Visiting wine country
Visa Infinite Welcomes you to Wine Country
Once again Visa Infinite rasies the bar with a new collection of experiences that prompt to delight, enchant and amaze with the launch of the new Visa Infinite Wine Country Experiences program. Visa Infinite has collaborated with Wine Country Ontario to give cardholders access to special benefits at over 30 wineries, including complimentary tastings, exclusive winery experiences, discounts and more. Click here for details and benefits.
Visiting Wine County - here are some quick tips
If you’re thinking about visiting wine country, but have never set foot inside a winery before, you may not know what to expect. Where to go? What to do? How to pronounce “Gewürztraminer”?
Relax. There’s really only one thing that makes a visit to wine country great—enjoying yourself. And, in Wine Country Ontario, we’re all about making sure you enjoy yourself.
That’s why we put together this section, to anticipate and answer many of your questions: selecting wineries to visit, how winery tours usually operate, choosing wines to sample, how to taste wine, and what to do with the kids.
Read on, and rest assured; there’s no test at the end, other than one question: “Did you have fun?”
All about tours
Decide on a designated driver
Although you can visit wine country by train, bike, bus or helicopter, the reality is that most visitors travel around wine country by car. Please make sure you have a designated driver—we want your trip to be safe, as well as fun.
Choosing where to go
Ontario is the proud home to nearly 100 wineries, so you’ll need to narrow your choices when deciding on where to go. Expect a lot of variety: Our talented winemakers are as diverse as the wines they produce. Some were trained at the oldest institutions in the world, while others were schooled in our own backyard. Some prefer to uphold time-honoured winemaking traditions, while others seek to shatter preconceived notions. But for their differences, they all have something very important in common: They love Ontario wine, and they want you to love it too.
The easiest way to start is by picking a destination—Niagara-on-the-Lake, Niagara Escarpment & Twenty Valley, Lake Erie North Shore & Pelee Island, Prince Edward County or another. Or, start with a winery you want to visit, and check out others nearby.
If your tour is leisurely or you are only planning to stop at a few wineries, you may want to consider specific itineraries. For example, if you’re eco-conscious, you might decide to tour LEED-certified wineries and other environmentally friendly facilities. Or, if you have a favourite single-varietal wine, you may wish to limit your tour to the wineries that specialize in it.
(As an aside, a “wine tour” is a trip in which you visit a number of different wineries, while a “winery tour” is a guided walk through a single winery.)
Once you have a few wineries selected, use our Wine Route Planner to create your own customized wine route. You can also book and pay for your tour in advance, online, at select wineries.
What to expect
No matter what your itinerary, you’ll find there’s a lot to see and do. Most wineries have a retail area and a tasting bar, where you can typically sample some wines. The majority also offer walking tours of their vineyards and facilities (usually for a small fee), where visitors learn about the history of the winery and see how the wine is produced.
Normally, these tours are guided, last about an hour and end with a step-by-step tasting. Some wineries host public tours at scheduled times throughout the day; others have call-ahead, private tours. Tours tend to be more frequent in the summer, which also means that you can expect smaller groups in the winter. Plan to visit no more than five or six wineries in a day.
Finally, don’t forget to confirm each winery’s schedule and tour policies—most have this information on their websites.
Off the beaten path
Naturally, Wine Country Ontario is best known for its premium wines and the innovative wineries that produce them, year after year. But wine country boasts countless hidden gems (think fruit stands, bakeries, cafés, parks and landmarks) that make up in charm what they lack in size.
Our wine-country insiders have put together a list of favourite places off the beaten path. When you visit our regions, be sure to check out some of the following:
Lake Erie North Shore
- Bird Sanctuary
- Point Pelee National Park
- BBQ at the Pelee Island Pavilion
- Ball’s Falls
- Niagara Parkway bike path
- Bruce Trail hike
- 1812 historical sites
- Welland Canal
- Jordan Village
- Golf courses
Prince Edward County
- Sandbanks Provincial Park
Have a favourite of your own? Send it to us!
Travelling with kids
If you’re travelling with small children, rest assured that many of our wineries offer activities and alternatives for young visitors—such as non-alcoholic beverages to drink, colouring books and crayons to use, and sports equipment (like soccer balls and bocce sets) to play with.
Outside the wineries themselves, each region features parks, restaurants, shops and events that cater to every member of the family, regardless of age.
When planning your itinerary, contact each winery first to see if they offer child-friendly activities (or look for the ones that have playground equipment on site). That way, you can ensure that everyone enjoys their wine-country experience.
Travelling with pets
Four-legged family members are always welcome in wine country, and with countless parks, trails and public gardens, they’re sure to enjoy themselves—and get some exercise. Unfortunately, due to health regulations, animals are not permitted to enter wine-production facilities. But some wineries do allow visitors to bring leashed or carried pets into their tasting rooms and retail stores.
Each establishment sets its own pet policy, so be sure to call ahead and ask about it if you’re planning to bring any furry friends along.
Winery staff are experts in wine-tasting etiquette, and they’re happy to answer any of your questions. But to help you get ready for your visit, here are some basics for approaching the bar:
Avoid wearing strong fragrances. Perfume or cologne—even heavily scented skin or hair products—can interfere with the aromas of the wine, making it difficult for you, and those around you, to fully appreciate what you’re sampling.
Be prepared to pay for the tasting. Wineries often price their tastings based on the cost of the wine, and those that make their top-tier offerings available to sample will likely charge accordingly. Some, but not all, wineries waive or refund the tasting-bar fee if you buy a bottle of wine.
Cleanse your palate before/between wines (with a sip of water or a cracker). This will “reset” your taste buds, so the flavours of the different wines won’t overlap.
Taste the wines in order of strength (sparkling to white to red to dessert), sweetness (dry to sweet) and age (young to old). Otherwise, the stronger and sweeter wines will overpower the lighter and drier ones. If you’re taking part in a guided tasting, the winery will choose the order for you. If you’re at a tasting bar, just ask the attendant to help you with the order.
Appreciate each wine by sight, smell and taste (in that order). Think about it as starting from the top of your head and working your way down: eyes to nose to mouth.
Feel free to swish the wine in your mouth or quietly gargle it. You may feel silly, but a wine will only reveal its full complexity when it’s mingled with oxygen. Decanting it and swirling it in a glass will also serve this purpose.
Spitting is sometimes advisable—and it’s always acceptable. If you plan to sample a large number of wines on your tour, it’s best to spit (into communal or personal spittoons) after you’ve sipped each one. Otherwise, the alcohol will begin to affect your judgment after a while.
Even if you don’t spit, you don’t have to finish each wine. The point of a tasting is to sample the wine, and this can be done with just an ounce or two. Once you’ve tasted to your satisfaction, leave what’s left in the glass and move on if you’d like. Believe us, wineries expect this—you won’t hurt anyone’s feelings.
When describing the bouquet and flavours of a wine, don’t be afraid to guess. Everyone’s palate is different. The aromas and flavours that you detect may differ from those recognized by others—there is no right or wrong.
Finally, remember that you don’t have to like everything! A wine may be well made and critically acclaimed, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to like it best. Wine appreciation is a personal thing. If everyone preferred the same flavours, we wouldn’t have the great range of wines—varietals and blends alike—that we enjoy in Ontario. Trust your tastebuds!