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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Flynn

Winery Getaways in Canada

No need to fly to Napa or drive Up North to visit wine country. Instead, visit the Lake Erie North Shore region in Canada.

ORIGINAL POST by Stephanie Steinberg (May 6, 2024, Winery Getaways in Canada - Hour Detroit Magazine)

Sprucewood Shores Estate Winery is Canada’s only beach- accessible winery on Lake Erie, according to the owners. // Photograph by JoAnna Wojewo

Metro Detroiters who enjoy weekend wine getaways typically trek four hours Up North to the Old Mission and Leelanau peninsulas or perhaps cross the state to explore wineries in western Michigan. And yet, nearly 20 wineries are practically in our backyard.

Drive 40 minutes from the Ambassador Bridge, and you’ll wind up in Essex County, Ontario — where grape growing originated in Canada. In fact, the first commercial winery in the country, Vin Villa, opened on Pelee Island in 1866. Known as Lake Erie North Shore, the region features 1,000 acres of grapes, and it’s the perfect place for a weekend getaway or day trip for wine lovers.

The locals consider it an up-and-coming Niagara-on-the-Lake, where you’ll find boutique hotels, charming bed-and-breakfasts, cool Airbnbs, farm-to-table restaurants, and all the libations your heart desires at the cideries, breweries, distilleries, and wineries. Between the vineyard tours and fruit stands — which you can cycle to along new bike lanes — there’s no shortage of agritourism experiences in this southernmost part of Canada.

If sipping wine on a beach with a picnic basket full of cheese and meats is your version of paradise, make a stop at Sprucewood Shores. It’s Canada’s only beach-accessible winery on Lake Erie, according to the owners.

In warmer months, the 20-year-old winery serves drinks from a beach hut overlooking Lake Erie. Winemaker Tanya Mitchell says beautiful beach glass often washes up from Lake Erie shipwrecks. The glass inspired the winery’s Beach Glass series featuring mosaic-wrapped bottles. Its premium Hawk’s Flight Reserve brand is named after the hawks that migrate through the area in the fall.

Mitchell’s 2020 Merlot in the Hawk’s Flight line won two gold medals last year and a 2023 Ontario Lieutenant Governor’s Award of Excellence — an honor bestowed on nine wines out of 600 in the competition.

Mitchell runs the winery with her brothers Stephen and Jake. Their parents bought the property 40-some years ago and kick-started the winery about 20 years ago after her dad retired from the automotive industry. She was 10 when they planted their first acre.

Muscedere Vineyards is run by an Italian family of five that serves pizzas with ingredients straight from the garden. // Photograph courtesy of Muscedere Vineyards

When visiting the Lake Erie North Shore region, you’ll find many of the wineries along County Road 50. But there’s one off the beaten path. In fact, when you pull up the long driveway, you may think your GPS mistakenly took you to someone’s red-brick home.

That’s because Muscedere Vineyards is a house. Visitors taste wines in the cozy retail shop in the lower level. A pathway leads to an outdoor gazebo where you can enjoy wood-fired pizzas from May through October.

It’s a true family-run business, where you’ll see Pat Muscedere shuffling off to make pizza with asparagus straight from their farm in the spring. (Try the seasonal corn-and-potatoes pizza in the fall.) Her husband, Mario, worked for 30 years in automotive before they started the vineyard. “He now does more work than he ever did working in the automotive plant,” daughter Melissa Muscedere says with a laugh.

The Muscederes — an Italian family of five — opened the vineyard in 2006 after planting their first grapes on their 163-acre property in 2002. “We planted a little bit of everything just to see how everything would grow,” Melissa says, adding that reds won.

Leslie Meloche, sommelier of North 42 Degrees Estate Winery, says Muscedere Vineyards has some of the best reds in the region. Its 2021 Cabernet Franc — a perfect pizza-pairing wine — won gold at the 2023 All Canadian Wine Championships and silver at the 2023 WineAlign National Wine Awards of Canada.

You’ll see Cab Franc on most winery menus in the region because it grows well here.“We’re technically on the same latitude as France, Italy, [and] California — the 42nd parallel,” Melissa says, adding that they get more days of sun than other Ontario wine regions. “What you’re going to notice is a lot of the wines are going to be fresher; the reds will be fruitier.”

Paglione Estate Winery’s Josephine sparkling wine took gold at the Great American International Wine Competition in 2020.

