Nearly an island

Since last year’s camping excursion went so well we decided to take another crack at it this year. So, last weekend Nellie and I booked a campsite way in advance for the relatively bug-free end-of-August.

There was, however, a bit of a snafu with the rental car reservation. And by “snafu” I mean that I completely bollocksed it up and reserved it for the wrong weekend. Trying to book a rental car 12 hours before you need leads to some predictably ridiculous prices, so once again it was Autoshare to the rescue. We knew we’d have a bit of a mileage penalty, but there was a car nearby and available, so we jumped on it. Crisis: narrowly avoided. Hooray for choice!

The drive to the park was much, much shorter than our drive to Algonquin last year. Presqu’ile is only about two hours away, and since we left Saturday (and came back Monday) we were more or less problem-free on the roads. Our campsite was fantastic too…lots of room, good privacy (relatively speaking…it was a very busy campground) and literally steps to the shore of Lake Ontario. Nellie’s early planning had paid off in a great site. We even had a second picnic table where we could do all our storage and prep!

Because we were so close to the lake, we decided to cool down from all the setup by jumping in the lake. You can’t quite tell from that picture, but trust me…the lake was right there. By the time we got back  in, dried off and changed it was time to make dinner. The first night’s meal was pulled pork (from Cumbrae’s) on hot dog buns, along with corn on the cob. It was amazing.

We tried to pair it with a Fielding Riesling, which didn’t really work at all, but whatever — we had beer. We stuffed ourselves silly, drank our wine by the fire and enjoyed the warm evening. The clouds blocked out any view of the stars, but we couldn’t really complain. We crashed hard that night and slept like the dead.

We slept in the next morning, rousing ourselves mainly at the knowledge of what was for breakfast: bacon, eggs, fresh blueberries…and leftover pulled pork. That gave us the energy for one of the short walks in the park — walk, not hike. A little boring, I guess, but that’s the tradeoff for the proximity to Toronto. And our little walk was fairly rewarding in terms of flora and especially fauna — butterflies, snakes, frogs and plenty of birds.

We got back to our campsite just in time to cool down with another dip in the lake before the first rain shower of the day began. We hid in the tent until it passed, came out and had lunch. Shortly after we finished cleaning up the real rain started. It was hard for us to know how hard the rain was since we were under tree canopy and strong fly, and we certainly didn’t know that the storm had spawned tornadoes elsewhere in Ontario. To us it actually sounded kind of nice…Nellie fell asleep in the tent while I read, and a couple of hours later it was all over. Our site was pretty wet, but the view from our tent of the sky over the lake was incredible.

We sat on the beach and had a beer, marveling at how calm the lake had become and at the clear skies we could see emerging on the horizon. We relaxed a while longer, then got to work cooking dinner. Evening #2 was centered around plowman’s lunch and a Southbrook Syrah. We ate, cleaning up and spent the evening sitting by the fire, drinking wine and whisky and staring at stars.

When we went to sleep the lake was as calm as a plane of glass, but around 4:30 something — the wind, I suppose — whipped it into a crazy froth; the crashing waves woke us, and kept us awake for hours. We managed to get back to sleep, but were still pretty groggy when the sun came up. We decided not to stick around much longer, instead having some oatmeal and breaking down the site (even with much of our equipment still wet) and jumping in the car. We made it back to Toronto in no time, had a nice long shower, dropped the car off and spent the afternoon on a patio soaking up what remained of the day’s sun.

Not a bad weekend at all.

Trip 1: 13 bottles. Trip 2: 23 bottles. Trip 3: 42 bottles. Trip 4: god help us. That looks like a logarithmic growth curve.

Right, now that we’ve sorted through the pile of bottles and survived a week of Hot Docs / illness, I can write about what a great time we had last weekend!

We’ve been waiting and waiting and our spring just doesn’t seem to want to arrive, so we were pretty happy when we woke up to a bright, beautiful, sunny day last Saturday — perfect weather for our excursion to Niagara wine country, nearly a year to the day since our very first trip. A few quick errands and a stop at the market for the week’s groceries, and we were on our way, just 30 minutes after we had originally planned.

