Best of Lake Erie: Featuring Ontario's North Shore
What’s your thing? The thrill of walking on a high wire through treetops or the pleasure of sipping a Chardonnay on a patio overlooking the vineyards? Are you in the mood to explore a pirate ship or discover an outdoor sculpture garden? Should your weekend plans include a covered bridge tour or a ride on a classic wooden boat? Happily, Lake Erie’s shores have something for everyone. So, grab the family or a friend and set out to find your own fun.
Best Windsor Weekend
To most folks, the city of Windsor in Ontario represents pretty much one thing — casino fun. But the riverfront town and the countryside that surrounds it is a delight for anyone who loves wine, good food, history, nature or just being near the water.
We opt to stay at the hotel at Caesars Windsor. It’s a AAA Four Diamond property and our room is spacious and sparkling clean and overlooks the river and the Detroit skyline — a view that twinkles at night and inspires by day when Windsor’s 4-mile waterfront trail is filled with walkers, joggers and bikers.
We take this trail the next morning and head northeast to the neighborhood of Walkerville, a company town launched by Hiram Walker in 1858 to house his Canadian Club whiskey distillery and its laborers. We amble along the shady side streets and marvel at the Tudor and Romanesque revivals that must have been built for management.
The plant is open for tours and tastings, but we save that experience for another time and head to breakfast at the Twisted Apron (519-256-2665, thetwistedapron.com). The attached general store is lined with jars of jam and pickled asparagus that are canned onsite. We order the daily chef’s omelet, made with leek, crab and brie. The coffee is good enough to ask about. Turns out, it’s made 10 minutes away at Colonial Coffee’s roasting facility.
Afterward, we walk just down the street to the Walkerville Brewery (519-254-6067, walkervillebrewery.com), a microbrewery that doubles as a mini-museum of the Prohibition era in America and Canada. Large story boards line the walls, telling the tale of how whiskey and rum made its way across the border.
We walk back to our car and make our way south. The city surrounding us soon becomes suburban and, within 20 minutes, we’re on country roads that ramble past farms and fruit stands. In less than an hour, we’ve reached the lake and the road that runs along it connecting about half of the 16 wineries in the area.
Our first stop is Oxley Estate Wines, which has a large indoor tasting area and retail shop and a comfortable, shaded, outdoor patio with a fireplace. Next up is Viewpointe Estate Winery, which offers stunning views of the lake off its back patio, making it a must-see on the North Shore. We end up visiting a half dozen wineries and make our last stop at Pelee Island Winery’s mainland location (there is also one on Pelee Island). Its large indoor tasting area was bested only by the outdoor pavilion with picnic tables just feet from the vineyards, perfect for sipping the cabernet sauvignon we ordered.
Most of the wineries on the North Shore serve food and some, like Oxley and Viewpointe, have chefs and more extensive menus, but we opt to save our appetite for a restaurant on the way back in Kingsville — Jack’s Gastropub (519-733-6900, jacksgastropub.com). Located in a sprawling old home built in 1907 with a wrap-around front porch, the restaurant is known for its burgers (which were made with seasoned breadcrumbs and delicious), but offers a dinner menu, as well, including Mojito mahi and Rosemary Meatloaf.
The pub is the ideal ending to our day, but we’re left with one regret — not trying dessert at Jack’s, especially the chevre brownies. They would have paired nicely with the Pelee Merlot on the wine list.
Contact Caesars Windsor at 877-242-7724 or caesarswindsor.com for hotel reservations. For a map of all the wineries on the North Shore call 800-265-3633 or download one at visitwindsoressex.com
The North Shore of Lake Erie is home to 16 wineries — all within a short drive of each other. Here are some of our favorite wine selections from the region.
Wowza 2013 by Oxley Estate Wines. $15.95 CAD. A straw-colored blend with notes of honeydew, mango, banana and citrus that tastes like summer in a bottle. Harrow, Ontario, 519-738-3264, oxleyestatewinery.com
2010 Chambourcin by Erie Shore Vineyard. $12.95 CAD. These grapes from the Loire Valley are tricky to grow, and winery proprietor Alma Hollingshead almost threw in the trowel 10 years ago. “But then, they started to come into their own,” she says. The result is this complex vintage that pairs well with red meat or Hollingshead’s favorite — Swiss dark chocolate. Harrow, Ontario, 519-738-9858, erieshore.ca
2005 Barrique Chardonnay by Pelee Island Winery. $13.85 CAD. This winery has two outlets — one on Pelee Island and one on the mainland. At the latter, we run into winery president Walter Schmoranz and try his favorite — this oaked Chardonnay. We sip it outside at the picnic tables overlooking the vines. Buttery smooth perfection. Kingsville, Ontario, 519-733-6551, peleeisland.com
2013 Bricklayer’s Predicament Cabernet-Merlot by Colio Estate Wines. $14.95 CAD. This blend’s bouquet is dark fruit and vanilla on the nose with toasted oak on the finish. It pairs well with pasta, strong cheeses and grilled beef. Harrow, 519-738-2241, coliowinery.com
2008 Cabernet Sauvignon by Colchester Ridge Estate Winery. $25 CAD. A big, smooth wine that delivers blackberry, black cherry, currant and a hint of bitter chocolate. It’s known for catching the palate of actor George Clooney, who tried it at a restaurant while filming in Detroit, then made a trip to the winery himself and ordered two cases. Harrow, Ontario, 519-738-9800, colchesterridge.com
Don’t want to drive? No problem. Grape Vine Tours (519-796-1543, grapevinetours.ca) offers small group tours to four wineries with a gourmet lunch and tastings ($80 CAD per person). Both Farm Dog Cycles (519-551-1613, farmdogcylces.com) and WindsorEats (519-982-5212, windsoreats.com) offer small group bicycle tours ranging from $55 to $75 CAD.
Nature Lover? Add Point Pelee National Park in Leamington to your itinerary. It’s a top birding spot in the fall and a great place to take a hike. 519-322-2365, www.pc.gc.ca
Prefer a Bed-and-Breakfast? Stay at the Woodbridge House, in the heart of wine country. Rooms start at $125 CAD. Kingsville, 519-712-9543, thewoodbridgehouse.ca
You like the nightlife? Lots of big acts come to the 5,000-seat theater at Caesers Windsor, including Alan Jackson (Sept. 5), Alanis Morissette (Sept. 26), Sarah McLachlan (Nov. 8) and Air Supply (Nov. 29). 877-242-7724, caesarswindsor.com/shows.html