Today feels like Spring...it's just around the corner! We all look forward to flinging open our windows and letting in the fresh air. With the warm weather on the way, we anticipate bud break and new welcome growth in the vineyard.
After seventeen years of owning Crush on Niagara Wine Tours, we can sense the eagerness of the warmer temperatures. As soon as February draws to an end, the phones start ringing as flocks of tourists plan their getaway in wine country.
I’ve decided to compile a list of the most popular questions for people inquiring about taking a wine tour. Whether you have already toured through wine country, or are planning a special day our or getaway wine country weekend in Niagara. These questions and answers will help get the planning rolling, and the wine flowing.
What is the best time of year to tour wine country? Honestly, there isn’t a bad time to visit. In the spring, bud break is beautiful and wineries are less busy than in the summer months. The climate can still be too cool to eat out doors, but there is plenty to see, do and taste! Vineyard walks might not always be possible as it may be too muddy, or maybe a good time to break out those cute rain boots.
Summer is a wonderful time and a very busy time. June and the beginning of July things are just getting ramped up, and wineries and tour companies like ours are beginning to fill in. Patios are busy with merry tourists drinking Rieslings and Rosés on sun filled patios. Tasting rooms hum along with oenophiles and tourists alike. If you are planning a custom wine tour, it is good to note also that many wineries have extended hours in the summer months and stay open a little later.
Late summer and fall, is really peak time in wine country. There are many events and so much to see, do and swirl. Wineries get ready to harvest (sometimes that comes early if it has been a hot summer). This is an opportune time for photography enthusiasts. Wine country is sprinkled with the greenest and most lush vineyards and ripe fruit hangs deliciously from manicured vines. Touring behind the scenes at some wineries in the height of fall might be difficult when harvest takes place. The production remains closed to the public at times due to slippery floors and moving equipment.
After harvest, into late fall and early November, wine country breathes a big sigh of relief. The wineries slow down a little and there is a fresh chill in the air. Tasting rooms aren’t nearly as busy and there is more time to ask questions and taste through flights of award winning wines. Some wineries may close a little earlier while others stay open and welcome guests with crackling fires.
Any time of year in wine country is a wonderful time to visit! Each season brings with it a new opportunity to taste, swirl and savour.
What should we wear? I always tell people to dress smartly casual. If you’re going to be eating outdoors at any time, bring a light sweater or shall. Save the heels for dinner. Many wineries have gravelled driveways or uneven walkways. I recommend packing heels if you want to dress up for dinner, but trying to tiptoe through wine country in high heels can prove challenging and you will miss out on the vineyard visit if you have the opportunity to walk through the vines.
Also, keep perfume to a minimum. No one wants to walk into a tasting room and get a waft of strong perfume from the person standing in front of them. People are there to smell, taste and learn about wine not inhale your newest fragrance.
Can we all be in one vehicle? Most certainly! If you have six or more guests (or want to pay for six) then just let us know you want to book a private tour. There can be a cost associated, depending on what time of year. If you sign up on a “Signature Daily Tour”, then you will be with other people and of course if you book together, you stay together. We always run vans with 14 passengers or less, unless you have a large private group that requires a bus or coach.
Do you collect long distance? Sure do! In the high season we collect from all over the Niagara region, door to door. We also collect in Hamilton, Burlington, Toronto and surrounding areas. We require a minimum of six guests, or payment for the equivalent of six guests to collect long distance. We also pick up from the Go Train stations locally if you want to avoid traffic.
Are there snacks? On our daily tours (where listed), we provide snacks, or a cheese visit, or something of that nature. When booking a customised tour for groups of six or more, we offer snacks at some winery venues for an additional cost. From time to time wineries will have bread or cheese available at the tasting bar, but this is really few and far between and I see it less and less often. Don’t expect snacks at the wineries unless you have requested and paid for them in advance. Be proactive and bring snacks and bottled water to stay hydrated and satiated throughout the day.
Why book with a wine tour company when tasting fees are free at most wineries? I used to get this question a lot in the past and it still does come up from time to time. I’ll start with the obvious…. We get you from winery to winery worry free and you don’t have to worry about who is going to drive. There are so many benefits in booking a fully guided wine country service to host your day. We book in everything in advance so that it is a seamless, fun filled day. You also enjoy many benefits when booking with Crush that you just wouldn’t be able to arrange on your own. We have exclusive luncheon venues, exclusive blending and bottling experiences (more of these to come)!, and reserved time slots at wineries, so you are booked and confirmed and won’t be turned away when tasting rooms are crowded. Tasting fees are also included in every wine tour that you book with us. You also get the benefit of a tour guide who knows where they are going, knows all about the Niagara region and has a wonderful overall knowledge of wine country and all things wine.
Why book with Crush? What makes your tour company different? We opened our doors to our premium wine tour experience sixteen years ago. When I say this, I actually mean that we have been in this business for sixteen years and have been running Crush on Niagara for sixteen years…not that we have sixteen years’ experience in some similar, industry related field (which we also happen to have). Andrew is a trained Sommelier and has been for over 25 years. He is also an accomplished wine author and very well respected wine grower in Niagara. We know wine, we grow wine and live on our own vineyard in wine country. We also have wonderful relationships with all of the wineries. If you want to know who has really been in business for a successful and extended period of time, call the wineries and ask who they would recommend. I’m quite confident you will hear Crush on Niagara Wine Tours many a times. We train our tour guides in CPR every year, although it isn’t a requirement. We tour thousands and thousands of guests every year so it is important to us that our tour guides are well equipped to handle any type of emergency situation. We, as well as our tour guides are certified CPR and first emergency responders. Shortly after being re-certified, one of our tour guides saved the life of a choking man by giving him the Heimlich manoeuvre…you just never know! Thanks Len, you rock! Lastly and more importantly, we have our own fleet of properly insured, inspected, licenced vehicles. We carry an eight million dollar insurance policy to protect our company and you. Make sure, when you book with any wine tour company, that you are properly insured…cheaper isn’t always necessarily better. Know what you are getting.
What else should we know about going on a wine tour? A wine tour is supposed to be fun, so sit back and enjoy the experience. Ask questions, a lot of them. Drink water, a lot of it. It is so important to stay hydrated. Save the gum for another time. Sure everyone likes sparkling fresh breath, but save the mints and gum for after the wine tour. They will greatly alter the taste of any wine. I know, I know…this is a tough one…but stay clear of the coffee until after the tour also. Coffee can also alter the taste of the wine, especially if you are sipping it in-between wineries.
Make sure you have a full belly before wine tasting for the day or afternoon. Have a hearty breakfast or lunch before you start sniffing and swirling your way across Niagara. There is nothing worse than tasting wine when you are starving…or bring snacks if you know you may get a little peckish throughout the day.
Booking a wine tour is about having fun, learning about wine and being respectful at wineries. It is ok to get a little merry, but it isn’t about getting drunk. If you feel like you have had too much to drink, you can still taste and use the spittoons provided at the wineries. No one at the wineries or on tour wants to see anyone drunk. Learning about wine is about respecting the wine and all of the hard work that has gone into making it. It isn’t about swilling copious quantities and stumbling into tasting bars. This is why it is standard to have between 3-4 tastings at each winery maximum.
Lastly, have fun and create wonderful memories. Bring your phone fully charged so you can tweet, and sip socially and snap photos of your fave wine labels and drinkable treasures you discover along the way.
We look forward to seeing you on a Crush wine tour in Niagara very soon!