Niagara Mini-Vacation, April 2011 - Part 3

Our second day at Niagara on the Lake didn't go as planned, but we made the most of it.

The forecast was for thunderstorms on day 1 and scattered showers with partial sunshine on day 2, both with temperatures in the 55-60 range. But the storms didn't behave like they predicted, and they sort of missed NOTL on day 1 to come back for round two later on day 2. There was a terrible wind storm from the front, and it pretty much knocked out power all over town for the whole day.

It's weird to talk about storms when I look at these photos, just like it was when we glanced out the window that day. It was beautiful! What's the problem?!

This tree and dozens of others hit power lines, fences, and in a couple of nasty cases, people's homes. It was not good.

We didn't see all the downed trees right away. Our first stop was to find some diner breakfast food in Virgil, a little spot between the Hilton Garden Inn and NOTL proper. The first place we saw had a sign for all-day, $2.99 breakfast, but their power was only half on, and their cash register was down. Instead, we went across the street to Silk's, who also had a $2.99 breakfast. Perfect.

I can only speak for their breakfast special, but it was just what we were looking for. Plus they had electricity, even though they were within walking distance of the first place we tried. If/when we go back to NOTL, we plan to keep that place in mind.

Though only half of the street we visited in Virgil had power, and the wind was so strong you could hardly open the car door, we pressed on, figuring it was a good day for inside activities like drinking wine.

Signs for wineries, popping up on every road.

Niagara on the Lake has a fabulous website where you can find all sorts of info about what to do there. They have a separate page for wineries, which they group by location. John and I spent some time reading reviews on Yelp and TripAdvisor, as well as the wineries' websites, trying to get a sense of the range of prices, hours, and a feel for the place. We had a couple in mind before hand, and they were both on the free NOTL tourist map from the hotel. But we also just sort of stopped where it was convenient as we drove around. Like I mentioned, there are dozens. You could drive down almost any road and see a sign for multiple wineries. The highway signs start advertising them just as you enter Niagara.

I took the photos above while we drove along the Niagara Parkway, a strip along the Niagara River with a lot of B&Bs and wineries, and a 34 KM running/cycling path. This place is like runner heaven and I was sort of disappointed that we didn't get to try any of that out.

Since the weather was sort of nuts that day, some places were in better shape than others to have customers. We stopped at one place that was only sort of open, and the woman working there seemed to have a lot to take care of and she was only one working, so we excused ourselves and went looking elsewhere.

This picture pretty much sums up the day. Storm damage, wineries, and a pretty good experience, even if the weather was nuts. Our two favorite places were Reif Estate Winery and Strewn Winery, and unfortunately I don't have any photos of either one.

Reif was our first stop, and when we got there I wasn't sure it was open. There was a sign on the door, directing us to another entrance, as their main double doors were too vulnerable to wind damage. They didn't have power, and I was sure they were just letting us in to tell us they were closed. Instead, they pointed us toward the bar and a server came over to chat us up. He made an awkward joke that I can't remember and then said, "Go on, laugh! It's a crazy day! Just enjoy it." We really appreciated their attitude toward the whole thing.
We tried four red wines - the Magician (a shiraz/pinot blend, my personal favorite), a Shiraz, Pinot, and Meritage, and ended up buying the Shiraz to have with some spicy fish for our last meal before the comps start. Normally they give you one complimentary taste, and then the next three cost between $1-5.* They also have a $5 tour that we planned to take, had the power been on. When we purchased the wine, however, they didn't include any charge for the tasting, and I thought was pretty classy of them. Maybe it was because their power was out and it was a weird visit, or for some other reason, I don't know. We would definitely like to go back there next time we visit and see the whole place, since there was a lot that we missed in the dark.

I think Strewn was John's favorite. Again, when we pulled up I wasn't sure they were open, but there were probably ten cars parked out front. Just as we opened the doors, two women came out into the foyer area to greet us and said, "The power just came back on!" And John said back, "Obviously. We brought it with us." They have a restaurant and a cooking school with a huge range of classes and packages. It's something we'd love to try in the future. One lady asked if we were there for lunch and said that they weren't ready to open the restaurant at all, since they only just had power. But since we were just there to taste wine, they were happy to serve us, and a very nice lady showed us the tasting room.
Strewn had two sort of tiers of tasting. The first only features wines that are $20 and under, and the other side of the room has their reserve line, that they call Terroir. We stayed on the $20-and-under side of the room, but we did try one red Terroir wine blend that they call the Strewn Three and we bought a bottle of it on sale to take home and save for a special occasion.
My favorite of the white wines was the 2009 Barrel Aged Chardonnay, which we bought and plan to drink after the comps. Their wines are mostly very affordable and the tastes were only fifty cents, so it's a great place to visit for people like me and John.

Still, there were probably a dozen other wineries that looked interesting to us. Since the power was still out all over town, we decided to head home a few hours earlier than planned. But the wind was still so strong that the O. P. P. closed the expressway. We decided to kill a little time at an outlet mall near by. It was nothing to write home about, but not a bad way to spend time while waiting for the wind to die down. The power outage meant that we didn't get to visit as many little stores in NOTL as we planned, so between that and the wineries, we have plenty to do when we go there again. And since it's so close by and such a lovely place to visit, we definitely plan to take another trip to Niagara on the Lake.

*A note about wine tasting: the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO, or "Lick-bow" to my classmates) allows you to taste four wines at each winery in the province, so the fact that you have to pay per taste didn't really bother me as much. Even if we had to pay for them at Reif, it wouldn't have added too much to our bill. That is, unless you want to taste icewine, the local specialty, since it tends to cost a bit more. I've tried it before and am not such a big fan, so we didn't think it was worth the money. But the region does have an Ice Wine Festival that might be fun to check out, if you're into that kind of wine.

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