In the late '80s Inniskillin Wines announced their wine and food seminars. The following year Hillebrand Estate Winery offered winemaker's dinners. Then came the options for winery fine dining with Vineland Estates, Inn On The Twenty, Peller Estates, Hillebrand and Peninsula Ridge.
Today the movement to integrate food with wine is reaching exciting new levels. From food wagons and food with a view, to tapas and upscale casual fare, wineries right across Ontario are realizing that food and wine are an inseparable pair.
Walk up to Vineland Estate Winery and before you even enter the winery retail store; a station of food with gourmet treats that focus on the latest fruit or vegetable harvest greets guests. It's a dual tasting. From the field and from the vineyard ““ how delicious! New at the winery is the gourmet loft that offers locally made food products from mustards to a fine selection of Ontario cheeses (vineland.com). How utterly sensible!
Southbrook Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake offers thin crust pizzas from their “in-the-wall” pizza oven, made from their very own anti-oxidant rich grape powder. The winery's al fresco kitchen is operated by farm-to-table guru Stephen Treadwell. On the property you'll find sheep grazing in the vineyard. The winery is completely organic and so is everything else they do. Ask them about the organic lamb they'll have available in the fall (southbrook.com).
Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery offers their Coach House Café and Cheese Shoppe for unique wine country flavours prepared by celebrated chef Erik Peacock. Light gourmet nibbles and upscale sandwiches are all complemented by amazing wines. Try the sparkling for a decadent treat (henryofpelham.com).
Like the winery philosophy of growing your own, some wineries are also growing their own food. It's the complete cycle of garden-to-table, control over the quality of flavours from start to finish.
In Prince Edward County, cyclists drool over the wood burning pizza oven built at Norm Hardie Winery right on their crush pad. On the weekends, sit at the picnic tables with a glass of wine and nibble on ultra thin pizza topped with food harvested from their half-acre vegetable garden (normanhardie.com).
Further down the road, the stunning Huff Estate Winery has a full kitchen that services a seasonal, casual patio. Their Buskers Over a Barrel events add excitement to the delicious experience and their on-site inn, five-acre sculpture garden and art gallery makes it a leisurely yet, delicious destination that integrates more of a lifestyle theme (huffestates.com).
Waupoos Winery sits on a stunning location that is popular with brides. Perched on a hill surrounded by vineyards and Lake Ontario, is a beautiful white gazebo that houses a full kitchen and screened in eating area. Waupoos caters to your every food and wine mood from a simple glass of wine while you take in the view to tapas served vineyard-side, to a full gourmet meal (waupooswinery.com).
In Essex County, Viewpointe Estate Winery uses its full kitchen to double as both a recreational cooking school and casual restaurant. Here they showcase the best regional foods to pair with their delicious wines. Dine on the patio for a luxurious experience or take in a cooking demonstration given by some of the region's best culinary talent (viewpointewinery.com).
Sanson Estate Winery in Amhurstburg in Essex County runs a “Field to Fork” program that features their heard of cattle that graze right on the estate. The retail store is often more like a mini gourmet food shop with luscious foods from “the county” like Vidmar Organic Mushrooms. On weekends they offer fantastic meat dishes complete with meaty mushrooms ““ yum! Their other delicious program “Wine, Dine, Recline” combines Sanson's fine wines with the best foods of Essex County and accommodation (sansonestatewinery.com).
The restaurant at Oak Heights Winery is on the outskirts of the beautiful village of Warkworth in Northumberland County. The menu reads like a geography lesson in the regions best food. Often times you can find Chef Steven Sherman out of the kitchen, picking herbs and other delectable produce from their gardens. The prices are reasonable, the wines delicious and the experience priceless (oakheights.ca).
Burning Kiln Winery on the outskirts of Simcoe serves up weekend gourmet tapas that blends local food, bistro prices and fine Norfolk wine. It's beautiful cycling territory through the farm hills and you'll find the winery right in the middle of one of the more popular routes between Simcoe to Port Dover. The culinary offerings make a delicious and decadent stop (burningkilnwinery.com).
There are so many more wineries with different food experiences such as Featherstone Winery and their romantic wrap around porch, Ridgepoint Winery's casual bistro and the Marshall Fields Restaurant at Florence Estate Winery. All within driving distance, all gourmet experiences, yet all with a delicious personality of their own. You'll just have to try them all!
-Lynn Ogryzlo is a food and wine writer and author of Niagara Cooks, a farm to table, and international award winning cookbook. You can reach Lynn for questions or comments at niagaracooks.ca.