travel / travel magazine / sep08


Sipping by cycle
By Allen Abel with photography by Joanne McArthur and David Trattles

Six Niagara wineries, a taste of 17 vintages and barely a wobble on the way home

A Niagara bike tour is equal parts vacation, libation and education, a chance to meet vintners and vendors who prove to be refreshingly frank about their Cabernet.
OUT OF THE CITY AND INTO THE FIELDS ride the mounted seven. Our aluminum stallions are 21-speed bicycles, and our empire is the wine country of the Niagara Peninsula, where southern Ontario is pinched between two Great Lakes and the winters are as gentle as lambs, if you consider -20°C mild.

Our itinerary is a slow-paced daylong pedal through the flatlands, pausing at small and large wineries to sample the best of their cellars and casks. If the setting would not quite fulfill Shirley Valentine’s yearning in the film of the same name — “a glass of wine in a country where the grape is grown, sittin’ by the sea” — the vistas of vines and peach orchards and the green Niagara Escarpment are pleasant enough on a summer day.


Click map to enlarge
A Niagara bike tour is equal parts vacation, libation and education, a chance to meet vintners and vendors who prove to be refreshingly frank about their Cabernets. We’ll learn how to breathe while drinking, why two-thirds of the grapes on some vines are discarded before they ripen and what it means when a label promises a hearty red, redolent of — as one bottle we sample claims — “blackberry, leather, rhubarb and coconut.”

We are led by an eager navigator named Jeff Weir from Niagara Wine Tours International of Niagara-on-the-Lake, one of dozens of companies that escort tens of thousands of visitors annually on similar circuits by bus, van and bike. Our group includes a pair of recently affianced Australians, a husband and wife on active duty in the Canadian Forces and my own lovely bride Natasha, who, as we rumble along a rugged woodland track on our way to our first tasting, helpfully points out to the Australian woman a little brook babbling near the trail.

This distraction sends the poor tourist crashing, flailing and wailing into a thicket of saplings and brambles, a spill that causes no serious injuries and turns out to be the only wipeout of the trip. From this point, our route sticks to smoothly paved surfaces, my wife concentrates on sipping, not scenery, and the Aussies keep well away from her.

Any illusions that Canadian winemaking is performed in ivycovered castles by Burgundians in berets are shattered at the very first stop. Rising from the plains is the huge, hypermodern hangar of the Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Winery.

Having endured nearly 15 minutes of non-stop bicycling, we are delighted to spend an hour walking through this winery behind a knowledgeable guide named Jonathan Medhurst, who looks hardly old enough to legally drink.

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