One of my favourite things about this blog is connecting with other like-minded wine lovers, especially those who live in our very own Ontario wine country! I recently chatted with Joanne Deall, who writes a Niagara-centric blog called Niagarafied and also owns and runs Highbrook Bed and Breakfast, which is based in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
When did you first move to Niagara-on-the-Lake?
In December 2013. We moved in the middle of a wicked snowstorm, so it was quite the beginning to our Niagara life!
I’d been coming to NOTL since I was a kid. My parents would bring me and my sister down for an annual visit to the Fort, we’d walk around town, and buy some fudge and fruit. By the ‘90’s these annual trips started to become wine expeditions... There were much less wineries around back then, and I’ve loved watching how the industry has grown here. When I met Ken (my husband), we talked many times about how we both loved NOTL, and thought it was one of those places we’d like to live in “someday”. Little did we know that life would provide us with the opportunity sooner than we thought! We had a bunch of things happen back in 2012, that made us re-evaluate how we were living our lives. Were we doing what we really wanted to do? Could we keep going at the crazy pace we were going at? Was it worth it? We decided, no, the crazy amounts of stress and burnout weren’t worth it any more for us. Ken had to have major heart surgery that year, and during his recovery we started to talk about what we thought was next. We both have hospitality backgrounds, and Ken has always wanted to run a small boutique hotel. So to make a long story short, we came down one day later that summer to see a play at the Shaw Festival. We remembered our conversations about moving to NOTL one day.....and three weeks later we bought Highbrook, our B&B.
What is is about Niagara-on-the-Lake that you love?
Where do I begin? It’s just a beautiful, beautiful place. I love the sense of history here, I love the peaceful scenery of wine country, and Niagara Falls still takes my breath away. As a wine lover, I’m thrilled to have world-class wineries literally on my doorstep, and I never get tired of visiting them. Add in some fantastic restaurants, and the incredibly nice people I’ve met here, and you can see, there’s lots to love.
You have a website called Niagarafied where you talk about your love of Niagara - how did Niagarafied first come about?
Though I was very excited about moving here, I had always lived in Toronto. When I arrived in NOTL, I felt like I was starting my life over from scratch, and wanted to learn all I could about my new home. For some reason, I thought it would be a great idea to write about all this stuff on the internet too. It sounds a bit crazy to me now that I thought of doing that, as I hadn’t done much writing since university, and had no clue what I was doing - but I plunged in anyway. I’m glad I did. I’ve met some truly lovely people and had some wonderful experiences and opportunities all because of Niagarafied. I’m very, very grateful for that. I’ve also learned a big lesson - sometimes, it’s good to listen to your crazy ideas!
When did you first fall in love with wine?
If I’m being really honest here, I was about 17. One of my friends snuck in a bottle of “Le Piat d’Or” to a house party. I thought we were just SO sophisticated for drinking wine.... And I discovered I kind of liked it too. Thankfully, my wine preferences have changed a lot since then, and I even started sommelier training way back in 2002. The program was pretty intense, and I unfortunately didn’t finish....to this day, blind tasting is still quite a challenge for me! I have huge respect for sommeliers, because there is SO much work that goes into it.
What is it about Niagara wines that you love?
I love the variety that we have here - there really is a Niagara wine for every palate. One of the things I particularly enjoy is tasting the differences between wines made in the Bench, and those made in Niagara-on-the-Lake....even though we’re not that far away from each other, it’s amazing to taste the difference in the terroir in your glass.
Niagara produces some amazing wines - the selection and quality keeps getting better and better. What do you think surprises people most about Niagara-area wine?
Again, the variety. Some of our guests at Highbrook think when they arrive that we only make Icewine - and though we do make some fantastic Icewine, we are so much more than that. I love speaking to our guests about the wines they enjoy, and making winery recommendations for them based on their likes, budget, and what they are looking for in a winery experience. I LOVE seeing them come back and tell me how much they loved what they tasted. And they always do.
What do you think makes Niagara-area wines so special?
I am very passionate about the wine we make here, but honestly, it’s the stories of the people involved in making the wine that make it even more special to me. When you know more of what goes into that bottle you’re sipping, you appreciate every drop. Back 10 Cellars talks on their website about the “hard work, laughter, tears and dedication” in every glass....and that is 100% true.
What kind of wines are you most looking forward to drinking this summer?
During summer, bring on the Chardonnay! I’m a huge Chardonnay lover, and I’m one of those folks who prefers it with some oak. I’m also really loving Viognier, and have enjoyed sampling more Niagara roses lately too. We make some absolute beauties in all of these grape varieties, and they’re perfect for those hot summer days. At least, I hope those hot summer days are coming!
It's almost summer time - finally!- what are you favourite things to do, wine-related or not, in the Niagara region during the summer months?
Since I’ve moved here, I always kick off the summer with attending Graze the Bench. Then it’s the Rosé Party at Westcott Vineyards. As a Chardonnay fan, I definitely plan to attend some of the i4C happenings too. Ken and I usually attend one re-enactment, as we are big history lovers, and of course, some of the productions at the Shaw Festival. I love attending the community festivals here too - the Strawberry Festival, the Peach Festival, and Canal Days in Port Colborne are just a few, and they are always such fun. Summer just goes way too fast! It’s the busy season for the B&B too so I often feel like I’m constantly rushing around between it, getting out to events for the blog, and creating posts. But it’s all worth it when I can relax a bit in November.....
Thanks so much, Jo!
To learn more about Jo and Niagara-on-the-lake, please visit: http://niagarafied.ca/ - until next time, happy wining!