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(2017 - Winter Issue)


“Is Wayne here?” I ask. I know the chances are slim but feel compelled to inquire just in case. “It’s one of the most common questions,” says Roger Soltesz, senior sales associate at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery & Distillery, which opened in June 2017. 

Though the Great One isn’t here today, it’s clear we’re on his property. Career photos line the walls, replica hockey trophies are displayed in the club lounge and No. 99 is emblazoned on everything from directional signs to clothing sold in the boutique.

Here, you get the sense you’re walking into someone’s modern, upscale living room, complete with cosy fireplace. Occupying one wall is an image of the Gretzky homestead in Canning, Ontario, settled by his grandparents in 1925 and where Wayne’s father taught him to skate. “They had a vineyard there and harvested grapes so you could say Wayne Gretzky was in the wine industry even before he played hockey,” says Soltesz. Many features of the homestead inspired the winery’s overall design.

Gretzky’s new venture is a partnership with Andrew Peller and grapes are sourced from independent vineyards throughout the Niagara Region. Besides being a magnet for its celebrity connection, the estate is unique, at least in Ontario, in that it accommodates both a winery and a distillery. The idea apparently took root when Gretzky and Peller toured the area and noticed there weren’t many distilleries. “They both recognized an opportunity and went for it,” explains Soltesz.

We begin our visit with a Red Line Wine & Food Pairing Experience in a glass-enclosed space overlooking the lawn, vineyards and a water feature, which, in winter, is an ice-skating rink. We’re impressed by the three reds—Pinot Noir, Cabernet Merlot and Shiraz Cabernet (one of their most popular)—and finish with a fine Cabernet Franc ice wine, all poured in Riedel stemware.

Although there is no restaurant on site, the Trius Winery and Restaurant is just a one-minute walk away. Fans, however, may opt to visit Wayne Gretzky’s popular Toronto restaurant and sports bar at 99 Blue Jays Way, which serves everything from pierogies and meat loaf, inspired by Gretzky’s grandmother, to pizza, Korean BBQ chicken and Wayne’s famous wings. 

Back on the estate, we join an informative distillery tour and learn what makes these whiskies (Red Cask, Ice Cask and Ninety-nine Proof) unique. After aging, they are finished in different wine barrels. The small batch Canadian whisky is blended by master distiller Joshua Beach, who studied at Scotland’s respected Heriot-Watt University, and the results are surprisingly good.

In a short video, Gretzky acknowledges visitors may be drawn here by his name. “And that’s fine,” he says, “but we want to show them it’s first class and be blown away by the fact that not only is the wine good but so is the whisky.”

As I contemplate finishing what remains in my glass, the famous Gretzky quote comes to mind: “You miss 100 per cent of the shots you don’t take.” Suddenly, those words take on a double meaning.

Travel Planner

Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery & Distillery is located at 1219 Niagara Stone Rd. Experiences include a 45-minute Great Canadian Whisky Tour ($25) daily from 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.; a 45-minute Red Line Wine & Food Pairing Experience ($30) at noon and 2 p.m.; a Great Canadian Winery Tour; and the Whisky Bartender: Cocktails 101. Visit gretzkyestateswines.com.

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