Whether it's jazz, Shakespeare or a Mediterranean beat, there's nothing like an afternoon enjoying a glass of wine served up with a slice of entertainment at one of Ontario's many fine wineries. There's a full calendar this season, as wine-makers seek new ways to attract visitors. At Smith and Wilson Estate Wines in Chatham-Kent, on the shores of Lake Erie, you can take in the Memphis Motown Shakedown 2 on July 24. (Photo courtesy Smith and Wilson Estate Wines)

Entertainment among the vines:
Ontario vintners pull out all the stops to attract visitors

News Archive “If all be true that I do think, There are five reasons we should drink: Good wine a friend or being dry, Or lest we should be by and by, Or any other reason why.”
— Henry Aldrich, Five Reasons for Drinking

Ontario’s growing fine vintners are forever dreaming up more and more good reasons for us to enjoy a glass or two of their wines. While most offer tastings at their on-site shops, a few have added food pairings. Still others have introduced live entertainment as a way of drawing visitors in an ever-expanding market.   In short, there are more reasons than ever before to visit an Ontario winery this summer.  

Fancy a little Shakespeare with your chardonnay? How about some Baroque with that baco? You can have it, and more. You can even get married or hold a big anniversary party in a vineyard. Some offer private dinners among the vines, and a few provide luxury accommodation, either on-site or through close-by partners.  

There are so many wineries in Ontario you could visit a different one every day of the summer and enjoy a different experience at each one. While it would be too long a list to mention every winery that offers food and wine tastings, here’s a sampling of some of those that serve up a splash of entertainment on the side:

• You’ll be treated to Shakespeare in the Vineyard at Henry of Pelham in St. Catharines, July 7-9 and July 14-16. This year’s play is A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of The Bard’s more whimsical, summery presentations. Play-goers can enjoy the production while gazing over the beautiful vineyards. There’s a wine bar at 6 p.m., and performances begin at 7. Tickets are $25, with proceeds going to the Niagara Peninsula Children’s Centre.  

Reif Estate Winery in nearby Niagara-on-the-Lake offers its Baroque Among the Barrels on July 23 and 30 and Aug. 6. You can drop by to savour the elevating music of Vivaldi, paired with delectable hors d’oeuvres and the winery’s VQA wines. The program includes selections from Vivaldi and his countrymen, played by Niagara’s Gould String Quartet. Tickets are $50 per person and that includes two glasses of wine and hors d’oeuvres.  

• Down at the other end of the province in Essex County, Sprucewood Shores Estate Winery is offering live music in the vineyard. It’s already been a big hit so far this summer, and will continue Sunday afternoons from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. for the rest of the season. There’s a different band every week, as a different chef serves up delicious tapas on the patio, surrounded by wines and nearby views of Lake Erie. Sprucewood Shores is located in Harrow.  

• Also in Harrow, they’re offering Music on the Lawn at the Colchester Ridge Estate Winery on July 9 and July 16. Mike Beggs entertains on the first Saturday, while Shade Stone performs the following week. Enjoy music, snacks and a glass of wine all for $18.  

• For a different kind of party, the wineries, farms and other businesses along Essex County Road 50 have created Explore the Shore, a celebration of food, wine and music set this year for July 23 and 24. There are beaches, harbours and marinas, as well as seven wineries stretched along the shore of Lake Erie between Amherstburg and Kingsville.  

• Not far away near Erieau, in Chatham-Kent, Smith and Wilson Estate Wines has the Memphis Motown Shakedown 2 on offer on July 24 at its Old Warehouse. Enjoy lake views and an afternoon of tunes from Blutonium, Sarah Hiltz, Linz and Julie Ross, plus special guests the Darren Wrightman Blues Band. Tickets are $15 each.  

• In Niagara, this year Pillitteri Estates Winery of Niagara-on-the-Lake is offering a session on chocolate truffle-making and wine-and-chocolate pairings on July 16 and 17. On the weekend of Aug. 20-21, the winery will be introducing Grape Jam, an outdoor concert that features a number of local bands. Tickets are $25 per person in advance. There are also a couple of weekends of paninis on the patio coming up. Check it out!  

Jackson Triggs has become well-known for its Amphitheatre series, which is into its 11th season this year. Featured artists in the primarily Canadian affair include Gord Downie (July 22-23), Colin James (July 30-31), Serena Ryder (Aug. 6), Spirit of the West (Aug. 13), and the comedy troupe, Women Fully Clothed (Aug. 27.) You can also pair that with one of the winery’s barrel cellar dinners ($85) or order a picnic box lunch.  

Cave Spring Cellars in Jordan offers something a little different with a twist of healthy living tossed into the mix. On July 23 and Aug. 13 and 27, guests can take an escorted three-hour hike through the beautiful Jordan Valley and end up back at the winery to celebrate their accomplishment.  

• Head back down the 401 and turn off when you see the sign to the Municipality of Prince Edward County. Then make a bee-line to the village of Hillier, where The Grange Winery continues its Summer Series on the third Sunday of every month until Oct. 15 with a free show featuring local musical talent. For example, on July 24 you can hear the Prince Edward County-based trio, Seventh Town, perform its folk/Celtic music. Other performances are planned for Aug. 21, Sept. 18 and Oct. 16.  

