I’ll admit it. I don’t always drink Finger Lakes wine. I do, however, always try to drink local wine. Every Thanksgiving, my partner and I head to Michigan to celebrate the holiday with his family, driving through Canada to get there. And every time we drive through, I say “We should stop and try some of the wines here.”
Well, after 8 years of saying it, we finally stopped for one winery… and it was incredible.
About the Twenty Valley Wine Trail
Ontario’s wine country is made up of multiple trails based on location. The two closest to the Niagara Falls border are the Niagara Escarpment and Twenty Valley. Twenty Valley includes over fifty vineyards, which you can easily access off of the QEW (the primary highway running through this area). As you venture away from the QEW, the roads get smaller, the tourist stops vanish, and delightful little wineries and inns appear in the farmland.
The region is nestled between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, providing it with a cool-climate and rolling landscape similar to the wine regions in New York and Michigan, which means you can expect some similarities in wine, like dry Rieslings with great minerality, and earthy reds like Gamay Noir.
While there are many vineyards you can visit, we were here to visit one: Kew Vineyards.
About Kew Vineyards
Kew Vineyards was suggested to us as one of the top sparkling producers outside of Champagne, France. I didn’t need to hear anymore- I was already convinced we needed to make a detour for this winery.
Kew Vineyards is located on a 160 year old estate, designed by William Kew as a carriage factory. In 1975, a German immigrant named Hermann Weis brought his own Riesling vines from Germany and planted them on the estate, making it one of the first Riesling plantings in the region. In 2010, the property was purchased by a group of investors that own the Angel’s Gate winery. In 2013, the winery opened, with John Young as the manager, with his daughter, Liisa, running the tasting room. The wines are crafted by Philip Dowell, an Australian trained winemaker with experience in the Niagara region.
Now, the vineyard has some of the oldest vinifera in the area, with both Riesling and Chardonnay plantings over forty years old, as well as some new plots of pinot noir, sauvignon blanc, and a few experimental vines like Marsanne and Viognier.
Tasting at Kew Vineyards
As we entered the tasting room, I was blown away by how lovely it was, with beaded chandeliers, high top marble tables, tall ceilings and historic touches everywhere. We were lucky enough to have tasting room manager Liisa walk us through the wines.
The tasting fee includes three good sized samples of their wine, but you can add on if you’d like to try more. We each decided to do our own flight of sparkling, and then split the red and white wines. Instead of bellying up to a tasting bar, you are seated at hightop tables and the flights are brought out to you, along with water and a spittoon.
Here are some of our favorites:
2013 Blanc de Noir: With a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Pinot Meunier, this sparkling has notes of strawberry, cherry, and bread dough, with a nice bright strawberry acidity and bread crust on the palate. It has a fun lingering strawberry, cherry fruit leather finish.
2014 Barrel Fermented Blanc de Blanc: This was by far our favorite wine of the day. Made from 100% Chardonnay, aged and fermented in French oak, the nose has notes of tropical fruits, vanilla, and oak, with bright lemon and apple on the palate, as well as a big clean acid. It was so yummy and different, the bright acid and bubbles with the oaky, vanilla notes was so delicious and fun. I hope more wineries try to do a sparkling like this!
2013 Organic Riesling: This wine was wonderfully odd, with notes of peach, nectarine, slate, and mint. It has a lingering peachy acidity that is complemented by an oily mouthfeel. It was so incredibly different when compared with the 2015 Old Vine Riesling, that had notes of tangerine and a strong minerality, with lime lingering on the palate.
2015 Gamay Noir: Gamay is a French grape traditionally found in Beaujolais that I’m increasingly seeing in other wine regions. We’ve had a fabulous Gamay from Michigan, and Sheldrake Point on Cayuga is doing a great version. This Gamay Noir has notes of dark cherry, black raspberry, and ground pepper, with an earthiness that continues onto the palate. The mouthfeel is between oily and velvetly, and has a nice grippy tannin to finish.
2014 Soldiers Grant: This wine is made up of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, with some of the grapes dried out in the Appassimento style, then crushed and then back-blended into the remaining wine. This aging leaves the wine with a chewy and silky tannin. The nose has notes of plum, blackberry, pepper and vegetal hints. There is a lingering pepper and hints of tobacco box.
Planning Your Visit
This winery is going to take a little longer to get to, so I would plan ahead about where you’ll stay or how you’re going to be driving. Don’t forget your passport!
Hours: Summer to Late Fall, open daily, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Winter to Early Spring, Thursday to Tuesday open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed Wednesdays)
Tasting Fee: $10 for 3 sparkling wines; $8 for 3 still wines; if you buy two or more bottles you get your tasting fee back
Group Wine Tasting: They do have larger tables for groups, but you must reserve in advance if you are six or more.
Reservations: Suggested- we reserved our spot the day before just in case. I’d suggest doing the same.
Wine Prices: Their wines range from $15 for the Gamay Noir and Riesling to $40 for their Heritage wine made in the Amarone style. (Note, prices are in Canadian dollars, not U.S.)
Other Amenities: They have a great room for group tastings, outdoor space to hang out, and they have a cheese board you can purchase if you’re a little peckish.
I am so glad we stopped here- this is now going to be a regular stop for us every time we travel to and from Michigan! We had an incredible experience tasting the wines and learning about the winery, and Liisa was fantastic. Next time, we plan to stay longer and explore some of the other wineries in the region as well.