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Help me scratch some NOTL wineries off the list?

hey guys,

After going through threads and other reviews online, I'd love your two cents on if you think there are any wineries that aren't worth it. We're just going for a weekend and doubt we'll have time to do everything. Anything glaring that should be scratched?

Thirty Bench
Flat Rock
Coyote Run
Vineland Estaes
Le Clos Jordane

Just fyi, never been to NOTL before but we just did Napa/Sonoma last fall so we're not total beginners. Looking for a good mix - big and small, high end/low end, etc.. As for varietals, we lean toward reds but don't really care as long as it's good. We know we're not in big cab country so we're pretty easy. If it helps, we're going to Peller for dinner so I feel like we can scratch a "big" winery off our list. Any advice welcome!

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  1. How many days will you be touring? That is a huge list and I've never found it fun to do more than 3 wineries/day-although that depends on the kind of experience you're seeking. Stratus, Tawse and Le Clos Jordanne are musts (especially since you prefer reds), although I consider them all higher end wineries.

    You may also want to consider Hidden Bench.


    1. Friday dinner to Sunday dinner, that's all unfortunately. Ideally we were hoping to do 4 per day, but that may be too ambitious... ?

      3 Replies
      1. re: miketoronto

        Personally, yes, I think much too ambitious. Go with 2-3 per day. You'll find it exhausting-I know, I know, it seems silly to think of it as exhausting but your palate gets blown with too much and then you aren't doing justice to the wines...

        1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

          I agree. We spent 3 days in NOTL last summer (only NOTL, not Beamsville/Vineland). We drove by ourselves for 2 days and joined a tour for 1 day. We only managed to do 3 wineries when we drove, and 4 on the tour but that was all day. Also, you are going to Beamsville as well as NOTL, so you'll probably need to group them to make it more convenient.

          Of your list, we tried Stratus, Lailey, Coyotes Run, and Konzelman.

          I really liked Stratus for the overall tasting experience. Their Stratus Red and White are both fantastic. We also really like Lailey for the variety they have and pretty good quality wine. So I would say those two.

          We are looking to go for a Beamsville/Vineland weekend. And we are definitely going to Tawse, Thirty Bench, Hidden Bench.

        2. re: miketoronto

          And oh, 13th Street has some pretty darn delicious Rieslings. Their bubbly is great too.

        3. My two favorites are Strewn and Lailey. Both are small and personal. The whites win out for me. Coyote Run is a third just because it has an interesting history and very nice people. All three offer a short tour.

          1. Strewn has a very good restaurant, Terroir La Cachette, which is a local highligt for food, but their wines are well below par, if that is the focus of your visit. Maybe one of 10 is decent per year.

            Stratus doesn't justify the price point, and unless you shmooze well, they will charge you for tastings. Their Wildass blends, which are sold by the case, mostly through phone sales, are much better value, but you can't (at last try) buy them on site.

            Marynissen and Lailey are the two local stars of older vine crafted wines in the area, and have the best reds by miles.

            Dinner at Peller is generally very well done.

            La Cachette
            1339 Lakeshore Rd, Niagara On the Lake, ON L0S1J0, CA

            2 Replies
            1. re: Snarf

              LCBO has the Wildass featured in next week's release.

              1. re: Snarf

                Totally agree with Snarf. Marynissen and Lailey shouldn't be missed especially since you like reds.
                Lailey's 2008 Syrah and Marynissen's Bottoms Up are a must try.

              2. We go to wine country to tour about once a year, and our very favourite is Lailey. They do a wonderful cheese pairing that is ridiculously cheap for the huge amount of delicious cheese that they serve. You have to book it in advance. The wine is wonderful but a bit expensive.

                We also like Flat Rock, Coyote Run (great reds, which can be hard to find in that neck of the woods), and Tawse. Not on your list, but another one of our faves, is Fielding. They have a great unoaked chardonnay, and they have a few sweeter summer whites that are pretty special.

                1. it seems like my palate will offer some divisive advice.

                  the wines i had at strewn, marynissen, and tawse were not to my tastes. a note for lailey being just boring. it was one tasting each so perhaps it just wasn't a great year when i went, but i did taste across the board and was not interested in any. often times they were too sharp, not very complex or just too petrol-y. conversely, i would suggest going to strewn for a meal at la cachette as someone else has mentioned. really lovely outdoor setting and i think reasonable prices for good quality food in that area.

                  i would strongly suggest planning a tasting at stratus (pricey but the bottles are insanely pricey so it's fun to get a taste of the milk without bothering with the whole cow, as they say) and thirty bench (they often have back vintages available and so i've done verticals, technically limited to 4 tastes but they're pretty free with the pouring and you can always share and therefore get different ones). i think they both have superb wines that you can only really get access to via paying ($15 and $10 respectively, if things haven't changed). for thirty bench you need to make a reservation. they're the only wineries that i trust to have good wine across the board, red or white (esp white), though their prices have creeped up beyond what i'm comfortable with.

                  some small cheaper ones to consider...

