I Went On A Wine-Tour Experience In Ontario & This Is Everything I Did
Uncovering all the hidden Southwestern Ontario gems.
I think I’ve discovered the cure to Ontario’s winter blues. And no, it doesn't involve travelling abroad to a warm and sunny destination (which is a little risky nowadays).
Instead, it's all about yummy food, local craft beverages and Southwestern Ontario charm.
Founded by two local farmers in Norfolk County, Ride the Bine is an award-winning food-and-drink tour that offers unique, small-group tasting sessions at some of Southwestern Ontario's best craft-beverage spots.
Currently, tours are offered in Norfolk County, London, Lambton Shores and Huron County. Ride the Bine takes the guesswork (and driving) out of finding exciting craft wine, cider and beverage destinations.
I recently endeavoured on a special tour, consisting of ‘snippets’ from three different curated tasting tours that are available in London, Sarnia/Lambton and Norfolk County. Let’s just say, I have a newfound appreciation for this beautiful province.
Though a Ride the Bine tour can be enjoyed any time of the year, there's something extra special about that small-town charm during the holiday season.
I'm someone who usually goes into hibernation during the colder months, but this much-welcomed getaway allowed me to explore (and support) some local gems.
Pro tip: one of these tours makes a great gift or celebratory outing for those hard-to-buy loved ones this holiday season.
Stop 1: Heeman's
After a two-hour trip from Toronto, I pulled up to Heeman's and spotted a bustling garden and greenhouse centre. This was where my first (and most unconventional) cider tasting would be taking place. I was immediately welcomed by plants, trees, flowers and charming Christmas decor — but nothing I was expecting from a cidery.
I was greeted by Susan (co-founder of Ride the Bine and co-founder of Heeman's Cidery) and Dave (my much-appreciated driver for the weekend).
Since their humble beginnings in 1963, family-owned Heeman’s has grown to serve London and its surrounding communities for all gardening and berry needs. Susan and her husband Tom pursued their passion for craft beverages and began producing Heeman's in-house cider using all local ingredients.
The tasting — an experience exclusive to Ride the Bine tours — took place inside a lush greenhouse, which was the serotonin escape I needed on a grey December day.
Susan explained how important curating the perfect tasting experience is to her; locations change based on season/weather so guests get the ultimate sensory experience.
Surrounded by what felt like a tropical rainforest, I was served three Heeman's cider samples: Heeman's Original Hard Cider, Berry Blush Hard Cider, Dutch Crumble Hard Cider (a seasonal special, that tasted like apple pie), plus a specialty mead (made from the honey from their very own beehives).
Heeman's set the tone for the rest of the tour: these spots are all about reducing food waste. Local produce that would have otherwise been tossed is turned into something delicious.
An imperfect strawberry or a hail-damaged apple may not be suitable for retail shelves, but it sure makes good cider.
Stop 2: Shale Ridge Estate Winery
The very Instagrammable Shale Ridge Estate Winery, located in Thedford, Ontario, blew me away.
I was greeted by Alicia, who co-founded and built Shale Ridge with her husband, Garren. The place was bustling with groups of family and friends wandering through the twinkling lit barn. There were swing tables (I told you: Instagrammable) and a giant Christmas tree.
I got their Seasonal Cider Flight (made from all locally sourced ingredients) and a charcuterie board with treats that accommodated my gluten and dairy dietary restrictions.
Though I loved the cozy-barn Christmas vibe I got from Shale Ridge, I'd love to come back during the warmer months. They have a gorgeous patio with outdoor swing-seating and fire pits.
Stop 3: Twin Pines Orchards
We pulled up to a cozy cabin during a light snowfall, and I instantly fell in love. Visiting family-owned Twin Pines Orchards was like stepping into a Hallmark Christmas movie.
I received a warm welcome from the owner, Mark, and his niece, Hannah. Mark is very active in the cider-making process, from growing over 70 apple varieties in the family orchard to designing the wine labels.
Their passion for their craft was evident in both how they spoke and in the award-winning ciders that I got to taste.
