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Summer in a glass. That’s what I found when I went to Jordan, Ont., and the Twenty Valley, an hour-and-a-half’s drive west of Toronto. We might be heading into winter now, but this region, close to St. Catharines overflows with memories of warmer weather, in the form of delicious wines. A sassy younger sister to Niagara-on-the-Lake, this area boasts 28 wineries, plus many fruit farms, funky boutiques and gorgeous parkland.
My first stop was at Featherstone Estate Winery, where sheep keep the vineyard manicured and a falcon named Amadeus scares away pesky starlings that can decimate a crop. “We bring in the lambs annually to do leaf removal on the vines. We call it ‘ewe-unized’ labor,” joked owner David Johnson. When the lambs reach a certain weight, they are sold and end up on local restaurant menus. David’s wife, Louise, joined us with Amadeus perched quietly on her gauntleted arm. “He acts as a deterrent when he flies over the fields. The smaller birds leave,” she explained. Inside, David poured me a splash of of Black Sheep Riesling. It was superb and I savored the fresh, crisp apple flavor tinged with a hint of honey. The winery also offered charcuterie and cheeses that paired wonderfully with the wine. “We cure all our own meats,” said David, explaining that prior to the winery he and Louise operated a butcher shop in Guelph, Ont.
My palate nicely teased, I was ready for a bite of lunch and headed to 13th Street Winery. Before eating, I tasted some of 13th Street’s specialties – sparkling rose, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Gamay Noir. Doug Whitty, the owner, told me his family has owned the property for three generations. “My grandfather came here in 1908 from Ireland during the potato famine,” he explained. His grandfather was drawn to the attractive farmland and an established community of Mennonites who had come up from the New York area during the Battle of 1812 to escape George Washington and his troops. “They valued peace and stability, but were persecuted because they were British supporters,” Doug explained. Lunch was locally produced goat cheese, heirloom tomatoes, and salad, capped with a sinful butter tart for dessert. Heavenly!
Amidst the wineries and rolling farm fields, I came across Balls Falls Conservation Area. There were no falls because the water had been so low on Twenty Mile Creek during the summer but that didn’t matter. Set within the beautiful Twenty Valley, the park was once home to a mill owned by loyalists George and John Ball who came to the area in 1807 after leaving New York. I wandered around the preserved structure, marvelling at the wooden troughs and milling machinery. “It’s one of the oldest surviving flour mills in the province made of wood,” my guide Jill Walters explained. “Milling flour produces a lot of combustible dust and many of the old mills have burned down.” I took a quick peek at the park’s Centre for Conservation, a LEED-Gold Standard (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) structure full of light and laminated maple beams where school groups gathered for educational presentations – a lovely place to learn about the environment.
There was no way I could hit all the wineries, so I picked a few key establishments. At Creekside Winery winemaker Rob Power had me taste a sparkling sauvignon blanc called Backyard Bubbly that was fruity and delicious. During my site tour, a highlight was the barrel cellar, one of the oldest and largest in the Niagara region.
At the Sue-Ann Staff winery, a series of Fancy Farm Girl vintages caught my attention. Flirty Bubbles, Foxy Pink Rose, Frivolous White and Flamboyant Red were available for tasting and my favorite was the bubbly one (surprise!). Sue-Ann’s family has been farming in the region for five generations. She lives in the original farmhouse, where her shop and tasting room are also located. So far, her production is small, 5,000 cases a year, but it is growing, especially since weddings on site (where her wines are exclusively served) have become very popular.
The last winery I visited was Westcott Vineyards where Victoria Westcott graciously showed me around. The winery was started by her dad Grant and step-mother Carolyn. Their first vintage was produced in 2012. The tasting room opened last year and Victoria came on board to lead the customer experience. Some of the wines were named after flowers. I especially enjoyed the Lillias unoaked Chardonnay which was light and crisp with the slight, apple/pear tang of quince. Hanging on the walls were many black and white photos including Carolyn’s great grandmothers. “They were both presidents of Temperance leagues, which is pretty funny considering what the family business is now,” Victoria said with a wink.
We may be heading into winter, but in Twenty Valley you can taste summer year round.
- Featherstone Estate Winery: featherstonewinery.ca
- 13th Street Winery: 13thstreetwinery.com
- Creekside Estate Winery: creeksidewine.com
- Westcott Vineyards: westcottvineyards.com
The quaint town of Jordan is bursting with lovely shops including Valley Jewellers, Pamela’s Tintern Road, Mary Rose’s Lavender Boutique, and Irongate Garden Elements.
Outside St. Catherine’s at Johann Munro’s Shed Pottery look for souvenirs and gifts that are practical and whimsical. shedpotterybyjohann.com
Fruit and Produce: Pick up preserved peaches at Peach Country Country Farm Market peachcountryfarmmaraket.com
WHERE TO STAY
Inn on the Twenty: Boutique hotel in Jordan with 27 rooms with fireplaces and soaker tubs. Breakfast included. innonthetwenty.com
Niagara’s Twenty Valley: twentyvalley.ca