                  megalomaniac - yes they sell it at the LCBO but the bunker has one of the best views and is the more reminiscent of the napa/sonoma area which is lovely. the bunker is also the beautiful cellar of the owner and the tastings are done in proper glasses without fees. stunning atmosphere, good value, please do try the pinot rose (very unusual!) and their ice wine is well priced. if you drive around a little you can also see the owners "castle" in the promo video, cute!

                  ridgepoint - right beside megalomaniac they have a really great reisling at a great price and on saturdays, i think, do tastings of their nebbiolo (which i didn't get to try but it's interesting to see what the grape becomes on our terroir). the patio looks out onto the megalomaniac vines but the food is only so-so.

                  otherwise i would vouch for your options of coyote's run (though this is based on old tasting), ravine, and malivoire. my memory is hazy on the rest.

                  in my experience, we've managed to pack in 4-5 wineries a day if you stick to one area at a time (beamsville vs notl). yes your palate can be exhausted but we do tend to snack a lot along the way which helps. if you're coming from toronto then my suggestion is to drop into a starsky's grocer and get some cured meat and a bit of bread. paczki's are good if you can get them fresh! each flavour seems to be made on a different day... mmm... plum, rose and custard.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: pinstripeprincess

                    yes...Thirty Bench for the tastings of vintage reds, rieslings, and that fantastic cabernet icewine. My friend also raves about the 07 cab franc.

                    Megalomaniac (John Howard Cellars of Distinction) should be hit up just to check out the bunker, the view, and the castle...even if you're not tasting.

                    Agree with Sarah Catz that Fielding is a good choice if you're into low-acid whites for summertime sippin, but in general there are better picks. Don't waste your time with the corporate-drone tasting at Peller though. And fellow wineries have pretty good things to say about Organized Crime and Ravine.

                    For everyone else, street food is here in Vineland. There's an accomplished chef running a souped up food truck (dubbed El Gastrónomo Vagabundo) that's parked at Flat Rock Cellars Fri-Sun, serving up made-to-order tacos in all sorts of international styles, using local ingredients. So we have an evolving card with choices like:

                    ahab rehab - crispy roast pork belly, rum punched pineapple, bajan hot sauce

                    bangkok dangerous -
                    coconut red curry beef short rib, cucumber, coriander, fried shallot, lime juice

                    kraken - greek style pickled octopus, taramasalata, cucumber

                    don caprese - tempura mozzarella, avocado, tomato, basil mayo

                    fez - ras el hanout lamb tagine, harissa, preserved lemon



                    check it out...

                  2. Le Clos Jordanne winery doesn't have a facility that's open to the public yet, so scratch that.

                    Stratus winery's approach is extremely pretentious, I avoid it at all costs unless that's your thing.

                    Better to stick to the smaller, family-owned wineries for truly unique experience:

                    Niagara on the Lake: Ravine Vineyards for superb merlot, riesling and cafe/bakery; Coyote's Run for their understanding of terrior, single vineyard pinot noir and chardonnays from Red Paw/Black Paw vineyards; Lailey for amazing 2007 vidal ice wine.

                    Beamsville Bench: Tawse for beautiful winery, mind-blowing range of quality single vineyard wines, organic produce and eggs; Organized Crime for cantankerous, opinionated owner and flawless small production wines esp. pinot gris, gerwurtztraminer; Creekside Winery for great value wines like shiraz and sauvignon blanc, gorgeous patio and small lot wines like 2004 Lost Barrel.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: bogie

                      Le Clos Jordanne does offer tours but by appointment only.

                    2. I go about every 4-6 months and Konzelmann is a must for me - we always make sure to hit that one. If you're a red fan I'd also recommend Palatine Hills, just down the road. I also really like Vineland.

                      And I'm seconding bogie on Organized Crime - it's pretty terrifying to begin with because you get the impression they wish you hadn't come in, but she warms up quickly and the wines are fantastic.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: baderin

                        I forgot Konzelmann! A great winery.

                      2. Just returned from NOTL. Vinelands is a MUST do. We arrived at 11:30 for the 11:00 am tour but they gave us a private tour for hubby and me for $12 on a Sunday after we asked. Ask for Nancy who will tour the various stages of wine preparation, vineyard and facility. Scenery looks just like Tuscany. After the wine tasting, go upstairs to buy various cheeses, warm sourdough bread and pate made by resident chef. MMMMMMgood! Great for a picnic. We heard that Inniskiin gives the best tours but Vineland was best for scenery. Have fun!

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: teva

                          if you get to Beamsville, try Crown Bench. They specialize in ice wines, and have several lovely infused ones...chocolate, maple, jalapeno.. I don't think they do tours, but a nice little wine shop and and you can sample without paying an arm and a leg. http://www.crownbenchestates.com/

                          1. re: belcat

                            while i'm not keen on all these flavoured ice wines, crown bench does sell their own verjus. i like it quite a bit and have been putting small amounts in water to flavour it. haven't tried it as food seasoning yet.

                        2. I just visited a few wineries this past Saturday, Strewn, Jackson Triggs and Inniskillin. I loved the experience at Strewn, smaller winery. Jackson Triggs and Inniskillin were way to big and it just felt very commercialized.