Our mood turned sour, however, when we got to the Discount Car Rental office around the corner from our place. They had given away our car, despite our reservation. It very quickly turned into an episode of Seinfeld where I questioned their understanding of what the word “reservation” meant. They told me it was my fault for showign up 35 minutes late, even though I’ve never heard that policy before and nothing in their emails or rental details said anything about a time limit on the reservation, let alone a time period as short as half an hour. Anyway, I gave up when I realized they a) were entirely unhelpful, b) had clearly given away all cars and c) had absolutely no power do anything to help me anyway. Much cursing and eye rolling later, we left. Ten minutes later we’d booked a nice little Toyota Prius hybrid a few blocks away via Autoshare. Lucky for us, because the staff at the Jarvis Street Discount Car and Truck rental are useless, incompetent, unhelpful twats. Ahem.

Anyway…hooray Autoshare! Only 45 minutes after our target take-off time we were blasting down the QEW, taking advantage of the high-occupancy/green vehicle lane and lack of traffic to make great time to Beamsville. Our first few stops — Hidden Bench, Daniel Lenko and Tawse — were old familiar sites, and were lucrative indeed. Heading east, we angered a long line of bikers pulling into Stoney Ridge to pick up a case of Pinot for my buddy Joe, then drove into the village of Jordan for lunch at Zooma Zooma Cafe‘s patio. The food (ploughman’s lunch for Nellie, chicken sandwich for me) was tasty, but the service was anything but zooma…we waited outside for a long time before getting our bill, during which time my pasty skin got sunburned. No matter; it was a beautiful day and we had more wineries to visit. Next we visited Flat Rock (who have a gorgeous tasting room…we could see our building back in Toronto!) and 13th Street, both for the first time. We then cut through St. Catharines, crossed the Welland Canal and began the drive toward Niagara-on-the-Lake. We stopped at one of our favourites, Southbrook, and finished our touring at an unlikely destination: Jackson-Triggs. Normally we avoid any place with tour buses parked out front, but this was the only place where we could buy wines made by their partner winery Le Clos Jordanne. Here we loaded up, stuffed everything into the car and drove to our hotel, the Shaw Club, a sanctuary from the plague of frilly NotL inns. We strolled around the corner to the Olde Angel Inn for a few pints before returning to the hotel to gird our loins for dinner.

We’d eaten at the Stone Road Grille twice before, and enjoy it so much we’ll likely never pass within 50 miles of NotL without stopping in. My go-to starter — scallops wrapped in duck breast bacon — was gone, so I went off the beaten path and ordered a cheese plate to start, along with a glass of Southbrook Whimsy cab Franc. Nellie had a glass of the 13th street Cuvee sparkling, and then the soup du jour — wild leek and potato — with a glass of Lailey Chardonnay.

For my main I chose the “weekly beast” from the special. I saw “pork loin” and ordered it, not even paying attention to the rest. To my happy surprise what showed up was a great deal of pork loin, a large section of pork belly and a crispy coppa (pork shoulder)…nary a vegetable in sight.

Nellie, meanwhile, had the flank steak with garlicky beans and frites. I’d ordered the same thing the last time we visited, and remember it fondly, but this time there was a twist: an eggshell full of bearnaise sauce which she was to pour over her steak. If I weren’t having a porkgasm at the time I’d have been jealous.

We paired our meals with a bottle of Hidden Bench’s flagship red, La Brunante. Sweet fancy moses, it was tasty, and paired perfectly with our food. Definitely a splurge, but a worthwhile one. We ended our meal with two great flourishes: a six-pack for the kitchen staff (no fooling; it’s actually an item on the menu, and they were so happy they sent someone out to thank us) and a chocolate brownie topped in salted caramel ice cream and garnished with chili chocolate sauce.

At this point we needed a medic. Or at least a walk home. We opted for the latter, and thanked the travel gods for the pleasant weather so that we could work off at least a bit of the sauce, if nothing else.

The next morning our breakfast was mercifully light, and we began day two of our winery visits. Our first two stops — Riverview and Pondview — were new to us and pleasant enough, but weren’t that remarkable. The third winery was the real highlight of our day: Five Rows. It’s a tiny craft winery which I heard about only when they won at Cuvee 2011. We met Wes, the winemaker, walking out of the vines as we pulled up. He poured us each of their wines and we loved them all. He took the time to discuss each one with us — time he probably didn’t have as he had work to do and it was clear the rain was coming — and indulged us as we gushed about each. We left with half a dozen bottles, including a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc…and I don’t like even like Sauvignon Blanc. We also got a bottle of the 07 Pinot Noir, and are laying it down for a few years…can’t wait to come back to it when it’s almost passed from memory. Five Rows, to me, was the real find of this trip, reminiscent of our visit to Shypoke in Napa Valley last year. We’re now anxiously awaiting the release of more reds next month.

