Not all wineries have their products distributed for sale at your local wine merchant. This may be because the winery does not produce the minimum prescribed quantity to enable distribution. In other cases it may be a conscious decision by the vintner where they prefer to sell a certain wine or vintage at their own facility. Thus without actually visiting the winery you may be missing out on some of the wine world’s best kept secrets.
There are other reasons for visiting a winery. No one knows their wines better than those who make them. Well informed staff can explain the process used to make each of their wines, as well as the varietal composition, cellaring capability, and food pairing suggestions.
You will usually have the opportunity to taste the various wines on offer. I can’t think of a better way to determine whether a particular wine is to your personal liking.
I have had some very enjoyable experiences, as well as some not so pleasant ones. The common denominator of a rewarding winery experience is having good interaction with knowledgeable and pleasant staff that are willing to spend the time to answer questions and listen to what you are looking for. As a result, on several occasions I have gone to a specific winery in search of one wine but after some discussion I have happily left with a different one.
When I am planning a visit to either Niagara or Prince Edward County, I do my research and plan ahead as to which wineries I want to visit and in many cases, which wines I am interested in purchasing. Otherwise, with about 100 wineries on offer in Niagara and another 40 in the County, I would be wandering aimlessly in my search.
A winery may make it onto my list for several different reasons. I may have heard about a specific wine that intrigues me; I may be simply looking to restock my cellar with a certain wine that I have previously enjoyed; I may research wine reviews and make some decisions based on what the experts have to say; or as in the case of a recent trip, I may be in search of a wine that my wife and I enjoyed in an area restaurant.
In situations where I have visited based on reviewer opinions, sometime I have gone in search of a specific wine but in others I may have been intrigued by the winery itself. In the case of the latter, the staff’s knowledge and expertise is most important to ensure a successful experience.
If nothing else, it is a good idea to search out which wineries have a restaurant so you can plan to be somewhere food is served when hunger pangs hit. Many of these restaurants offer a unique experience in themselves as they will often pair their wines with the various menu items.
I often travel to the wine regions during the off-season, avoiding the period from Victoria Day to Labour Day. This way there are less likely to be crowds and winery staff will have more time to answer questions and make suggestions, making the experience more rewarding and enjoyable.
When touring the various wineries you will see that the wineries themselves are unique from one another in appearance, ranging from very modest and plain, to rustic, to extremely elaborate. Keep in mind that appearances can be deceiving. I have purchased great wines from barns and cinderblock shacks located along obscure lanes and paths. Remember it is the vintner behind the scene who puts the quality in the bottle.