Ontario winery road trip: Thirty Bench
Thirty Bench Winery was one of the first that I visited when I started exploring Ontario's wine country, and I always try to make a quick stop there when headed to the region. Like its neighbour to the north, Hidden Bench, this is a place where you'll find people who are passionate about wine and the Beamsville Bench appellation. Founded in in 1980, this is a winery that's been around for the long haul and it shows.
Known both for its Riesling and some surprisingly accomplished reds (both single varietals and blends), Thirty Bench is also just a great place to visit because the personalized tasting experience is at once unpretentious and information-dense. That's not an easy combination to achieve, but somehow they manage it on a consistent basis.
WHAT IT'S LIKE TO VISIT
Assuming it's a clear day when you visit, one of the first highlights of a trip to Thirty Bench is the sweeping view of the Toronto skyline that sits below its vineyards. Thankfully, personal tastings typically include a quick outdoor tour, so you'll have ample opportunity to scope out the scenery, which can be breathtaking.
And you really do want to book a personalized tasting. There's nothing wrong with a quick visit to the retail boutique, but if you want to get the most out of your experience here, you'll want the hour-long experience that takes place in the tasting area proper. This is where you get to learn about the age of the vines, the nature of the limestone-rich soil and the unique microclimate on the Bench. At a paltry $10, I can't recommend this enough.
ABOUT THE WINE
Although I'm not a major fan of Thirty Bench's single red varietals, most everything else has impressed me at one point or another. What the winery is probably best-known for is its Riesling, which can be just fantastic. The bottling from the Triangle vineyard is produced from the oldest vines — and thus shows the most minerality — but it might not even be the best of the bunch. On account of its lively acidity and more obvious citrus notes, I might even like the standard winemaker's Riesling even more.
Thirty Bench also produces solid Chardonnay, especially if you like your oak. The 2009 Small Lot offering will make you think you're at the movies with all the buttery popcorn action going on. It's quite something, if a little over the top.
The red blend at Thirty Bench has been a consistent performer for the past few years, and a sneak peek at the soon-to-be released 2010 vintage confirms that trend is set to keep up. Ontario reds struggle with cool summers, and 2010 was anything but, so there's lots of fruit rubbing up against the pepper notes on the nose of this still-young wine.
Age of winery: Purchased in 1980 (first vintage was 1994)
Acreage: 61 acres planted to vine
Oldest vines: 1981
Current yearly production: Approximately 6000 cases
Availability: Direct from the winery, limited runs at the LCBO's Vintages department, and select restaurants in Toronto and beyond.
MAP & DIRECTIONS
Take the QEW southwest to Bartlett Road (about 20 minutes beyond Hamilton). Drive south to King Street (Hwy 81) and make a left. In about three kilometres, make a right onto Mountainview Road. Head south along the Bench to 4281, which will be on your left.
Photos by the author