Twenty Valley, home to country roads that link the small towns of Grimsby, Beamsville, Vineland, Jordan and St. Catharines on the south shore of Lake Ontario, is a region that many consider a hidden gem — especially if you appreciate fine wine.
Unbeknownst to many, Twenty Valley houses more than 40 wineries, and “specializes in cool climate varieties such as riesling, pinot noir and chardonnay,” says Ilya Rubin, sommelier and sales manager at 13th Street Winery in St. Catharines. “Neighbouring Niagara-on-the-Lake, on the other hand, focuses more on cabernet-based wines,” he says.
On a 24-hour break from parenting, my husband and I chose this region for a quick romantic getaway. It fit all our requirements: good wine, a bucolic setting where you can actually hear silence, and a comfy inn to settle in at the end of the day.
Only an hour’s drive from Toronto, and about a half hour from Niagara-on-the-Lake, Twenty Valley has its own distinct wines because of the microclimate created by the Lake Effect, constant breezes that move between the Niagara Escarpment and Lake Ontario. Our exploration of this area began with 13th Street Winery, which turned out to be our favourite, as much for its delicious butter tarts and cool art, as for the laid back vibe and friendly staff.
“My family came here in 1906, and started farming two years later,” says Doug Whitty, one of the owners of the winery. Now, 13th Winery is as much a small village as a winery. We wander into the century-old farmhouse, which houses a wine boutique and excellent bakery, the gallery room (where they showcase works of local artists), the tasting room, and outside past the market and sculpture garden where poetry readings and music events are hosted.
We taste the winery’s award-winning gamay, and sample an excellent sparkling rosé, both examples of their terroir-drive wines — wines influenced by the region’s climate, soil and terrain.
We next visit nearby Redstone Winery in Beamsville, the latest venture of Moray Tawse, of Tawse Winery. Here, the building is contemporary rustic: steel, concrete, stone and wood combine with accents of red throughout. Redstone also produces terroir-driven wines; our tasting highlights are an excellent sauvignon semillon, an off-dry riesling and a syrah, their signature wine.
We then head to Hidden Bench: Down a long straight road, we end up at a beautiful farmhouse surrounded by greenery, and a stellar patio overlooking the vineyards where you can order a charcuterie board with your wine on weekends. This artisanal winery specializes in rieslings, pinots and chardonnay.
Finally, we check into our garden suite at Inn on the Twenty, a charming 27-room boutique hotel in Jordan Village. The “Village” is essentially one long road housing the Inn and its upscale On the Twenty restaurant; its more casual sister property, the Jordan House and Tavern; and Cave Springs Winery across the street, as well as several gift shops, galleries and a museum.
Although the street has a touristy vibe, it’s also a landing pad that offers close access to all of the region’s wineries. After grabbing a homemade chocolate cookie in the lobby, we settle into a spacious suite with French doors opening onto our own little private garden where we enjoy our chilled bottle of Cave Spring Riesling Dolomite.
Hidden gems — gardens, vineyards, views — is what Twenty Valley is all about. Though I suspect as the wines here gain bigger followings, the wineries themselves will become destinations. Soon this micro climate will have mass popularity. If you want to get in before the rush, now’s the time to make the trip.