The Best of The Bench
When people think Niagara wineries, they tend to think about Niagara on the Lake and the wineries that surround that quaint little town. Don’t get me wrong, I love that area as much as the next guy but my favourite spot is a bit closer to Toronto, clocking in at an easy 100 km away, an hour without traffic but who knows how long on a balmy Saturday in July.
I’m talking about the Bench – There is the Beamsville Bench, The Twenty Mile Bench and the Short Hills Bench. These are the areas that run along the Niagara Escarpment, wedged between St Catherines and Grimsby.
Today, I am going to talk about Twenty Valley and the Beamsville Bench, a sub appellation of the Niagara Peninsula with a very unique topography that enjoys a constant air flow that comes off of Lake Ontario, sheltered by the Niagara Escarpment. You will instantly notice the sloped vineyards, rolling, gentle hills and balmy breezes and a much more laid back atmosphere than Niagara on the Lake. This is the place to try chardonnay, Riesling and some nice sparkling wines as well as well as Pinot Noir.
Most of the vineyards sit on north facing slopes which helps extend the growing seasons because air can’t pool in the vineyard, causing frost and the air flow takes away the humidity. Moderate temperatures last late into fall and the first frost is usually later here too.
It’s not all wine – Bench Brewing offers great beer as well as delicious food, Smoke and Moonshine serves up some pretty tasty BBQ right on the main drag and then there is the patio at Westcott Winery where Toronto’s Ricky + Olivia are doing delicious things all summer long. If you want to get really fancy and don’t mind planning ahead, award winning Pearl Morissette does a tasting menu lunch on the weekend that is almost 2 hours long with endless courses for just under $100, including tax and tips but you need to make a reservation. Dillon’s Distillery is a bit of a detour but absolutely a must on your itinerary.
As if I even have to say this : BRING A DESIGNATED DRIVER IF YOU ARE DOING A DAY TRIP TO VISIT WINERIES
My Favourite Places:
I have been in love with the unfiltered gin from Dillon’s Distillery for a long time but over the years they have built up a really interesting range of products. Aside from brewing up small batches of specialy gins like strawberry ,peach and Rose Gin they have a full line up of spirits from Rye to Absinthe.
Since 1996, former SFX guy, Martin Malivoire, has been leading the pack in terms of eco friendly practices. They do great tours of the winery and try the 2018 Rose Moira if there’s any left.
Angel’s Gate produces a huge array of wines but I go for the Shine, a sparkling Muscat and the view. It’s next door to Rosewood, so make sure to visit both.
Okay, Kew is the most feminine winery I have ever seen. From the ornate labels to the shabby chic interior of the heritage home on this 160 year old estate. Grab a seat out on the patio or at a table under the trees, try a flight of sparkling wines, maybe have some cheese and just relax. If you are ever looking for the perfect place to take your girlfriends, your bridesmaids or your boozy bookclub, this is it.
I wrote about Kew for Auburn Lane here
Sitting on one of the highest points of the southern escarpment, the view from here is spectacular. With their sassy, bold branding, you can spot a bottle of Megalomaniac wine from a mile away but remember, this place is not kid friendly like most of the others. They won a whack of awards at the 2019 Ontario Wine Awards, including a gold for their Big Mouth Merlot, one of my favourites.
Family owned, organic and biodynamic , this winery is another stunner with a number of Canadian Winery of the Year awards under it’s belt. On the weekend, the open up the patio for live music, wine and food.
Thirty Bench Small Lot Steel Post Vineyard Rielsing 2016 and SMall Lot Wild Cask Riesling both won gold medals at the 2019 Decanter awards so make sure to taste those while you are here.
We went here for lunch the first time on the recommendation of a young man at Dillon’s and the food is great. There is a big, sunny patio area as well as an indoor bar that you can eat at and they also have a small retail store so you can take some beer home with you. Favourites were the Strawberry Grove Sour Ale and the Balls Falls IPA, the nachos with brisket and sirloin meatballs.
Westcott sits on a beautiful swatch of farmland, tucked away off the beaten path. Producers of small batches of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as well as a couple Roses and a sparkling, they don’t allow tour buses and are a great place to get away from the crowds at some of the bigger places. You are absolutely going to want to eat, so come hungry.
I wrote about Ricky + Olivia’s patio takeover for Auburn Lane here
Flat Rock sits right next door to Wescott but it’s a totally different vibe. They offer a variety of tours and every Saturday night on the Green Roof , you can enjoy something called Music Series on the Rock for drinks, snacks and live music.
I am going to be honest and admit that I know little about the wine here but I stopped in on the recommendation of someone at another winery so I could check out their new, rooftop patio and it’s gorgeous. It overlooks their beautiful vineyards and it’s one of the few, full sun patios of this size. Getting there is a lovely drive along winding, rural roads.
Rosewood is doing some really interesting, experimental wines and I am here for it. Their unfiltered Pinot Noir is a must as well as the Nebulous – bottled before the primary fermentation is complete, this unfiltered wine is full of sediment, it turns cloudy when exposed to air and has a slightly effervescent, funky thing going on – almost like the kombucha of wine.
They also make three types of mead and sell their delicious honeys – if you leave without a bottle of smoked honey to take home to drizzle over roasted salmon, I don’t know what to say to you.
We had no idea that Pearl Morissette has no tasting room or retail store when we rolled up to the eye catching, charcoal grey barn board building. We chatted with the cook who was smoking giant legs of meat before entering the building. The staff was setting up for lunch service and told us that, sadly, there is are no tastings BUT because we knew we wanted as many bottles of Irreverence as we could carry, the manager disappeared and returned with a box of 6 bottles for us to purchase. If you want more than 6 bottles they have to ship it to you but as long as you keep it to 6 or less, you can pay for it and take it with you. You can also order their wines online.
As far as the award winning restaurant, dinner reservations are booked up at least three months in advance but you can usually get one for their weekend lunch. For just under $100, including tax and tip, you can enjoy a multi course tasting menu that lasts almost 2 hours.
If you want to have some BBQ , Smoke and Moonshine sits right there on King St in Beamville, right on the main drag that many of the wineries are situated on.
If you are there on a Saturday, Beamsville Farmers Market is open from 8am to noon. Also, keep on top of the fruit seasons as this is also prime peach, pear, cherry country and there are a plethora of road side stands all over the place.