When you think of Ontario wine regions, you may not be the first place on the globe that springs to mind. However, the Canadian province is the country’s leading grape producer, home to over 17,000 acres of vineyards and responsible for approximately 85% of all Canadian wine production. After all, even the name Ontario means “sparkling water.”
Located at a “grape growing belt” latitude with similar conditions to France’s Bordeaux and the northern wine regions of California, Ontario’s lakes and rivers provide cooling breezes, while undulating landscapes aid snowmelt drainage and bathe the region in plenty of sunlight. The top grapes produced in Ontario are Vidal, Riesling, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Franc.
In fact, Ontario’s wines are considered a well-kept secret in the international wine world, especially when it comes to signature Icewines, though Canadians will be familiar with the province’s excellent wineries – around 1.6 million visitors come to Ontario annually just for wine tourism.
Ontario Wine Regions
This guide to the wine regions of Ontario details the four key winegrowing regions in the province (the Niagara Escarpment, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Lake Erie North Shore and Prince Edward County) and a hand-picked selection of the best established wineries to visit in each one, as well as four emerging winegrowing regions, which are experiencing growth and ideal for visitation if you like to try what’s new and up-and-coming in the province’s wine scene.
1. Niagara Escarpment & Surrounds
Located between Lake Ontario and the Niagara Escarpment, this wine region covers the sub-appellations of Beamsville Bench, Twenty Mile Bench, Short Hills Bench, as well as sub-appellations further afield, such as Lincoln Lakeshore, Vinemount Ridge and Creek Shores.
The escarpment shelters the region from strong winds, ensuring that the climate is moderated by gentle and warm lake breezes, which result in an extended fall season, perfect for grape maturation.
Steep ridges of the benchlands and rolling hills are cut through by streams and tributaries, which provide groundwater as well as ample water drainage during spring melts.
The soils found around the Niagara Escarpment are diverse; clay- and silt-rich earth helps to hold in moisture, while sedimentary dolomites add a distinct minerality to wines produced in this region.
Wineries in the Niagara Escarpment Area – Ontario Wine Regions
There are 53 wineries in Niagara Escarpment area. Some of the best are:
Ravine Vineyard – Located in St. Davids, Ontario where their wines are described as refined or elegant. Lydia Tomek is the Head Winemaker at Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery.
Creekside Estate Winery – Located within the charming village of Jordan, Creekside Estate Winery has been in operation for over two decades and is noted for its complex, bright and bold wines, particularly the Syrah, which was awarded the title of Ontario’s Best Red in 2016.
Domaine Queylus – The esteemed winery of Domaine Queylus is comprised of three estate vineyards in Beamsville and Jordan Bench, which make the most of the area’s terroir and microclimate. The complex small-lot wines produced here are noted for their finesse and minerality.
Flat Rock Cellars – The five-tiered winery of Flat Rock boasts 360-degree views out to Lake Ontario and the Toronto Skyline. The best wines to try here are the famous Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Riesling varieties.
Leaning Post Wines – Leaning Post is a terroir-driven winery that focuses on small-scale, artisanal winemaking in unique plots of land across the Niagara region. Wines to try here include Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah.
Vineland Estates Winery – With a 30-year history, Vineland Estates Winery is a local favorite for both food and wine, housed in a welcoming and warm venue. The award-winning Riesling and Cabernet Franc wines pair very well with locally-sourced cuisine.
2. Niagara-on-the-Lake & Surrounds
Niagara-on-the-Lake lies minutes from the border with the United States, just a short drive from Niagara Falls, and around 90 minutes from the Greater Toronto Area. The region is divided into four sub-appellations: Four Mile Creek, Niagara River, Niagara Lakeshore and St. David’s Bench.
The climate at Niagara-on-the-Lake is impacted by proximity to Lake Ontario’s deep waters and the Niagara River’s fast flow, both of which moderate temperatures and ensure a timely spring and long fall.
The region’s topography features gentle slopes that receive lots of sunlight, while soils with a high silt and clay content retain water well, plus the slopes help with drainage.
Wineries in the Niagara-on-the-Lake Area – Ontario Wine Regions
There are 39 wineries in the Niagara-on-the-Lake area, many of which were trailblazers in the earlier years of winegrowing in Onatrio. Some of the best are:
Chateau des Charmes – This winery, run by a fifth-generation French winegrower, was the first commercial vineyard in the whole of Canada to open to visitors. This winery is noted for high-quality wines, some of which are made using European vitis vinifera grapes. Chateau des Charmes also produces a famous Icewine.
Inniskillin Wines – This is the country’s original estate winery, which helped establish the modern Canadian wine industry, pioneering the VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance) system, and was also the first winery in Canada to receive a winery license after the end of prohibition. The table wines produced here are award-winning, but the Icewine is the one to try.
Jackson Triggs Estate Winery – Jackson Triggs is Canada’s most awarded winery, noted for its scale and technological approach to winemaking. The winery is best known for Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Riesling.
Peller Estates Winery & Restaurant – The height of luxury when it comes to winemaking, the Peller Estates Winery has been in operation for over 50 years. There are two restaurants as well as an Icewine lounge on-site, which makes a visit here a fully immersive culinary experience.
Reif Estate Winery – One of the region’s founding wineries, the vineyards at Reif Estate only feature vitis vinifera grapes. The wines produced here are noted for their maturity, while the Vidal Icewine has won over 100 Gold Awards.
3. Prince Edward County
Prince Edward County is a Lake Ontario peninsula, located just a couple of hours away from Toronto. The climate here is moderated by westerly lake breezes, which keep temperatures cool during the warm summer months.