                          Every Saturday at 11:30am at Strewn they offer a free tour and free tasting of 3 wines (1red, 1 white, and 1 dessert wine). I believe additional tastings are only 50 cents each!

                          1. I vote for keeping Ravine on. Definitely speak to whoever is working that day to find out the story about the building that it's housed in (very cool story). Also it's a great stop for a meal or treats at the cafe. Check out their site, they may have recently put in a pizza oven...

                            In terms of the number of wineries per day I've had success with about 4. We usually start at around 10/11 and leave the area by 5/6.

                            Have fun!


                            1 Reply
                            1. re: wontonfm

                              Ravine has a huge wood burning oven outside, behind the building where the cafe is. They do a BBQ dinner on Friday nights at 6pm. I haven't tried it yet, but it seems like a great spot to have a BBQ and watch the sun set.

                            2. amazing amazing amazing. Really appreciate all the advice, taking all of it into consideration. Any especially picturesque/scenic wineries we haven't mentioned?

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: miketoronto

                                just reminded me... not a winery so not specific to this post but more so for your first. but you should consider a lunch at treadwell's. really lovely outside patio. i'm not particularly a huge fan of the food, but everyone else seems to love it. be sure to make a reservation, at lunch the operations are scaled down and they can only serve so many people. they're in a good location as a stop between place for beamsville/jordan and notl.

                                btw, do not take the view for granted at thirty bench. on not so clear days you might miss it, but if you just stand in the clearing near the parking area, you can see toronto's skyline very well. otherwise i don't find the thirty bench lands particularly special to look at.

                                1. re: miketoronto

                                  Peninsula Ridge is very picturesque. They have a wonderful lunch. The wines are a bit ho hum, but eating lunch outside that beautiful old house, on that huge deck overlooking the vines.... it's pretty spectacular.

                                  1. re: Sarah Cat

                                    Since the list is being enlarged by people --

                                    You might want to try the Niagara College Teaching Winery for value wines. They also have a cooking school like George Brown, on the same premises by White Oaks and the NOTL turnoff, but I do not know if the restaurant is open during the summer.

                                    The teaching winery is worth a tour since they show you all kinds of things. The Dean's List wines are superb (no relation to me, but Tony Aspler had a hand in notes). None of it is sold at LCBO.

                                    I know you are crowded for time, but it is just a thought. Maybe you should spend 10 weekends in Niagara Peninsula!!

                                    1. re: Dean Tudor

                                      I'll second the recommendation for Niagara College (both the restaurant and winery).

                                      A correction though: several of the college's wines have been sold at the LCBO in the Vintages program over the last couple of years.

                                2. Another winery is Southbrook -- Ontario's first biodynamic winery. Interesting tour and explanations. The buildings (designed by Jack Diamond of Four Seasons Perf Arts COC building) are terrific. They are gold LEED certified.

                                  And the wine's good too.

                                  6 Replies
                                  1. re: Dean Tudor

                                    Yes, I totally forgot to mention Southbrook-I second this recommendation.

                                    1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

                                      Another vote for Southbrook. Really clean and contemporary building. A nice contrast to some of the more rustic wineries.


                                    2. re: Dean Tudor

                                      Another fan of Southbrook here! It's worth a tour, and you might enjoy some of their reds.

                                      Personally, I have always thought that Marynissen makes some of the best reds in Niagara. Their Lot 66 and Solstice are "case-worthy" favorites (for us) - so it might also be worth a try. Very personal service in our experience.

                                      Coyote's Run does great pinot noir and will let you taste "Black Paw" vs. "Red Paw" to show you how well they are showcasing terroir. It's a friendly winery, too. Our tours always include a stop here!

                                      I think that Lailey does some fantastic wines but especially love what they do with syrah. Thirty Bench reds have not let us down and the view (as mentioned by several others) is lovely. The view from Ravine is also impressive, and their cafe is a wonderful place to sit and look out at the winery.

                                      Have a lovely weekend!!!

                                      1. re: c.cow

                                        The fruit wines at Southbrook are fantastic, especially the Framboise. Highly recommend it.

                                      2. re: Dean Tudor

                                        barely a handful of their wines are biodynamic, just in case that's of very particular interest. but their selection of wines that can be tasted is quite extensive, especially if they have a bunch of their poetica's open. was able to do a few verticals between three vintages and their distinctiveness is quite interesting and nicely crafted individually. my issue is that they're definitely premiumly priced and it's hard to justify buying the lower priced bottle when the high priced one is significantly more lovely.

                                        a new winery that is now definitely on my rotation is sue-ann staff's staff winery. she's got quite the history in the industry down there and is currently consulting for megalomaniac (but that may be changing soon). her wines are very appropriate for the terroir, affordable, and delicious. currently she only has rieslings, pinot grigio, baco noir and two ice wines (red and white) but will be expanding her selection soon since she is collecting a few other grapes this year. another benefit is that she is near flat rock and their taco/catering truck! delicious and unusual for the region, though it is certainly pricey.

                                      3. I love Ravine and also Creekside. Dinner at Terroir la Cachatte at Strewn is also fabulous.