For years, I dreamt about going on a wine tour. After prolonged procrastination, I finally took action. On a cold winter day in November, I began my first wine tasting journey in Niagara – the wine country in Ontario.
As a novice wine taster, I did not know where to start. How should I begin? Where should I go?
Guess what. My first stop was actually going to the book store and got a book on wine tasting! I drink wines socially. Yet, I do not really know too much about wine making. So, giving myself a crash course seemed logical and it proved to me rewarding!
And, how could I drink and drive? No idea. How could I go to as many wineries as possible in one day with no plan? Joining a tour.
I would love to start with a lunch at a winery. Too bad. As a single traveler during low season, I was not exactly the kind of customers tour companies would welcome. Even if you are willing to pay more, there is simply no tour unless you travel in a group.
Lucky for me though. After getting a few cold “no”, a heart-warming voice rang in my ears, “Sorry. We could not accommodate you but I had a great suggestion for you.”
No lunch still. But, instead, he offered a 4-hour tour which would give me a quick sweep of FOUR wineries in the Niagara-on-the-Lake region and one of which would also offer cheese pairing. Nice.
1. Hassle free – Yes, you do not have to do the research, check out the routes or worry about getting lost or drink and drive. In winter time, it has an added benefit. I encountered a big snow storm upon arrival! So, having someone to drive through the slippery roads was absolutely my smartest decision!
2. Tasting buddies – Wine tasting works best if you can discuss and share the experience with others. There is no better way to enlighten yourself with someone you can talk to! “Oh, it is smoky”. “I think it tastes like apple”. “Is there vanilla in there?” The exchanges I had with my fellow travelers were fun and rewarding!
3. Get drunk – Seriously, the staff at the wineries would encourage you to drink more, so you may end up drinking a lot. I drank like 24 glasses during that 4-hour period. Technically, you can spit it out. But, well….
1. Missing out – My tour had a good mix of wineries. Award winning ones mixed with small ones with characters or a niche. The problem is: you don’t know if they are the BEST ones. You may miss out some good ones. Given most tourists will have limited time, if the wineries suck, it is no point of return.
2. No flexibility – Like any other tours, you have no control on the itinerary. You can’t choose the wineries you want to go. So, sometimes, you may not like it and want to leave early. You can’t. And, for me, I wanted to go OUTSIDE to the vineyard at one of the wineries specialized in producing icewines. The majority preferred to check out the cellar instead. I didn’t object. But, while they were engaged in additional tasting, I decided to go out to embrace the cold.
3. Lucky draw – You cannot really choose your travel companions. I was lucky as my fellow tourists were kind and engaging. Yet, there is no guarantee. You will be stuck with whoever in the tour. Good luck!
Although I had a good tour, I still felt something was missing. So, on Day 2 of my stay in the wine country, I rented a car. I always enjoy a road trip – feeling so free. Unlike joining a tour, planning and research is part and parcel. With technology these days, it all becomes a piece of cake even I did not have advanced planning. Here are some tips to get the best out of it:
1. Search for bargains – It won’t take long. Just a google search. I had two big savings. First, I found an online coupon which gave me a 10% discount of my car rental. My best saving is on the winery lunch. There are so many choices in the region. By chance, I stumbled on the “Fabulicious” event at Ravine Vineyard. For $25, I got a 3-course lunch. Since I budgeted for $60, I used the extra savings to order an extra pig-pan and a wine flight.
2. Goodies everywhere – You will be surprised sometimes. Although on the winery website there should be a daily tour, I was told there was none upon arrival at the winery restaurant. However, I still asked the waitress to check for me. And, she kindly told me that they would arrange a complimentary personal tour for me. I believe partly because it was the low season, the winery was willing to go an extra mile.
Another example: I visited a chocolate factory before I headed to the winery for lunch. Most visitors there had a voucher for a tour. I did not have one. I was prepared to pay for it. At the end, I got it for free with a few icewine truffles as treats. Technically, it was not exactly free since I made small souvenir purchases. Yet, it was still a sweet bonus!
So, don’t be shy to ask.
3. Be dare
– One of the best things about driving tour is you can go anywhere you want. And, I love driving randomly to explore the unknown territory, usually off the recommended routes or scenic locations. With GPS, there’s little chance to get lost. That was how I got some of my most amazing shots, amid the winter blue. My only regret was I did not get the scenic view as in the summer time.
With a bit of luck, I had one of the most amazing culinary experiences. I would certainly do it again – for the fun, the knowledge and the enjoyment!
1. This is a record of my travel experience. It is NOT a sponsored post. Like most of the travelers, I found the tour company Grape Escape Wine Tours through tripadvisor. I listed it here only because it did offer me a good experience and deserve the credit. Do your own research, though.
4. I did not share any of my tasting notes in this post because I don’t think I am an expert on wine tasting. So, the focus of this post is to serve those who want to try out a wine tasting tour but do not know where to start – just like me!
Winter Wine Getaway – The Prelude