally good, marked with a grape logo and the names of approaching wineries.