Thousands of tourists visit Ontario’s beautiful Niagara Falls every year, but if you haven’t been to the nearby town of Niagara on the Lake, we highly recommend it. Quaint shops, historical homes, great theatre, lots of B&Bs and plenty to see and do. And while you’re there, why not visit some of the amazing wineries by taking one of Grape Escape’s Bike Wine Tours!
What is Grape Escape?
Grape Escape is a tour company out of Niagara-on-the-Lake that offers a wide variety of tours by way of vehicle transport or bicycle. The prices vary depending on the type of tour you take. The longer or more food included, the more expensive it will be. I will share my experience on the Afternoon Bicycle Tour with Cheese Pairing, as I and three others embarked on our journey out of the city and into Ontario’s wine country.
One of the things I liked about this tour company was that they offered shuttle pick up from local B&B and hotels (if you are staying in Niagara Falls there is a small fee for pick up). This resulted in less stress for my group as we didn’t have to worry about drinking and driving afterwards or finding the starting point in a city we were not familiar with. We were put into a group (a few different tours were leaving at once) and got to pick our bicycles & helmets if we chose to wear one (not mandatory). There are no lessons on how to ride a bike, but speaking as a very very infrequent rider, I had no challenges (clearly well ingrained as a kid). Our tour guide always looked back to keep an eye on the group and I found it easy to keep up with everyone. Some of the paths they chose were beautiful and it was nice to see a different side of Niagara-on-the-Lake other than just the tourist areas. The bikes had a small pouch at the front for a purse, keys, wallet and/or cell phone and there was also a rain poncho just in case the weather turned. We were also given a bottle of water to stay hydrated. Perfect for a novice such as myself, but still fun for those who ride frequently.
We visited more obscure wineries which was very attractive to our group. Three of the four I had never heard of or been to so it was great to try something new. You don’t find out where you are going until the day of your tour.
First up was Pondview, a 3 generation family owned winery that focuses on their Italian roots and making award winning wines! It has had VIP visitors to its estate including Prince Charles and Don Cherry! At Pondview we got to try 3 different wines that were each paired with a different cheese – the Riesling with a brie, the red with cheddar and an ice wine with an Asiago. I have never done a pairing before and was amazed at how different the wine tasted after each bite. We also got a brief tour of the facility, which was very informative. The guide (the next generation) was funny and welcoming. Of all the wines we tried that day, Pondview was my favourite for sure.
Next up was Caroline Cellars, conveniently located down the street from Pondview (so a short ride). The beautiful barn was packed with both hungry and thirsty patrons. We were set up at our own tasting section and were given a list of wines from which we were asked to choose four. I really liked that we had the ability to pick our own and the woman serving me and my friends was very friendly and knowledgeable. Overall, a really nice place and I would love to come back for dinner sometime as the food looked delicious!
Third on the list was Marynissen Estates, a beautiful winery with an incredible history as they offer the oldest commercial planting of Cabernet Sauvignon in Canada. Our guide for the day brought us to the back area where they keep most of the wines in steel containers (some in barrels). It was interesting to learn that they purchased their own bottling machine in order to be more efficient in their production (versus taking it to a bottle plant where they would have to get in line). It seemed like this winery was trying to do very innovative and environmentally friendly moves including looking at corks made from discarded sugar cane leaves (or something like that).
Last was Inniskillin, a very well known brand of the region with an impressive facility. We were able to try 4 different wines including a sparkling ice wine with a bit of dark chocolate. Filled with tourists from all over, Inniskillin was definitely the busiest. Despite the very pretty atmosphere, my friends and I felt this was our least favourite of the day (perhaps we were a little wined-out at that point).
Absolutely I would recommend this bike tour to anyone looking for a unique day out in Niagara-on-the-Lake. We really enjoyed biking through the beautiful streets and visiting places we had never been before. Our tour leader was good and the group we were paired with were all extremely friendly. It was a great way to spend an afternoon and it helped me feel more confident about my bike riding abilities!
Place to Stay
As we knew we would be drinking quite a bit on the tour, we decided to spend the night in Niagara-on-the-Lake. We ended up booking at the Kia-Ora B&B which offered the upper floor that included 2 rooms and 2 bathrooms for 1 low price (perfect for us!). The house was beautiful and well kept both inside and out, and ended up being a perfect location for both the bike tour (just down a few blocks) and also for going into the downtown area. Breakfast in the morning was served in a beautiful dining room and the owner was very accommodating to my vegetarian dietary restrictions. We left well rested and full from our egg souffle! I would 100% recommend staying here if you are in the area or are looking to spend the evening after your Grape Escape tour.