• Back in Essex County, the winery members of the Southwestern Ontario Vintners Association will be sharing the spotlight again at Colchester Ridge’s facility for the 17th annual SWOVA Vintage tasting event on Aug. 7. The ticket price ($55 in advance) includes all tastings and food served by noted local chefs from several well-known restaurants. Music will be provided by Just Jazz and the University of Windsor’s classical quartet. Wine experts will conduct seminars.  

• One of the most bucolic views available at any winery is the one from Viewpointe Estate Winery in Harrow, a member of SWOVA.  From the patio, you can gaze out across the lawn to the blue waters of Lake Erie, or walk out to check the view from the top of the cliff. Viewpointe offers lunches on the patio daily throughout the summer, including their signature perch in a basket Thursdays and Fridays. On Aug. 13, there’s the Best of Essex County dinner, served with live music, for $18 per person.  

Hillebrand Estates at Niagara-on-the-Lake offers a special blues event Aug. 13, with artists performing from 4-8 p.m. A special kitchen party and three-course harvest table lunch are on offer July 16 and 30, with tickets $65 each. On those same days, a four-course Whole Hog Dinner is offered at the vineyard, featuring a vine-roasted suckling pig and all courses served with appropriate wine pairings. Tickets are $99 each.  

• Dionysus was the Greek god of the grape harvest, and those ancient Greeks loved their wine. So for the past few years, Mastronardi Estate Winery in Kingsville has been holding a big party featuring plenty of entertainment, dancing, food and wine and naming it the Dionysus Festival. This year it’s set for Aug. 20 and as usual, the lead entertainer will be Pavlo, noted for his stirring Mediterranean guitar blended with a new-age jazz vibe. Regular tickets are $84.75 each, with VIP tickets, which include early admission, tastings, special seating, butler-style hors d’oeuvres and a meet-and-greet with Pavlo, selling for $113.  

• Back in Niagara, the Rockway Glen Golf Course and Estate Winery in St. Catharines offers its Uncorked and Unplugged series every Friday evening and Sunday afternoon until Sept. 4. A variety of entertainers — including The Permtones, Gord Watt, James Anthony, the Brant Parker Blues Band and George Tirpko — will perform under the winery’s newly tented patio. Rickway Glen is a unique blend of golf and wine, served up at a facility equipped for special events.  

Don't miss the annual wine festivals

Each of the three main wine regions — Shores of Erie, Niagara and Prince Edward — holds a big event to celebrate the annual fall harvest:  

• First off the mark, the Shores of Erie Wine Festival is scheduled for Sept. 8-12 in Amherstburg on the grounds of Fort Malden. The beautiful waterfront location — it’s on the Detroit River with great views of the ships passing up and down the waterway — will feature local food and wine as well as plenty of entertainment.  

• The Niagara Wine Festival begins Sept. 16 and runs until Sept. 25 in St. Catharines. Wine and culinary pairings from more than 30 area wineries will be featured, as well as entertainment in the city’s expansive, lovely and historic Montebello Park. This is Niagara’s 60th annual harvest festival.  

• On Sept. 24, the wineries of Prince Edward County join together to celebrate the regional cuisine, at Taste!, an annual event that features area chefs, growers and winemakers. Party central is the historic Crystal Palace in the Picton Fairgrounds, and there’ll be plenty of entertainment.  

From picnics to lavish meals ....

Some wineries offer special picnic baskets for those who drop by and want to savour the view, some wine and a bit of food on their own. Other events in Ontario’s wineries emphasize culinary achievements, and while there are plenty of food-and-wine pairings, a few stand out as out-of-the-ordinary. They include:  

Waupoos Estates Winery at the southeast corner of Prince Edward County. It’s hard to beat the view from the winery’s restaurant patio, which sits atop a gentle slope that affords a vista of the vineyard and Lake Ontario beyond. A highlight of the winery is the chocolate/gelato shop.  

• Speaking of views, Oak Heights Winery, Northumberland County’s only winery, offers live entertainment with its Sunday brunches from noon to 3 p.m. Oak Heights is situated north of Cobourg in the beautiful Northumberland Hills.  

Peller Estates’ signature dining experience is its Barrel Cellar dinner on July 30. It begins with a sparkling wine reception, then continues with a four-course tasting menu, all set in the Niagara-on-the-Lake winery’s candlelit barrel cellar and co-hosted by the resident sommelier and a member of the culinary team. Finally, there’s a dessert after-party where you can mingle with fellow guests over ice wine and an assortment of sweets.  Price is $140 per person.  

• Each Wednesday, Southbrook Vineyards offers wine and cheese. Located in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Southbrook was Canada’s first biodynamic/organic vineyard. On July 31, Southbrook offers “yoga amongst the vines.”  

• On Aug. 13, Konzelmann Winery offers an old-fashioned pig roast, with pork on a bun served with wines from its Niagara-on-the-Lake vines.  

• In the same town on Aug. 20, Caroline Cellars reprises its lobsterfest, with fresh Nova Scotia lobster, steak and bacon-wrapped scallops, served up with its wines, from 1 to 8 p.m. The music continues until midnight.  

• Finally, here’s one for those who’ve dreamed of experiencing what it’s like to run their own winery. Coyote’s Run Estate Winery invites visitors to get their hands dirty on Sept. 10 by pitching in and learning firsthand about raising and harvesting grapes. They promise it’s more fun than hard work, though. Coyote’s Run is located at the village of St. David’s in Niagara-on-the-Lake. — July 2011