The landscape is made up of hills and valleys, with soils that feature clay, sand and limestone. The stony surfaces allow for good drainage, heat retention and root penetration – all of which is ideal for thriving vines.
Early plantings focused on vitis vinifera varieties of grapes, such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but now the region is developing and experimenting with other varieties, to discover what is best for the terroir. Prince Edward wines are renowned for their minerality and acidity.
Wineries in Prince Edward County – Ontario Wine Regions
There are 20 wineries in Prince Edward County. Some of the best are:
Hinterland Winery – Known for premium sparkling wines, cultivated using an ancestral method originally from the French region of Bugey-Cerdon.
Closson Chase – Known for Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris grapes, which are used in wines made using European traditions and modern viticulture techniques for sustainability.
Rosehall Run – Terroir-driven wines featuring grapes such as Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat, Tempranillo and Gewürztraminer.
Grange of Prince Edward Vineyards and Estate Winery – A mother-daughter winery focused on “wild wines” that each tell a story. Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Gamay, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc are all grown here.
Casa De Winery – Run by a former Italian priest who worked in the wine cellar of his monastery, Casa Dea produces VQA wines, including estate wines, reserve wines and limited edition wines.
4. Lake Erie North Shore
Ontario’s southernmost winemaking region, Lake Erie North Shore (often abbreviated to LENS) is located a few hours’ drive from the Greater Toronto Area, a stone’s throw from the border with the United States.
Being more southern, Lake Erie North Shore benefits from an extended vine growing season, usually with lots of sunlight, ending with early harvests in August, up until late-harvest varieties being picked towards the end of October. As such, some of the country’s finest wines are produced here.
The region’s topography also greatly contributes to the excellent winegrowing conditions, as this appellation is almost entirely surrounded by water: Lake St. Claire, the Detroit River, as well as Lake Erie and its nine island.
Southwest lake breezes and the landscape’s gentle slopes help to balance the climate and provide the region with appropriate drainage.
Wineries at Lake Erie North Shore – Ontario Wine Regions
There are 13 wineries at Lake Erie North Shore. Some of the best are:
Colio Estate Wines – One of Ontario’s first established wineries, Colio was originally founded by a team of three Italian bricklayers! Colio produces a number of estate and limited edition wines, including blends, Icewines and sparkling wines. The Girls’ Night Out product line has won multiple awards.
North 42 Degrees Estate – Run by third-generation farmers, North 42 Degrees Estate is all about southern hospitality, great food and incredible views out over vineyards, lavender fields and the serene Lake Erie.
Pelee Island Winery – With a winegrowing heritage spanning over 40 years, Pelee Island Winery is known for producing fruit-forward wines from Canada’s most southerly vineyards. Really, Pelee Island is its own winegrowing region, sometimes counted as separate from Lake Erie North Shore (as it’s an island and not located on the north shore).
A wide range of grapes are grown here. Whites include Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Scheurebe; reds number Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Shiraz, Tempranillo, Gamay and Zweigelt; while hybrid varieties are also grown, such as Vidal, Seyval Blanc, Baco Noit and Chambourcin.
Viewpointe Estate Winery – As you may guess from the name, Viewpointe is famous for its epic panoramas as much as its wines. The vineyards here produce Auxerrois, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay Pinot Grigo, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Syrah.
Oxley Estate Winery – Oxley is a homely winery known for its food and drink, producing small-lot and fruit-forward wines. Grapes grown here include Riesling, Chardonnay, Auxerrois, Bianca, Hibernal, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Pinot Noir and Regent.
5. Emerging Ontario Wine Regions
Ontario’s viticulture scene is constantly innovating and expanding, including the emergence of new winegrowing regions that are gaining more and more interest outside of the above four wine regions.
Close to Toronto
Several wineries have been established just north of Toronto, offering visitors and residents of the city a convenient day or weekend trip to local vineyards.
Wineries to explore in this region include Windrush Estate Winery, Adamo estate Winery, Holland Marsh Wineries, Gallucci Winery, Willow Springs Winery and Magnotta Winery.
Situated close to Niagara and the Lake Erie North Shore winegrowing regions, Norfolk has a rising wine scene that is generating a lot of buzz.
The two wineries to try here are the Burning Kiln Winery and the Smoke & Gamble – Frisky Beaver, the latter of which is located in the pretty lakeside town of Port Dover.
Georgian Bay has long been famous for its picturesque landscapes, filled with magnificent viewpoints that look out over the green rolling hills and out to the bay. Now, the region is enjoying an up-and-coming wine scene, and the wineries to visit here can be combined with a trip to the bay, Bruce Peninsula and lovely beaches.
The trio of wineries to check out at Georgian Bay is comprised of Coffin Ridge Boutique Winery, Georgian Hills Vineyards and The Roost Wine Co.
In recent years, a number of new wineries have popped up along the shores of Lake Huron, which was already a getaway spot on the map for beaches, a thriving food scene and cultural attractions.
Huron Shores’ winery offerings (listed north to south) include 2nd Streetlight Estate Winery, Maelstrom Winery, Cornerfield Wine Co., Dark Horse Estate Winery Inc., and Alton Farms Estate Winery.
More Ontario Wine Regions, Canada
Although Canada’s wine regions may not be as famous as those of France and Italy, we hope that this guide to the wine regions of Ontario has opened your eyes to the area’s young viticulture scene, from decades-old wineries that pioneered the way and helped establish the winegrowing industry here, to emerging wineries bringing something new to the table.
Let us know your thoughts on Ontario’s wine scene and please provide any recommendations for wines to try, wineries to visit, or vino-focused Canadian attractions you would suggest next.
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