Tasting wine in the place where it’s made and aged while looking across the vineyard that produced the grapes can feel like being on the right side of the velvet rope. Canada’s wineries, from Newfoundland and Labrador to British Columbia, offer experiences beyond the tasting rooms, including award-winning menus and world-class accommodations.
Old school, new methods
At Covert Farms Family Estate near Oliver, B.C., proprietor and winemaker Gene Covert is full of knowledge when he takes guests on a behind-the-scenes tour. Four generations have worked the land on his family’s 650-acre estate, which Covert takes visitors through on a 90-minute tour from behind the wheel of a 1952 cherry-red Mercury truck. Covert is passionate about the farming ecosystem because it makes for great wine. The estate is home to longhorn cattle that graze on ground-cover crops sowed between the vines, providing natural fertilizer for the regenerative, organic farm. Tastings are held at outdoor tables, a pavilion under the trees or in an open log barn. Charcuterie spreads and picnics include Covert estate wine (check out the 2018 Amicitia, with notes of rich fruit and hints of hazelnuts), local cheeses and charcuterie, plus vegetables and fruit grown a few feet away. There’s live music Sunday. You can also have a private campfire cookout with s’mores for dessert. Add a glass of 2020 Sparkling Zinfandel for a perfect summer evening.
Covert Farms Family Estate, covertfarms.ca
The new breed
The walk to the Vignoble du Ruisseau tasting room makes for a picturesque introduction to the winery. Guests cross over the stream the estate is named for, via a charming brick-red covered bridge. Located in Dunham in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, the family-owned winery, distillery and sugar shack first opened in 2016. The focus is on sustainability, including a patented geothermal system that protects red wine vines from punishing winter cold.
Co-owner and sommelier Sara Gaston, 32, and her husband partnered with her parents on the business, which she calls her “third baby.” Gaston says there’s no room for wine snobbery in a good tasting room, where well-trained staff help guests feel like family. The upscale sugar shack serves winter menus and becomes the Bistro dining room and outdoor terrace in summer. Chef Samuel Bourice, 28, focuses on the bounty of the winery’s organic garden, along with pork and beef raised on the estate, often using smoke and live fire to create dishes. “Since the pandemic everybody wants to buy local, buy organic, do-it-yourself, so the way we’ve done it from the beginning with the winery is very attractive now,” Gaston says.
There are a variety of experiences, including vineyard tours and tastings in the vaulted barrel room, plus plans for a high-end boutique winery hotel in 2023.
Vignoble de Ruisseau, levignobleduruisseau.com/en/
The hip sip
Jacqueline Boyd, co-owner of Therapy Vineyards on the Okanagan’s Naramata Bench, is used to hearing the call from guests when they walk into the winery’s Farmacy tasting room: “I need a session!”
With cheeky names like Pink Freud 2020 rosé and Freudian Sip white blend, the winery shows its playful side. But it’s also serious about making delicious wine under the leadership of New Zealand-born winemaker Jacq Kemp, part of the mostly female management team at the winery.
The property underwent a major renovation when Boyd and husband Mike purchased it five years ago. They added a sleek oblong bar in the tasting room, which now has a wall of windows overlooking the vines and Okanagan Lake. “We wanted to elaborate the whole experience, from the wine, to when people arrive and when they stay with us,” says Boyd. A new restaurant is soon to open over the tasting room with a menu designed by Executive chef Shelley Robinson.
Guests are greeted with a glass of wine and cookies when they check into one of five luxury rooms at The Inn at Therapy. Need some relaxation therapy after a day of wine tastings? There’s an oversized hot tub and firepit for that.
Therapy Vineyards, https://www.therapyvineyards.com/
The adult’s playground
Madison Vine of Peller Estates says she enjoys hearing the Niagara-on-the-Lake winery described as being akin to an adults’ playground. “We have a little something for everybody,” says Vine, a marketing manager with Andrew Peller Ltd. “There’s so much to do, you’re almost overwhelmed with options.”
With the 2021 acquisition of neighbouring 21-room, Georgian-style Riverbend Inn & Vineyards, Peller expands its winery experience to include overnight stays. The inn is also home to The Oaklands restaurant, helmed by Prince Edward Island native chef Ross Midgley.
Meanwhile, Executive Chef Jason Parsons specializes in farm-to-table wine country cuisine in the luxe Winery Restaurant dining room at Peller Estates. Opt for private group dining in the Peller Family Dining Room or the wine library and underground barrel cellar. Winery visits include wine and food events like Peller’s Perfect Pairings, where Parsons matches wines with tasting plates.
Named for the ideal temperature for harvesting ice wine grapes, Vine says one of the most popular experiences is the 10Below Icewine Lounge. Part of the estate’s Greatest Winery Tour experience, guests don parkas to visit a tasting room built entirely from ice to sample icewine, one of Peller’s key products. “It shows our love of ice wine and our passion for it,” says Vine.
Peller Estates Winery and Restaurant, https://www.peller.com/
The grand dame
Atlantic Canada’s oldest farm winery, Domaine de Grand Pré, has a European feel but wears its Canadian heritage well with stunning views of the vines, UNESCO World Heritage Site landscape and the Bay of Fundy in the distance. Situated on the Evangeline Trail in Nova Scotia’s photogenic Annapolis Valley, the winery opened a six-suite inn last summer in the estate’s circa-1828 heritage home.
“The location is unique, a quaint little place in a historic district,” says co-owner Beatrice Stutz, whose Swiss-born father began the family run winery in the early 1990s. Her brother, Jürg, is the winemaker and Stutz’s husband, Jason Lynch, blends classic French cooking with local, seasonal cuisine as executive chef at winery restaurant Le Caveau.
“When you step into the winery, it kind of transforms you,” says Stutz. “You think you’re in France or Italy.” There’s a striking stonework courtyard at the heart of the estate, which is known for its excellent white wines, including Nova Scotia’s premier white variety, Tidal Bay, plus sparkling varieties and Vidal ice wine.
Wine has been made in Nova Scotia since French settlers arrived in the 17th century and Stutz says the experience of staying on a winery and being part of the daily life of the farm is an enriching experience. “You feel part of it,” she says. “You can wake up, grab your coffee and go for a stroll through the vineyard.”
Domaine de Grand Pré, https://grandprewines.com/