Dogs and wine. Clearly, my dog doesn’t drink wine, but she doesn’t seem to mind if I do. Fortunately, we live not far from one of the best wine regions in the country, and a few dog-friendly wineries.
The Niagara Region in Ontario is an expanding Canadian wine region and every week in social media groups someone asks, where are the dog-friendly wineries? Ridge Road Winery (1205 Ridge Road, Stoney Creek, Ontario) is one of those wineries – focused on creating an experience near the vineyards rather than simply being an outlet for wine tasting and sales. And this experience, fortunately, includes the dog.
Although there is seating inside the Ridge Road Winery building, where you want to be is outdoors, near the vines, beside the gently rippling cerulean blue pond, and relaxing in an orange Muskoka chair near a firepit. There’s a distinct upscale boho vibe here; scattered wooden dining chairs around wine barrel tables round out the seating options. Your leashed pup is welcome outside at this dog-friendly winery.
Here’s what I discovered last weekend, during one of the first sunny but extremely windy days: sitting with a wine flight paired with assorted local cheeses while my high-energy spaniel-cross almost settles in the grass beside me was exactly the moment-of-gratitude I needed – especially at the end of a ridiculous work week.
Exposing my one-and-a-half-year-old bird dog to new situations is a spring goal – and brisk wind rattling grapevines while erratically swooping sparrows held her intense gaze. She settled but didn’t snooze. And only jumped at waitstaff once – fortunately, all four wine flight glasses are secured in grooves of a serving board.
Sean and Jayne Douglas of Ridge Road Estates Winery formally opened the doors in September of 2009, and now the winery is a destination stop along Ridge Road near Hamilton. This area, called ‘The Bench,’ is the ridge of the Niagara escarpment in Ontario. Apparently, the wind patterns flowing over the escarpment creates an ideal grape growing area, specifically for Riesling, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir.
Ten years ago, I interviewed winery owners Sean and Jayne Douglas for West of the City magazine when the winery was a project in the making, and they had big plans for creating a destination site for wine and (local) cheese lovers. A decade later, they’ve accomplished that goal – clearly completing, polishing, and perfecting the project.
Even better, when I asked if I could sit outside with my dog, the answer was ‘of course.’
Next to the wine and vineyards, the appeal of the property lies outside beside the pond with photo-perfect deck: groupings of seating, some Muskoka chairs and some around fire pits, and some picnic tables invite people to relax with a glass or two of wine. The acres of grape vines and rural landscape feels miles away from urban chaos, but the fact is, a major industrial city is barely beyond the ridge of the winery’s namesake road. Ridge Road Winery is about 10 to 15 minutes from Hamilton and 40 minutes from Toronto.
This winery is further away from the traditional Niagara wine region – in fact, it is about the same distance from Toronto as it is Niagara-on-the-Lake. Check out other dog-friendly Niagara wineries on dogtrotting.net here, thanks to an afternoon I spent exploring several with my previous dog.
Ridge Road Winery is the closest to home for us. The wine is great and the cheese pairings even better: a Riesling paired with the least offensive blue cheese I’ve ever tasted; a peppery “Call me a Cab” paired with soft sheep cheese and jelly; and my favourite that I went home with, Baco Noir. The tasting flight ends with a lightly sparkling wine and a white chocolate truffle. No dog treats are available – we brought our own, though maybe that’s a menu suggestion?
Jelly seems appropriate considering the owner’s great, great grandfather was E.D. Smith, and this land was originally a huge fruit farm – the property has been in the same family since the 1880s, evolving to keep the business economically sustainable but always agricultural.
Also nearby, (and hopefully not changing despite encroaching residential development) is the Bruce Trail. The Bruce Trail is an almost 900 km long hiking trail running North to South through Ontario, but mostly along the edge of the Niagara Escarpment. It’s possible to access the trail from the Ridge Road Winery property if you wanted a hike with the dog.
For us, a jaunt around the grounds with my pup who’s still not leashed trained after sitting quietly beside the Muskoka chairs while keenly watching birds swoop overhead was more than enough entertainment for my dog’s young canine brain. Strong winds created ripples arounds the pond and she was curious. But fortunately, wasn’t tempted to jump in. This time, anyway. We’ll be Baco.
Writer bio: Sherri Telenko has been a professional writer for 30 years and travel writer for the last 20. She’s a member of TMAC (Travel Media Association of Canada) and Dog Writers Association of America, and travels almost weekly with her canine companion.