Stop 4: Paradigm Spirits
Our final stop of the night was Paradigm Spirits, where we'd be having dinner and drinks. Plus, a visit with Ride the Bine includes an exclusive cocktail creation and tour.
Located on the property of a former Kellogg’s factory (yes, like the cereal), this distillery and cocktail bar/restaurant still uses many of the same ingredients that were used in cereal production.
I started with their signature spirit flight, the Paradigm Showcase, to get familiar with their yummy offerings and then moved on to the Forest Dweller Margarita, which tasted like a carrot and ginger juice (with a kick of tequila).
For dinner, I ordered melt-in-your-mouth scallops followed by an in-season trout fillet (locally sourced, of course).
The Farmhouse Stay
After a long and decadent day, I settled into accommodations for the night: The Farmhouse at Burning Kiln Winery.
Built in 1865 and restored to its original rustic charm, the quiet B&B was exactly what this city gal needed.
I had such a sound sleep, but the best part was breakfast. Ashley, who works at Burning Kiln, delivered two baskets filled with gluten-free baked goods from their GF bakery, local jams, honey, produce and other goodies to take home with me.
I sipped on coffee by the fireplace before another fun-filled day exploring the wineries of Norfolk County.
Stop 1: Burning Kiln Winery
I started with their Sparks Sparkling white blend, followed by three other signature wines.
I got a bit of holiday shopping done and snagged one of their crackle-wick, tobacco-scented candles before heading off to the next destination.
Stop 2: Inasphere Winery & Farm Market
The views at Inasphere Winery are breathtaking: 105 acres of estate grapevines and field vegetables.
I was greeted by Ryan, co-owner of Inasphere Winery, who told me all about his farming and winemaking journey.
He and his family share a love of winemaking and growing produce for Norfolk County. It's so refreshing to meet people who whole-heartedly love what they do.
After trying their sauv blanc, riesling and cab sauv, I headed off to the next destination (with a bottle to take home, because I enjoyed it that much).
Last Stop: Blueberry Hill Estates
This family-owned-and-operated farm and winery uses their blueberries to make jellies, baked goods and wines from scratch.
Walking into the farmhouse tasting room was like travelling back in time. I was welcomed with a platter of locally made, cashew-based cheeses, gluten-free crackers and truffle-oil popcorn to complement the beverage tastings.
I tried two of their ciders, along with a few of their wines, including their signature blueberry wine.
Alayna, my tour guide, highlighted how dedicated the Norfolk community is to serving the best local products. If Blueberry Hill Estates was running low on a cab sauv, they'd call up Ryan from Inasphere who'd happily share.
"A rising tide raises all boats," is a motto they stand by around here. Their commitment to working together to serve the community was evident throughout the tour.
I told literally everyone I met on this journey that I'd be back to Ride the Bine — likely with my small army of girlfriends to accompany me.
There’s a distinct charm and hospitality I felt from these Southwestern wineries that I never quite got from any other tour. I was able to chat with the owners and their family members, who were genuinely excited for me to taste what they created.
I was grateful to learn about winemaking and cider-making from the very best and felt inspired in the company of such passionate people.
While my specific tour — which included stops in Norfolk County, London,Lambton Shores and Huron County — isn’t available, I’d highly recommend any of the curated experiences that Ride the Bine offers. If you're in need of some gift ideas this holiday season, or for a local escape, a Ride the Bine tour might be just what you’re looking for.
Ride The Bine Tour
Price: $129 to $179
When: Tours run all year, dates vary depending on the tour you choose.
Why You Need To Go: This is the ultimate getaway for foodies and fans of local craft beverages. Or, if you're short on present ideas this holiday season, give the gift of Southwestern Ontario charm and invite a friend along with you. In response to public health guidelines, there are currently only private group bookings available.
Participants must be 19 years of age or older and vaccine passports are required.
Before you get going, check out our Responsible Travel Guide so you can be informed, be safe, be smart, and most of all, be respectful on your adventure.