In Niagara’s wine country, there are literally more excellent wineries than you can shake a stick at. In fact, there are more excellent wineries than makes sense given the relatively small size of the Niagara Peninsula, and yet, great wine is made here and enjoyed here day in and day out, and it’s been that way now for decades.
A lucky combination of mild climate, fertile soil, ample water, and impressive growing, harvesting, pressing, and fermenting techniques, the wines of Niagara rank among the finest in the world, and one of the wineries deserving of your attention when you venture to Niagara for vacation is Hernder Estate Wines in St. Catharines.
A third generation, family-owned and operated farm-turned-winery, Hernder boasts one of the largest family estate wineries in all of Canada. Originally a mixed fruit orchard with acres of indigenous grapes, it was settled in 1939 by a German immigrant.
His son — second generation farmer, Fred Hernder — realized that the free trade agreement passed in 1988 between Canada and the United States was about to severely reduce the amount of Ontario grapes that would be grown and made available for local wineries. Because of this realization, business-minded Fred replanted his vineyards with vitis vinifera and French hybrid grapes. In doing so, he launched the Hernder Estate winery. It’s grown considerably since that time, and today, this winery makes more than 25 types of VQA wine across over 500 acres that stretch from St. Catharines to Beamsville.
One of the highlights of wandering across any part of Niagara’s wine country is taking advantage of the tours and tastings that many wineries provide. Hernder’s tour grants guests access to their stunning vineyards, wine press, cellar, bottling line, and VQA wines for a tour that explains, in a nutshell, what contemporary winemaking in Canada entails.
Tours are offered every day, all year long — excepting Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and New Year’s Day — and they end with a tasting of current offerings. Samples are $1, unless you’re after the pricier and more precious icewine, which costs $2.50.
The Wine and Its Tasting
From their icewines to their Vidal, Hernder crafts some of the best wine in the business, winning awards throughout Canada and the world. One of the unique offerings at Hernder’s tasting bar is the option to pick between vertical and horizontal tastings. What’s the difference? A vertical tasting allows guests with a more refined palette to experience back vintages and current ones of the same varietal. This type of tasting grants guests insight into the ways in which a varietal can change and develop with time.
The other option is a horizontal tasting that allows guests to experience different wines from a specific vintage, whether a random year, an anniversary year, or some other year of note to the guest or winery. This tasting path allows someone to experience how a range of varietals during the same season were affected by temperature, rain, drought, or even a change in the technology used during processing.
Every visitor to Niagara should embark on a wine tour or two, and should one of those tours be to Hernder Estate Wines, you’ll not only learn a lot about Niagara winemaking but you’ll also get a rare window into Niagara wines themselves.