As a young adult in Northern Ontario, the only “regional” wine I remember drinking was homemade vino that someone had liberated from their parents’ basement. I couldn’t tell a merlot from a shiraz, but I did know whose dad made the best wines. Even if it was free, given a choice I’d take a bottle from David’s house over Sergio’s any day. But if I were buying…well really, who would take a bottle of Ontario wine to a nice dinner party?
It seems that as my palate was maturing, so was Ontario’s wine industry and as an adult I’ve discovered the joy of fine wines made close to home. I had already toured Niagara, Prince Edward County, Pelee Island and Lake Erie North Shore when I read about Ontario’s newest emerging wine regions north of Toronto. When I realized my sister and I would drive through some prime wine country on our girls’ getaway, we had to plan our road trip accordingly.
We drove through the Oak Ridges Moraine north of Toronto, and dropped by Willow Springs Winery. Lovely countryside setting, literally minutes from the north edge of the GTA. Perfect place for a wedding, with a villa by the spring-fed pond where the wedding party can stay. After being sidetracked by visions of our kids’ future weddings, we got back to the task at hand – the wine!
During the impromptu tour and tasting we learned that Willow Springs was the first VQA winery in the region. And that the Testa family has a long history of wine making, dating back centuries to its roots in Italy. No one can tell us whether the Testa patriarch who purchased the land when he immigrated to Canada knew that the terroir of the moraine made it an ideal place to plant his grapevines. Whether it was an informed or an instinctive decision, it is clear now that it was a good one, as confirmed by the silver medals its Vidal Ice Wine and Merlot garnered at the 2012 Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. We left with a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc in hand and quite enjoyed it that evening while sitting on the deck by the lake.
Fast forward to our drive home a few days later. Our wine stock now depleted, we were happy to stop at Magnotta Winery, just north of the 401 in Vaughn. We were disappointed to learn the winery’s closest vineyard was actually in Niagara peninsula (hardly an emerging region!) but that let-down quickly paled when we began exploring. Magnotta’s flagship store is worth a visit just for the visuals, from the Italian-villa styled courtyard to the paintings and sculptures indoors. The winery’s label designs are based on their artwork, prompting us to play “find the inspiration for this label”, as we tried to match the wine bottles with the paintings on the walls.
Magnotta’s is like a mini-LCBO, offering 180 different wines. The winery imports raw materials from around the globe to make custom blends, including from the family vineyard in the Maipo Valley in Chile. One claim to fame: Magnotta’s was the world’s first producer of sparkling ice wines. Some spirits, like the ice grappa and brandy, are produced from its ice wine and icewine grapes. Not content with being a globally recognized winemaker, Magnotta’s also has a brewery and a distillery.
A few samples later we were on our way with a Special Reserve Gewürztraminer, white Zinfandel and another Sauvignon Blanc stashed in the trunk. After all we still had a weekend to enjoy, and two hard-working husbands at home who deserved a special treat!
Kym Wolfe is a local freelance writer who always enjoys road trips with her sister.