Our day wasn’t done, though. We sped round the corner to Ravine, to pick up some of their fabulous bottles, to say hi to Alex face-to-face and to have lunch in their restaurant. Nellie’s sandwich (and awesome fries) and York Road white, and my plate of prawns the size of boomerangs were fine all right, but the dessert almost killed us. Lemon tart and chocolate hazelnut ‘splosion:

Rain had blasted down as soon as we were seated, but happily let up just as we sipped our post-meal espresso. I bought some treats for my team who were working through the weekend, and we took off for our last winery of the day: Colaneri. It’s very new, and the winery will be spectacular when it’s done, but for now the wines are quite young. We picked out some tasty ones though; we polished off the Pinot Grigio tonight as I was writing this.

Spent, we set out for home. Along the way we stopped at Joe’s to drop off his wine, and some Dickinson maple products he’d ordered. Full service, that’s us. In return he cooked us up some roasted garlic on baguette, and ridiculously good lamb chops, and panna cotta. At this point our bodies were begging for mercy, and a gym, so we scooted home, dropped the wine, dropped the car (Grazie Autoshare! You rock, whereas Discount sucks possum balls!) and sat our asses down for a while.

The grand result of all this, apart from an inch on our waistlines, was 42 bottles of excellent Ontario vino. Some familiar, some new, all fun to acquire. A prochaine, Niagara.

In case you’re wondering, that’s:

  1. 13th Street 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Semillon
  2. 13th Street 2009 Sauvignon Blanc
  3. 13th Street 2009 Syrah
  4. Clos Jordanne 2007 Claystone Terrace Chardonnay
  5. Clos Jordanne 2007 Claystone Terrace Pinot Noir
  6. Clos Jordanne 2007 Clos Jordanne Pinot Noir
  7. Clos Jordanne 2007 La Petite Colline Pinot Noir
  8. Clos Jordanne 2007 Talon Ridge Chardonnay
  9. Clos Jordanne 2007 Talon Ridge Pinot Noir
  10. Colaneri Estates 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon
  11. Colaneri Estates 2009 Pinot Grigio
  12. Daniel Lenko 2004 Late Harvest Vidal
  13. Daniel Lenko 2006 Old Vines Merlot
  14. Daniel Lenko 2006 Unoaked Chardonnay
  15. Daniel Lenko 2007 Old Vines Chardonnay
  16. Daniel Lenko 2007 Reserve Riesling
  17. Daniel Lenko 2008 Unoaked ChardonnGay
  18. Daniel Lenko 2009 White Cabernet
  19. Five Rows 2007 Pinot Noir
  20. Five Rows 2009 Pinot Gris
  21. Five Rows 2009 Pinot Gris
  22. Five Rows 2009 Riesling
  23. Five Rows 2009 Riesling
  24. Five Rows 2009 Sauvignon Blanc
  25. Flat Rock Cellars 2009 Pinot Noir
  26. Flat Rock Cellars 2009 Twisted White
  27. Hidden Bench 2008 Fume Blanc
  28. Hidden Bench 2008 Nuit Blanche
  29. Hidden Bench 2008 Terroir Cache Meritage
  30. Hidden Bench 2008 Terroir Cache Meritage
  31. Pondview 2007 Trinity Red
  32. Pondview 2009 Chardonnay
  33. Ravine 2008 Cab Franc
  34. Ravine 2008 Meritage
  35. Riverview 2008 Reserve Cabernet
  36. Riverview 2009 Gewurztraminer
  37. Southbrook 2007 Whimsy Cab Franc
  38. Southbrook 2007 Whimsy Cab Franc
  39. Southbrook 2008 Triomphe Cabernet Sauvignon
  40. Southbrook 2008 Triomphe Cabernet Sauvignon
  41. Tawse 2008 Quarry Road Chardonnay
  42. Tawse 2009 Misek Riesling

 

iddenbench.com
daniellenko.com
tawsewinery.ca
stoneyridge.com
flatrockcellars.com
13thstreetwinery.com
southbrook.com
jacksontriggswinery.com
riverviewcellars.com
pondviewwinery.com
fiverows.com
ravinevineyard.com
colaneriwines.com