The third part of our trip to the Wayne Gretzky Estates was a tour of their winery and distillery. Complete with vineyard frolicking, mad scientists, moonshine wafting and Hogwarts potions class minus the robes.
The most exciting part of the experience was getting to compare different wines and spirits in a methodological and almost scientific way. I will likely never be a winemaker or master distiller but for a few hours I got an inside look into things like, how do you get different tastes out of the same grape?
The winery tour took us into the cellar and the freezer while passing by old world barrels and new age giant, cement, egg shaped fermentation tanks; as painted on the side of their building in the photo below. If you get the chance to visit, give the strange contraption a knock and see if Lady Gaga pops out. (See why I would never make it as a winemaker?)
Along the way we got to try wine throughout its fermentation process. Don’t fall into illusions thinking wine is just a process of grapes to youthful juice to mature barrel to Sunday dinner. Gretzky Estates winemaker, Craig McDonald, is a mad scientist. The fermenting wine is continually tasted and tested and going through blending sessions before the final product. Not to mention prior to all this there is a pressurize carbon gun involved.
Whisky and spirits making is just as intricate. Our group crowded around towering pipes of clear liquid to listen to Master Distiller Joshua Beach talk about distilling as though we were in Charlie in the Chocolate Factory. While Josh is Willy Wonka in this story, the look in his eyes and gestures as he spoke was more like that of a kid in a candy store. Full of excitement and passion.
For the BC readers, Josh is one of the co-founders of East Van’s Odd Society!
In my hand is a cup of raw spirit. Like moonshine, enough to make you go blind.
For all the casual connoisseurs and Hogwarts prospects, the Whisky tour concluded with a half hour tasting session where we sat in front of this wooden table that opened up to reveal the supplies for Potions 101.
We got to try their “artisanal spirited wines.” There’s Vidal, Muscat and Rose. Served straight, on the rocks or in cocktails; think of them as 40% ABV grape juice but not. These grape based spirits are a collaboration between winemaker and distiller. It’s definitely not a wine but it’s not exactly like any other spirit either. Could make a fun substitute for rum or gin on an adventurous night. The bottles and labels are pretty sweet too.
Following the spirited wines we dove into their Red Cask, Ice Cask and Ninety Nine Proof whiskies. One of the most unique things about the Wayne Gretzky Estates is that their whiskies are finished in their own wine casks. Essentially, they have more control over their product in this way and from a sustainability standpoint it’s great too!
Going back and forth between three with sips to figure out my favorite, the winner in my books is the Ninety Nine Proof. Despite a 49.5% ABV, it is very smooth.
Beyond the tours, Wayne Gretzky Estates has lots to offer for visitors. If you’re there in the winter, you may even get a chance to go skating on their pond!
Want to know how their whiskies and wines go with food? Read about their dinner pairing experience.
In addition to tours and dinners, they also host cocktail workshops.
219 Niagara Stone Rd, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON