The Wine Regions of Niagara
We are all probably familiar with how vast and grand the Niagara wine scene is, but do we fully understand the differences between the smaller areas within the region, and how grapes and wines coming from each region have vastly different flavours and profiles? If not, then hopefully we will be able to learn and understand a little bit more about this beautiful wine region. The Niagara Penninsula is one of three Viticultural Area appellations, the others being Lake Erie North Shore (LENS) and Prince Edward Count (The County / PEC). The Niagara Peninsula can be broken down into two regional appellations, the Niagara Escarpment, and Niagara-on-the-Lake.
The Niagara Escarpment appellation lies west of St. Catharines to Grimsby. This complex and diverse wine region has three sub-appellations - Short Hills Bench, Twenty Mile Bench, and the Beamsville Bench. In addition to the Niagara Escarpment, there are 3 other sub-appellations within the area - Lincoln Lakeshore, Vinemount Ridge, and Creek Shores. While these different wine regions can be very close together, the fruit coming from vineyards in one sub-appellation will be completely different from the fruit coming from another. This is one of the most exciting things about the Niagara wine region, as all wineries and vineyards are producing completely different wines than their neighbours.
Beamsville Bench - Sloping bench lands, limestone enriched soils, fresh elegant minerality. This specific appellation gets all of the benefits from the bench topography, with continuous air circulation, and moderate temperatures. Wines from this region have a natural complexity due to the unique characteristics of the lands they are grown on.
Short Hills Bench - Warm sunny days, cool nights, complex soils, intense grape flavours. This area is known for its long, gentle slopes and great drainage. This area also has warm, sunny days and cool nights, which create intense flavours in the fruit.
Twenty Mile Bench - Complex topography, double benches, deep soils, reflective wines. This area has a very unique landscape, with a double-bench formation. Grapes that are grown here fave ideal growing seasons due to the sheltered north-facing slopes and the air circulation from Lake Ontario.
Creek Shores - Criss-crossed with creeks and streams, glacial delta, rich fertile lands. Riddled with waterways, this sub-appellation is almost entirely surrounded by water. This region has long, gentle slopes facing in all directions, with most of the vineyards located on the rich, fertile lowlands above the active floodplain.
Lincoln Lakeshore - Dominant influence of Lake Ontario, long tempered growing season, seasonal streams. This sub-appellation is heavily influenced by Lake Ontario. Breezes of the water cool the sun-bathed vineyards in the summer and warm them in the winter. This results in a longer growing season and a more even ripening.
Vinemount Ridge - South- and east-facing slopes, early spring warming, hot summers. This region is typically the first to undergo budburst due to its unique east- and south-facing slopes. This helps warm the deep clay soils and give earl sun exposure in the spring.
The circular wind patterns caused by the Niagara Escarpment and Lake Ontario. (A) Lakeshore effect zone (B) Level plain between escarpment and lake (C) Base of the escarpment, steep slope East of St. Catharines (D) Steep North-facing escarpment slopes (E) Slopes above the escarpment (F) Flat and rolling land South of the Escarpment
Niagara-on-the-Lake is a region that is defined by its surrounding features. Lake Ontario, the Niagara River, and the Niagara Escarpment are what the entire region knows is the reason for its diverse wines. Niagara-on-the-Lake can be divided into four sub-appellations, Niagara River, Four Mile Creek, St. David's Bench, and the Niagara Lakeshore. Similar to that of the Niagara Escarpment, each sub-appellation produces incredibly diverse and complex wines.
Four Mile Creek - Expansive vineyards, abundant full sunlight, warm intense growing conditions. This sub-appellation is the most productive across the entire region. Four Mile Creek is almost entirely flat, which lets the beautiful summer sun hit the vineyards at all times throughout the day, giving grape growers the opportunity to grow varieties they cannot do anywhere else. Four Mile Creek is also the sub-appellation in which Lakeview Wine Co. calls home.
Niagara Lakeshore - Dominant influence of Lake Ontario, long and consistent growing season for flavour development. Similar to the Lincoln Lakeshore, this sub-appellation capitalizes on Lake Ontario for its moderation of temperatures. This allows later ripening varieties to reach full peak maturity.
Niagara River - Easterly facing, gentle slopes, long growing season moderated by the Niagara River. The soils in this region are predominately sand, allowing for great drainage and also encouraging deep root growth. The Niagara River creates convectional currents which extend the growing season.
St. David's Bench - Early warming in spring, gently sloping bench, generous precipitation. This sub-appellation is at the base of the escarpment, which collects and circulates lake breezes back onto the vines. Most vineyards in this region are located on north-facing slopes on the upper portion of the bench.
Photo: Vineyards in the Niagara Lakeshore
Past these descriptions, each vineyard will have its different practices of viticulture. Each row of vines will have its own experiences with nature, and each bunch of grapes has its own story to tell.