The Niagara area has really started to be recognized as a world leader in wine production in the last few years, especially in the ice wine category. I have lived in Ontario for most of my life and although I have tasted many local wines, I have never actually visited a vineyard.
Before my brothers left Ontario to spend a year working in Florida, my Mom planned a day of celebrating our local treasures, the highlight of which was a wine-tasting tour in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
My mom, one of my brothers and I are all vegan. We each came to veganism at different points in our lives and for different reasons. But we try to make the best choices we can for our own health, the animals and the environment. When it comes to wine, the heart healthy properties have been toted for years. None of us indulge in a glass of vino very often, but the occasional glass of fermented grapes is a shared pleasure. However, as vegans we need to be aware of how the wine was processed so that we can indulge without compromising our ethics.
Many wineries (breweries and distilleries) use animal ingredients in their processing, including: fish swim bladders (isinglass), animal albumin (egg albumin), casein and potassium caseinate (milk protein) and gelatin (made from bones). Luckily, there is a fantastic online resource
managed by an incredible Toronto couple (who I enjoy immensely) where you can check to see if your favourite imbibing beverage is vegan friendly. I was happy to find a number of locally produced wines that are vegan. One of them, has won over 500 awards in just 15 years, and hosts public tours. Perfect. So we planned our trip to Pillitteri Estate Winery
After hearing a little about the history of this family-led winery we had the opportunity to walk among the grapes. I love seeing row upon row of vines, weighed down by heavy bunches of juicy green globes. It was interesting to hear more about how the climate of the region is managed to create the ideal grape cultivating atmosphere. A number of wind turbines have been added to the fields to moderate temperature changes.
I didn’t actually see any of the red grape varieties during the tour but this winery is quite famous for the unique ice wines they produce using different red grapes (shiraz, cabernet franc and a number of blends/fusions).
After our stroll in the fields, we were given an overview of the process of turning grapes into wine (and it was nothing like what Jesus did with the water-or so I’ve been told). Above, you see what our tour guide called “spaghetti”. This is the part of the process that I appreciated the most. Pillitteri uses this microfiltering device rather than the animal byproducts employed by many of their competitors to filter and clarify their wine.
The ice wines and white wines then move into these large stainless steel tanks to ferment.
The red wines are fermented in oak barrels in the cellar of the winery. You’ll notice the little stoppers on top of each barrel. This allows the wine to be topped up, as required, during the aging period.
We were rewarded for all our walking and focused attention with a few delicious samples of Pillitteri wines. My favourite was the 2007 Gewürztraminer Riesling Fusion
. It had a lovely smooth texture with a lush, sweet, fruity flavour. I even bought a bottle to open upon my brother’s return to Canada in August 2010. This wine is widely available at the LCBO.
After a few glasses of wine (they were sample size) I got funnier and hungrier. On the bus ride back from the winery I was regaling my brothers with all of lots of hilarious quips. They seemed quite desperate to get off the bus and find a place to eat in the quaint town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. It took us a few minutes to locate a restaurant that would accommodate our dietary requirements. But the Shaw Cafe and Wine bar
fit the bill. The four of us shared the three vegan items on the menu.
We started with hummus and raisin-walnut tapenade, with flat bread and sesame crackers. The tapenade had a surprising sweetness imparted by the raisins that made it lovely departure from the traditional olive condiment.
Next, we shared a grilled vegetable sandwich, spread with roasted red pepper hummus. This dish was pretty standard, nothing exciting.
Finally, a warm falafel wrap with tahini sauce. The crispy, fried exterior helped to soak up the alcohol in my system and provided plenty of protein and fat to satisfy my belly. It was warm, spicy and delicious.
I hope this summer you will venture out to discover what is produced in your region. Mornings spent wandering the rows of produce at a local market, picking berries in the field or sampling wine in a vineyard reminds us to appreciate the care and effort people put into creating the food we savour.
I would like to take this opportunity to toast all of those who toil in the fields on hot, humid afternoons and dark, rainy mornings to make our celebrations a little more special. Cheers!