By KAREN HAYNES
The single-lane winding road is autumn picturesque as it runs alongside and mimics the curves of the Niagara River. Both sides of the pavement are lined with trees beginning to cast away the summer season as speckles of red, orange and yellow decorate the vibrant green grass beneath each fallen leaf.
Every home becomes more magnificent than the last, set back from the road facing the colourful yet quiet views of nature, standing tall and wide as one might imagine an aged family estate would.
Despite the light raindrops that bounce off my windshield, I could drive this road for hours and not become restless or bored of the views. It is the perfect prelude to Niagara-on-the-Lake and the numerous wineries that are legendary in the Niagara Peninsula.
This breathtaking scene is in good company. Inniskillin, a world renowned winery, known for its internationally celebrated icewine, sits on Brae Burn Estate’s 33 acres. Brae Burn, meaning hill and stream, is appropriately named after the Niagara Escarpment and Niagara River and is just five minutes from the historical town.
The Brae Burn Estate is an Inniskillin landmark. Originally built as a barn in 1920, the winery’s grand boutique was renovated in 2007. Rustic meets contemporary as the simple cloudy grey ceramic floor lay beneath a maze of exposed wooden beams that interlock to the highest point in the boutique’s vaulted ceilings. The original nails and bolts are nearly a century old and are surrounded by modern pendant lighting, steel furnishings and four bar tops for visitors to taste the vineyard’s prize-winning wine.
Inniskillin, like many wineries in the area, offers visitors an hour-long tour followed by a wine tasting, seven days a week. Five dollars will buy you an hour and a half with one of the vineyard’s tour guides.
Marta Jovanovic is slight in stature, with blond shoulder-length hair pulled away from rosy cheeks. A friendly smile and exaggerated hand gestures keep you intrigued throughout her in-depth yet eloquent recount of the winery’s history and evolution. Four years with Inniskillin has earned her vast knowledge of the winery and a skilfully crafted delivery as a tour guide.
Beginning in the Brae Burn Boutique, Jovanovic distributes black Inniskillin umbrellas to each woman in my tour group. We venture off into the damp drizzle to learn about Niagara’s mineral-rich soil and cool climate that allows for the flourishing growth of vitis vinifera, a common grapevine that nurtures the grapes of Pinot Noir, Riesling and Vidal icewine.
Instantly I feel tiny as each row of never-ending vines, precisely straight and in-line with the next, blanket the landscape that surround the boutique like a lightweight woven area rug.
The cool breeze of autumn chills my skin as the scent of fresh wine saturates the air. With each inhaled breath comes the fragrant aroma of oaked, sweet and spicy wines. Decorating the red brick beneath our feet stands a pyramid of oversized wooden barrels, each top embellished with the golden Inniskillin trademark logo.
Jovanovic ushers the group to the bottom of the worn stone steps. Raindrops drip from the ledge above the door, landing softly on the head of each who entered the dimly lit room. She brings the group into the heart of the winery.
Through two heavy black wrought iron doors sleep the winery’s best.
Wine bottles of all ages lay atop rustic red brick shelves in quiet reverence to the vineyard’s historic prominence on the world stage.
Jovanovic fluently articulates that in 1975 the Inniskillin founders, Karl Kaiser and Donald Ziraldo, received the first winery licence issued in Ontario since prohibition. Nine years later Kaiser took advantage of Canada’s cold winter season and dared to harvest icewine – a first for both the winery and Niagara Region.
Her generous hand gestures emphasize this crucial moment for the winery. Inniskillin went on to partner with Riedel, the world’s largest wine glass company, located in Austria, to make the universally recognized icewine glass and in 1991 won the Grand Prix d’Honneur, an international award for its 1989 Vidal icewine.
And so, inside the romantic, medieval-like cellar, lay the bottled wines in hushed silence.
Bringing the tour in full circle, Jovanovic leads the group back to the boutique for what I had been greatly anticipating.
The wine tasting.
Leaning against one of the long white marble bar tops, the four women of Jovanovic’s 12:30 p.m. tour inspect, smell and swirl their first glass of wine.
A young Riesling from 2010 is such a faint pale yellow it is almost translucent. I follow Jovanovic’s demonstration and fully engulf my nose in the light, spotless wine glass and the fresh fragrance of pear and citrus waft into my nostrils. She instructs that the first sip always cleanses your palate, and it isn’t until the second one that you’ll get the full flavour. She is correct.
The second sip is much softer in taste with citrus flavours.
Our second glass is a Shiraz Cabernet from 2009. In its depth it is ruby red, however, its meniscus is a pale purple, signalling its similar youthful quality. The oaked red wine smells of red fruit and spice. The first sip leaves my mouth dry while the second is full of tasty, spicy, white peppercorn.
Finally, the infamous Vidal icewine is poured. It sits in Riedel’s intended wine glass and is a perfect golden yellow. Its sugary smell is reminiscent of tropical flavours.
The wine rushes over our tongues to the back of our mouths and we savour the long-lasting sweet taste of fresh peaches and mangos. The group of women exchange smiles and spontaneously vote.
Inniskillin icewine was well worth the wait.