Between 1925 and the 1990s, Italians from the southern regions of Lazio, Molise, and Sicily immigrated to Leamington, Ontario. “Many of them knew each other in the old country, and they know each other here today,” Sandra Paglione says. Besides wine, many got into agriculture, growing everything from tomatoes to hydroponic vegetables and fruits. // Photograph by Brie Robin Sheikh

When Sam Paglione was growing up in Molise, Italy, it was his boyhood dream to run a vineyard. After immigrating to Ontario and becoming a masonry artist, he built Pelee Island Winery and added his touch to Sprucewood Shores. His own vineyard journey began when a friend took him to a grape farm that was for sale.

“He came home that day and he said to my mom, ‘I bought a grape farm.’ And she was like, ‘You did what?’ After that, we became instant farmers,” says his daughter Sandra Paglione.

In 2013, Sam built Paglione Estate Winery in Tuscan Old World style — with Renaissance-like painted ceilings, a clay tile roof, a turret, a cupola, and an outdoor wood-burning oven, where he’d make 200 pizzas a day, rain or shine. He serenaded guests with his squeeze-box and give out shots of grappa in the cellar.

When Sam passed in 2015, Sandra, who is now president and co-owner, stepped in with her husband, Robin, and sister and co-owner, Rebecca Beetham. They revamped the mom-and-pop winery, positioning it for growth. They brought on Jan Schulte-Bisping, a German winemaker who has worked in South Africa and California. He overhauled their wine portfolio, and they started winning awards. Their Josephine sparkling with notes of mango, peach, and honey took gold at the Great American International Wine Competition in 2020. And their Cabernet Sauvignon is a bestseller. They built a gelato stand and redid the menu, except for the pizzas.

“We try to keep a lot of the things the same,” Sandra says. “We didn’t want to be the kids who came in and changed everything.”

You Don’t Have to Leave

Make Paglione your last stop of the day to indulge in as much food and wine as you’d like, and then stay overnight in the Owner’s Suite above the winery. Guests enjoy a complimentary bottle of wine, take in sunset views from the terrace, and retire in a luxury king bed. The 1,100-square-foot space includes a fully equipped kitchen, but cooking isn’t necessary when you can order pizzas and charcuterie boards from the winery’s kitchen below.

In the mood for an adventurous wine trip? Hop on a 90-minute ferry ride to Pelee Island, which has grown grapes since the 1850s. Regarded as “the birthplace of winemaking in Canada,” Pelee Island Winery’s 700 acres sit on former marshland.

“That’s why the island is so fertile to grow agriculture,” says Michael Lauzon, retail manager at Pelee Island Winery. The island has only 200-some residents, but there are a few Airbnbs and inns and a campground if you want to plan an overnight trip for a tour and tasting. Just check the weather before you go. If the water is too rough, the ferry won’t sail, Lauzon warns.

You can also stay put on the mainland and visit Pelee Island Winery’s Kingsville location, which hosts Summer Sundays with live music and pizza on the patio. The shop has shelves lined with over 70 types of wines sporting medals like Olympic winners.

The winery’s Lola sparkling rosé that was released about seven years ago was the No. 1-selling rosé in Ontario, Lauzon says. And the Lola Light, which has half the sugar and a little less alcohol, has won double gold at Finger Lakes International Wine & Spirits Competition in New York.

North 42 Degrees Estate Winery

When Martin Gorski set out to build a winery, he had two instructions for his architect: One, build it out of stone, wood, and glass; and two, bring the outside in. The result was a sustainably minded building that lets natural light flood in and resembles an upscale cabin. The upper deck looks over a mile of tree line. On a clear day, you can see Detroit’s Renaissance Center, Gorski says.

One of the few wineries in the area open seven days a week, North 42 also includes a restaurant, Bistro 42, that has a farm-to-table focus, featuring seasonal culinary creations from the property’s organic farm.

“That’s one of our missions: Connect the ground to the table to the consciousness,” Gorski says, clutching a glass of brut rosé with soil-stained fingers.

His father bought the 120 acres that are home to North 42 in 1990 to grow seed corn. But Gorski, who has a master’s in molecular biology, had a lifelong goal to plant a vineyard. So he went to Washington State University to become a certified winemaker. His first fermentation was in 2011. The next year, he took double gold at the Shores of Erie International Wine Festival for a Pinot Noir that’s developed a reputation. Last year alone, North 42 won 10 medals in wine competitions, including gold at the All Canadian Wine Championships for its 2019 Cab Franc reserve.

Besides the wine, North 42 offers immersive experiences like Hike 42 on Saturday mornings. You can hike through the property’s Carolinian forest searching for wildflowers and end with a campfire meal and wine tasting. Whatever you do, don’t leave without trying the blueberry lavender cheesecake, garnished with lavender from Serenity Lavender Farm next door, also owned by Gorski and his wife, Suzanne Dajczak.

