As a photographer, I capture many wonderful moments in life, with no two moments ever being quite the same. This weekend, I found out in my travels to the Niagara Region, the same can be said for its wonderful abundance of world-class wineries.
This is my story about visiting two wineries in the Niagara region at opposite ends of the spectrum, one small and one large, to see just how different they really were with respect to service style, approachability, ambiance and overall experience.
In Part One of Tale of Two Wineries, I wrote about my experience visiting Ravine, considered to most as a small artisanal winery. If you had the opportunity to read it, you would have learned that my experience was anything but small. In fact, it became quickly evident that Sue, my research assistant and I had stumbled upon a very big story. Click here if you missed reading it.
In this post, we visit Reif, considered to some as a “large” estate winery, to find out if the term “large” really translates into a large experience.
Reif Estate Winery
Go big, or go home! Or so the saying goes… It’s 2 p.m., and the anticipation and excitement to visit our second winery of the day was mounting. Sue and I had just come from Ravine Vineyard, located in the village of St. Davids, and now we were heading due north to the picturesque town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.
Reif, steeped in tradition that began nearly fifty years ago, is a 125-acre, family-owned and operated estate winery, that opened its doors to the public in 1983. Originally owned by Ewald Reif, he sold the winery to his nephew, current President and Oenologist Klaust Reif, upon retiring.
The history of this winery is impressive, however unlike my experience at Ravine, where we were drawn deep into its history, here at Reif our visit was much more tailored to the actual wine tasting experience.
Once on the grounds, we felt instantly transported to a quaint European village. A chalet-like facility greeted us at the opening of the entrance with ample parking beside the building.
Once inside, I found it to be smaller than I would have expected, but only in size, certainly not in presence. Directly in front of us was an impressive wine tasting bar with busy staff attending to inquiring guests. The room felt oval in nature and I was surrounded by well-lit wine displays featuring every style and class of wine imaginable.
We pre-booked our tour with the staff at Reif, Sue and I were greeted at the door and introduced to our tour guide Adrian McFarlane, a host at Reif whom we soon realized was well versed in all the intricacies of wine tasting. It was no secret that I was coming to the wine bar with a novice palate, unlike Sue who definitely had a keen nose for good wine.
Adrian picked up on this quickly and was comfortable in dealing with both levels of knowledge. He took the time to explain the nuances of wine tasting, which for me was greatly appreciated. However, at the same time, he kept the process moving forward which benefited Sue as well.
Some of the cool tips Adrian shared with us were how to correctly hold a glass at its stem to ensure that the temperature of our hands didn’t effect the wine inside. As well, he showed us how to swirl your wine around in your glass and break the surface of the wine, allowing for the aromas to be released.
One thing I never knew, was that with every first glass of wine, you should start with three sips; the first being to cleanse the palette, and only on the second and third sips does your palette acclimatize to the wine, allowing you to enjoy the true notes of the wine.
I enjoyed the second sip, which is when you learn how to properly take in your wine to ensure maximum enjoyment. It’s called the “gargle”. This is when you draw air into your mouth while taking in a sip of your wine.
The gargling motion can be quite tricky and, in my case, embarrassing. However, I’ve been told that over time one will get used the process without making funny noises or faces and it will actually enhance your ability to taste the wine.
We were presented with a beautiful arrangement of assorted crackers and cheeses to go along with our taste testing experience. Adrian told us which cheeses went with which wines and why. The light gouda cheese went with the chardonnays, the sharp cheddar cheese went with the Merlots, and the sharp blue cheese went with their ice wines.
Adrian answered every question we threw at him with confidence and ease and when the wine tasting was done, he even offered to extend his time with us to show us around the rest of the winery. We took him up on the offer!
Our tour started outside where we passed an outdoor kitchen where pizzas and sliders were being grilled for guests to enjoy.
Ahh, the smell of outdoor barbecuing!
Beside the kitchen was an area they called their Century Garden, where they grew herbs, allowing guests to have a sensory experience whereby each herb represented a certain characteristic or note of a wine.
Here are some herbs that pair well with wines: Chardonnay, pinot blanc and sauvignon blanc pair well with basil. Pinot grigio and riesling pair with chives. The red wines, such as merlot, pinot noir, shiraz and zinfandel, pair nicely with chervil, cilantro and dill.
Next, we walked across to their wine cellar where we got to see the iconic wine barrels that we so commonly associate with winemaking. However, these particular barrels were quite impressive and unique looking as they had when they originated in Germany and have been in the Reif family for decades.
They were disassembled for the trip across the ocean and then reassembled in 1985 when the winery opened. These barrels range in size from 5,000 to 10,000 litres and each barrel had these tiny door openings that were the size of a sideways facing breadbox.
We were amazed to discover that each year they had someone who made their way through this opening to scrub out the interior of the barrels. Truly impressive!
From here, we made two more stops. The award room where the winery displays all the medals and awards it has gathered over the years. This room also houses their reserve ice-wine collection. Adrian noted that 40 of the 152 acres are dedicated to growing Vidal grapes for their ice-wine and he believes that it accounts for about 20% of their wine production.
Next we went to check out the Black Cellar, with a wine press, where they host receptions for weddings and even a live concert there this year.
I used the amazing backdrop of wine barrels that lined the walls of the black cellar to snap a few shots of our host Adrian. We finished our tour visiting the wine store that brought us right back to the main wine tasting building.
Our experience was impressive, and I was surprised at the size of the venue. It felt smaller than I would have expected for a large estate winery. Perhaps that’s because Niagara wineries overall tend to be much smaller than other regions, such as Napa Valley or Bordeaux Estate.
We ended our day by taking some beautiful sunset shots of the vineyard where I found an old classic Rolls-Royce Austin Princess Limo used for their wedding receptions that take place at the Grand Victorian Bed and Breakfast. This grand mansion is a two-minute walk from the winery, a venue I didn’t get to visit due to time constraints, but I am told it is beautiful.
Sue and I will definitely use as an excuse to come back and visit!. We want to thank Adrian for his kind hospitality and Sarah Sparrow for setting up our tour — we had an amazing time! ♥
Photography and story by TRISH O’Flaherty :: Originally published as “Tale of Two Niagara Wineries: Reif Winery Makes Big Impression” October, 2016 for www.NatalieMaclean.com
Travel & Lifestyle Photographer & Blogger
Trish is based out of Toronto Ontario, and has worked passionately as a professional Photographer, Graphic Designer and Illustrator for over 20 years.
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