Niagara: The Western Front
Forget the typical swirl-and-sip tasting tour. Niagara’s hands-on fun and gluttonous delights include DIY foraging, boozy picnics and long evenings spent feasting on the bounty of nearby farms
Pick, Stomp and Taste
Flat Rock Cellars sets itself apart from Niagara’s 70-odd wineries not just with its award-winning pinot noir and chardonnay, but also with its interactive tours. During the last two weekends in September, up to 25 guests head out to the fields with winemaker Jay Johnston to hand-pick grapes, then stomp the juice out in half-barrels, I Love Lucy–style. Tastings, of both the pre-fermented and finished products, help illustrate exactly how grapes are transformed into wine. More importantly, they’re killer fun. $25 per person. 2727 Seventh Ave., Jordan, 905-562-8994.
For those who wouldn’t know the difference between watercress and poison ivy, a guided tour is a good plan. On June 8, veteran forager Peter Blush will lead a two-and-a-half-hour walk to seek out native herbs (lavender, mint) mushrooms (morel, angel wing and oyster) and fiddleheads. Along the way, he’ll explain the ethics of the trade (how not to overpick) as well as tips to avoid rashes and upset stomachs. The hunt ends at Southbrook Vineyards, where chefs Nicole and Jason Sawatsky turn the day’s pickings into a top-tier dinner. $125 per person. 289-690-8687.
Park Place Bed and Breakfast
The charms of this Queen Anne mansion are obvious. It’s only a kilometre and a half from the Falls, but is surrounded by gardens and feels worlds away from campy Clifton Hill. The suites still have much of the original oak woodwork, but have been updated with flat screen TVs and gas fireplaces. 4851 River Rd., Niagara Falls, 905-358-0279.
Treadwell Farm to Table
Niagara’s poshest restaurant has been set free. Last summer, Treadwell moved from its original Port Dalhousie location to Niagara-on-the-Lake and conducted a serious makeunder, abandoning the starched linen tableclothes and somber grey walls for contemporary wood tabletops, pops of orange and a 50-seat patio. The food, however, is as sophisticated as ever, and local ingredients—Cumbrae Farms lamb, Lake Erie perch and Colbey’s wild honey—are given five-star treatment. The wine cellar is legendary for a reason: over 200 selections represent the region’s finest. 114 Queen St., Niagara-on-the-Lake, 905-934-9797.
Niagara has an ever-growing fleet of innovative gourmet food trucks (we’re partial to the cod tacos from St. Catharines’ El Gastrónomo Vagabundo). Like Toronto, however, the region has restrictive rules about where the four-wheeled restos can park and serve. So every Wednesday night during spring and summer, 18 to 20 vendors park across the street from Jackson-Triggs Winery and throw a massive picnic. On offer: freshly shucked oysters, pork buns, grilled cheese sandwiches and burgers, plus live music, craft beer from Oast House and Silversmith, and a selection of local wines. 4:30 to dusk, until Sept. 17. 111 Garrison Village Dr., Niagara-on-the-Lake, 905-932-5936.