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A visit to wine country this year requires more planning than usual, with wineries, restaurants and lodgings enforcing physical distancing and other health and safety protocols. Reservations are now the norm, with non-refundable charges applied in some cases. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to walk in to a preferred tasting room at will.

However, with fewer guests to contend with, there’s the chance to make your visit even more of a learning opportunity. Not only can you gain greater understanding of the wines being served and whether they appeal to you, there’s also more time to have a conversation with tasting-room staff and maybe even discover some hot spots that locals like to frequent. You might find a memorable breakfast place or craft brewery that becomes a highlight of your wine-country adventure.

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Niagara

Beamsville, Ont.

Cave Spring's new tasting room invites guests to taste wines amidst the vines at a property that helped forge the modern Ontario wine industry.

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While there’s no shortage of options along the Niagara wine route to Niagara Falls from Winona, there’s so much to explore in Beamsville that visitors don’t need to travel any further. It’s well worth your while to visit any of the area’s well-established estate wineries, including gamay and rosé specialist Malivoire or top-notch sparkling producer Kew Vineyards. Meanwhile, for casual consumers, Fielding Estate and the Good Earth Food & Wine Co. continually offer some of the warmest welcomes in wine country.

Cave Spring offers sweeping views of the Niagara Escarpment down to Lake Ontario.

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Cave Spring Vineyard recently opened its new vineyard tasting room, which operates in addition to its established shop in nearby Jordan Village. Set high upon the Beamsville Bench, this picturesque spot, which offers sweeping views of the Niagara Escarpment down to Lake Ontario, was one of the launching points for the region’s wine scene back in 1978, when the Pennachetti family introduced some of the first European grape varieties to the area. Open to the public on weekends, visitors can book seated tastings by reservation, while picnic tables are available on a first-come, first-serve basis, weather permitting. Consider bringing a blanket to enjoy an impromptu picnic in the vineyard with glasses of Cave Spring’s riesling.

Bench Brewing Company has been a tremendous addition to this corner of Niagara, not just for its extensive array of craft beer, which ranges from easygoing styles to funky and esoteric selections. The inventive small-bites menu at the Kitchen at Bench offers an opportunity to settle in and graze. And just down the road, a spacious patio and diverse wine and menu selections make Redstone Winery a strong contender for lunch or dinner.

Inn on the Twenty, the Jordan House Hotel, Airbnbs and a range of traditional bed and breakfasts are your best accommodation bets in this neighbourhood.

The Okanagan

Kelowna, B.C.

Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery, a member of the Westside Wine Trail in B.C.'s Okanagan Valley.

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Kelowna has long been a main hub of the Okanagan’s wine scene for good reason. With year-round attractions and an exciting downtown dining culture, it’s set up to appeal to all tastes. Far from resting on their laurels, Kelowna’s established wineries – including CedarCreek, Tantalus, Mission Hill, Quails' Gate and Sandhill – continue to refine their winemaking and hospitality, producing some of the region’s best bottles, with a broad selection of red and white wines and tremendous visitor experiences.

Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery's new tasting and retail space are nicely complemented by an on-site restaurant, The Modest Butcher.

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Anyone with a thirst for discovery should check out Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery’s new tasting and retail space in West Kelowna, which is nicely complemented by an on-site restaurant, The Modest Butcher, and accommodations. One of the 15 member wineries of the Westside Wine Trail, Mt. Boucherie produces an extensive range of wines each year, including one of the Okanagan’s few offerings made from the Austrian blaufraenkisch grape.

A good call for dinner is RauDZ Regional Table, or its more casual sibling Micro Bar & Bites. (The same restaurant group also operates Sunny’s, a terrific breakfast diner right on Lake Okanagan that’s worth getting out of bed for.) The more informal and rustic Antico Pizza Napoletana is always worth a visit.

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If you’re spending the night, the historic Hotel Eldorado on the waterfront remains one of the best locations for accessibility and enjoyment.

Annapolis Valley

Wolfville, N.S.

Benjamin Bridge features an open-air terrace overlooking the vineyard and valley.

Jessica Emin/Benjamin Bridge

Much of the acclaim and attention surrounding Nova Scotia’s burgeoning wine scene is focused on Benjamin Bridge, the sparkling-wine specialist established by mining executive Gerry McConnell and his late wife, Dara Gordon. In 1999, the couple bought property in the Gaspereau Valley with the aim of making world-class wines.

Winemaker Jean Benoit Deslaurier works in the Benjamin Bridge cellar.

Jessica Emin/Benjamin Bridge

Today, those dreams are being realized, with a range of innovative wines that make Benjamin Bridge a must-visit for any wine lover. Tastings are by appointment. Weather permitting, an open-air terrace overlooking the vineyard and valley affords the chance to relax and enjoy a glass of bubbly or another specialty from the estate.

Stops at nearby Lightfoot & Wolfville and Luckett Vineyards, two family-owned wineries that celebrate different winemaking focuses and hospitality experiences, will help foster a greater appreciation of what’s afoot in Nova Scotia. Both wineries operate on-site restaurants should you wish to linger a little longer and enjoy a favourite wine, such as a stunning Lightfoot & Wolfville chardonnay or Luckett Buried White, with a small plate or meal.

Tasting-room staff are well aware of the winemaking philosophy that it takes a lot of beer to make good wine, so the suggestion to visit Horton Ridge Malt and Grain Company carries serious weight. A rare brewery that crafts beers exclusively from malt made on the premises, this is worth a detour.

Centrally located, the town of Wolfville is the perfect home base. Plan well ahead to secure a booking at Juniper Food & Wine. The 16-seat bistro is owned and operated by Geoff and Lucy Hopgood, who ran celebrated Maritime-themed restaurant Hopgood’s Foodliner in Toronto before returning home to Nova Scotia a few years ago. The venerable Old Orchard Inn & Spa has been a mainstay for travellers to the area since 1972.

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