Reap the benefits of the off-season and take a road trip to one of Canada’s top wine regions. Travellers can visit them at a more leisurely pace, free from crowds. From the country’s most renowned wineries of Okanagan and Niagara to lesser-known gems of Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley region, there is plenty to discover in quieter months. Whether you’re keen to explore the vineyards with a private helicopter tour or taste the latest vintages at a chef’s table, incredible experiences await.
As Canada’s second-largest wine-producing region, B.C.’s Okanagan Valley stretches more than 250 kilometres and encompasses four sub-regions – each with distinct climate and soil characteristics. Kelowna is a great place to start exploring.
Get the lay of the land from the air with Valhalla Helicopters. A 30-minute tour includes scenic highlights such as Crawford Canyon, Little White Mountain and Okanagan Lake. The company’s heli-wine packages allow you to visit up to four wineries and arrive at each in style. Or if you’d like to sip by land, sign up for a private tour with Lust4Luxury Wine Tours, led by owner and wine lover, Stacey Lust. The six-hour itinerary covers as many as six spots, including distilleries, cideries and wineries.
Head down the road to Naramata, a small town in the heart of wine country. It’s an area near and dear to celebrated chef Ned Bell – so much so that when he had a chance to leave Vancouver, where he led kitchens, including at the Four Seasons, and take over the century-old Naramata Inn, he took it. “The Okanagan is home to me,” he says. “I was born here, met and married Kate [Colley] here, too. It’s an amazing community.”
Bell has created an inn restaurant featuring two- and three-course prix fixe menu and a hyper-local approach to cuisine, a mix of classic French cooking techniques and exclusively Naramata ingredients. “We don’t use any lemons, lime, mango, coconut, or even olive oil,” he says. “To get citrus flavours, for example, we forage sumac, which has a sour flavour that mimics citrus.”
Take a seat at the inn’s newly opened wine bar and let the sommelier lead you through tastings of fine local wines, then retire for the night at one of the property’s 12 elegant, Mission-style rooms. As Bell notes: “When you come here for a few days, you’re going to have wonderful meals, forget about life for a while and immerse yourself in the magic of this special place.”
Niagara Peninsula, Canada’s top wine region
With more than 100 wineries and home to some of the country’s largest, Ontario’s Niagara region is a busy hub for wine production year-round. During off-peak times, it’s a more relaxed environment for visitors hopping from one tasting room to another.
If you’d like to imbibe as you explore, consider a stay at Niagara-on-the-Lake’s charming boutique hotel Prince of Wales, which offers three trolley tours to guests, like the exclusive wine-and-chocolate itinerary at Château des Charmes, which comes complete with a private host, who guides visitors through the decadent pairings.
Back at the Prince of Wales Hotel, wine connoisseurs have plenty of food and drink options, including Noble restaurant. “Our wine list is quite extensive,” says sommelier Fred Gamula. “We have more than 350 wines available, from local favourites to international selections. I can help guests navigate them and find the perfect ones to pair with our seasonal menu.”
He encourages visitors to try specialties, like ice wine martinis and cocktails which incorporate local vintages, like sparkling wine, in the hotel bar cozied up next to the fireplace on a chilly night. “I often say that Niagara-on-the-Lake is as beautiful in the winter as it is in the summer,” says Gamula. “When the snow falls, it’s stunning, and since the hotel is so central, it’s perfect for venturing out to stroll the town’s historic streets.”
Guests may also warm up at 100 Fountain Spa at the Pillar and Post. This inn’s expansive 13,000-square-foot facility features wine-themed treatment rooms and signature vinotherapy treatments that tap into the antioxidant properties of grapes. Or try the Niagara Meritage manicure at Inn on the Twenty in Jordan Station, which uses wine and fruit essence to pamper skin.
Ice wine is Niagara’s superstar. The region produces more than anywhere else in the world. The Ice Wine Festival in January celebrates the sweet, complex nectar with a range of events that may have you roasting ice wine marshmallows over a bonfire at Pellar Estates or attending a black-tie gala. Local restaurants participate with pairings and special dishes. Book dinner at the Table Rock House restaurant to sample its Ontario-centric menu with wine accents – a merlot glaze over a striploin steak or an ice wine drizzle topping a trio of gelato – all while enjoying the best view of the nightly light show illuminating Niagara Falls.
Nova Scotia’s picturesque Annapolis Valley
Over the last decade, Nova Scotia has won accolades for its wines not just in Canada, but on the world stage too. Some varietals, like L’Acadie Blanc and Lucie Kuhlmann, are unique to the province. Even if you’ve been to other Canadian wine regions, you’ll find something new there.
“We have something really special to offer guests,” says Jurg Stutz, winemaker and co-owner of Domaine de Grand Pré. “They can try a wine they’ve never tried before.” The winery has received accolades for its offerings, including ice wine, ice cider, Riesling and Tidal Bay, a white wine made with 100 per cent Nova Scotian grapes. “One of the best things about the quiet season is that I can spend more time with visitors to talk about our wines,” he adds.
In summer 2021, the winery opened a luxurious six-room inn, a converted 100-year-old farmhouse that’s ideal for small groups. Located next to the vineyard, it has a dining room ideal for private dinners from Jason Lynch, chef of Le Caveau, the on-site restaurant. As well, over the winter, guests can partake in one of the winery’s popular cheese nights, featuring fondue and raclette – a nod to the Swiss heritage of the Stutz family.
In the shoulder seasons, most area wineries remain open for retail sales and tastings. Stutz suggests visiting other local wineries like Benjamin Bridge, highly regarded for sparkling wines, and Lightfoot & Wolfville, known for organic, bio-dynamic wines and hearty weekend brunch offerings like Eggs Benedict and Wagyu beef burgers.
Halifax, just an hour away from the Annapolis Valley, makes a perfect start or end point. The city’s newest hotel, The Muir, opens on December 10. Its most stunning room, The Watch, is grand at 2,075 square feet, complete with dining room and handcrafted walnut bar, and a private tasting room with vintage spirits. As weather permits, hotel guests can take tours of the harbour on board the property’s private yacht.
Whether it’s a trip to Niagara, the Okanagan or the Annapolis Valley, you’ll find all the wine regions of Canada offer a taste of luxury getaways and unforgettable experiences all year long.