Oxley Estate Winery

Inside a century-old barn, you’ll find Oxley Estate Winery, which offers an upscale seasonal and locally sourced menu. // Photograph courtesy of Oxley Estate Winery

If you want to go where the locals go, check out Oxley Estate Winery. During a Merlot tasting outdoors last fall, Canadians who lived minutes away filled the table. They come for the wine, but also the ambiance. You can enjoy a glass of wine in a rustic 1920 barn, renovated with modern black-and-white décor and windows that pour in natural light.

The winery’s seasonal and locally sourced menu — more upscale than others nearby — suggests wines to pair with quiche or Lake Erie perch. If it’s on the dessert menu, don’t miss the flourless chocolate torte with dark chocolate ganache and raspberry puree infused with Merlot.

Ann and Murray Wilson bought what was a pepper farm in 2009. Their grandson and winemaker Andrew Wilson, 27, jokes about getting pulled into staking vines and hoeing at 13. “I hated it,” he recalls. “At the end of the summer, it was funny because my dad said, ‘Well, you learned something great this summer. You learned what you don’t want to do.’”

But an interest in biology and chemistry eventually led him back to winemaking. His first semester at Niagara College, “I was like, ‘This is it.’ That’s when I really fell in love with the entire industry.” In Brock University’s Oenology and Viticulture honors program, Andrew wrote his thesis on the Auxerrois grape, which grows well at Oxley. He describes the grape as “one of the most widely planted and least understood grape varieties in the world.” The wine made from Auxerrois “is a beautiful wine,” he says, adding it’s similar to Chardonnay, with delicate and crisp flavors. “It’s something unique if you’re coming here.”

He also recommends the white-peppery Syrah. Think of it like a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, he says. “They have these very distinct conditions to make a wine that’s unique and special. That’s what I see here with Syrah.”

While his grandparents are “trying to retire,” Andrew isn’t afraid to use his “Call a Grandpa” card — as he did yesterday. “One of our wines finished fermenting, and I just said, ‘I need you to come in and taste because I need help finding my direction on this wine,’” he says.

Where to Stay

The Little White Church

Detroiters will feel right at home in the Detroit Suite of The Little White Church. The loft-style suite features a portrait of Bob Seger and décor like Michigan license plates. The Methodist church built in 1845 was recently renovated into a themed-room boutique hotel. It’s a good lodging option to avoid drinking and driving. The church is a five-minute walk from Dancing Swallows Vineyard as well as GL Heritage Brewing Co. Every Saturday from May through October, you can stop by the Amherstburg Farmers Market on the brewery’s patio for local shopping, fresh coffee, and live music.

**The Grove Hotel and The Grove Motel

The Grove Motel and The Grove Hotel both offer rooms designed with different themes, like chill beach vibes and urban music revival. // Photograph courtesy of The Grove Hotel and Motel

The Grove Motel and The Grove Hotel both offer rooms designed with different themes, like chill beach vibes and urban music revival. // Photograph courtesy of The Grove Hotel and Motel

Many of the wineries in the area recommend The Grove Hotel, a funky boutique hotel, as the No. 1 place to stay. And they’re not wrong. Tripadvisor has ranked it among the top 25 small hotels in Canada since 2019. Each room has a different theme — from “A Room with a Brew” featuring décor for craft beer lovers to “We Love to Font It” with letter wallpaper and an old-fashioned typewriter. Located in the heart of downtown Kingsville, the historic 1854 building is within walking distance of mom-and-pop shops, restaurants, bars, and coffee shops. A Joe. Hot + Cold café is attached to the hotel.

The newly built Grove Motel, closer to the lake and the wineries along County Road 50, has even more spunk. There’s a camping-themed room with beds built into the floor. Part discotheque, part boudoir, the motel’s Any-Moon Suite features a bright red heart-shaped tub.

Magnolia Ranch

This modern, chic bed-and-breakfast is a must-stay for a romantic getaway or weekend respite with friends. Renovated in 2019 by two friends, the four rooms in the Victorian home have vintage-inspired charm with gold-rimmed mirrors, velvet sofas, and roses. You’ll wake up to a gourmet breakfast that will pad your stomach for wine tasting. On a recent visit, co-owner Linda Jeffery made a spread of frittatas, Canadian bacon, potatoes au gratin, and yogurt parfait.

The Magnolia Room — with a soaking tub and a fireplace — has a breathtaking view of Lake Erie and Viewpointe Estate Winery across the street. Take your morning coffee on the wraparound porch, or enjoy a bottle of wine around the outdoor firepit. Named after the property’s gorgeous magnolia trees, Magnolia Ranch is a popular spot for weddings, bridal showers, and wellness retreats, so book early.

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