Tasty Treats – Exhilarating Eye Candy

DURING THE WINTER, UCR President Stefan Walther asked Jeff Millman and I if we would be willing to host a driving tour in the Niagara region in July. Our previous experience was almost non-existent, we had attended and volunteered on a number of tours, but hosting felt like a challenge. However, we agreed in a moment of optimism and proceeded with the planning process.

First thing we discovered, which may seem obvious, is that it’s impossible to plan a tour route without knowing the stops along the way. There are countless wineries, bakeries, and scenic opportunities in Niagara, but there are few that can accommodate up to 50 people and 25 cars. Some have glorious structures with spectacular lake views, but the driveways are impassible for sports cars, or there is only parking for 10.

Once we had determined our most desirable locations, then we did the negotiating to establish cost, timing, and the features. Unlike the Porsche Centre North Toronto Enthusiast Cruise Driving Tour that Jeff and I planned in June, the Gourmet Niagara tour had no sponsor, so cost to the individual was an important consideration. This activity gave us a timeline, so we could then fill in the spaces between each stop with some fun roads.

Google Maps is a very well-designed piece of software, which really simplifies the process of tour planning. For each of the three segments on this tour, we designed a route, then tested it by driving it and taking notes of distance and elapsed time. Then we fine-tuned as required. For example, in the first segment, we wanted to drive the lovely scenic and narrow roads around Ball’s Falls, but discovered that entering from Victoria Avenue meant exiting onto King Street at a very dangerous intersection where traffic approaching from the left was hard to see. We therefore changed the approach to Ball’s Falls from the other direction. This turned out to be fortuitous, since about a week before our tour, that intersection was torn up in the process of rerouting it to make it safer. Sometimes you get lucky.

We had planned to drive a short section of Victoria Avenue during our second segment, but when we did our final test run on the Tuesday before the event, there was a construction crew and some roadwork going on. I went back to check the day before the event, and it was a good thing I did. Large sections were scarified and down to one lane, and there was a large sign indicating part of the road was to be closed. Friday night there was a fair bit of frantic rerouting, and all the second and third segment maps had to be redone and printed. Good thing I had a spare laser cartridge.

After spending an anxious week watching the weather forecasts, Saturday, July 9 dawned with a clear sky, predicted high of 24 degrees, perfect conditions. Our starting point was the parking lot west of the Niagara Gateway Information Centre just off the QEW in Grimsby. For the previous two weeks that lot was empty Saturday morning. Of course on July 9, it was almost full of tour buses. We managed to find space for our group, and the tour bus passengers were entertained by all the beautiful Porsches.

After the safety briefing we started off exactly on schedule, with Gerry and navigator Sawyer Hume in the lead, Jeff mid-pack and UCR President Stefan Walther as the sweep car at the back. About two kilometres into our tour, we came across one of Niagara Regional Police’s finest, blocking our route. Fortunately, my quick-thinking navigator Sawyer, found an alternate route which only cost us 500 metres and a minute or two. By this time I was hyperventilating, but it was just keeping us on our toes, and the rest of the day went without a hitch.

Our first stop within a few minutes of the start was a swing through the Grimsby Beach area to see the famous Painted Ladies, a collection of beautifully coloured and accented heritage homes. Then we threaded our way up the Niagara escarpment to Ridge Road, and headed east. After a few kilometres of pleasant and twisty roads, and a couple of great views of Lake Ontario and Toronto in the distance, we wound around Ball’s Falls, and headed to our first stop at Upper Canada Cheese Company, the only cheese maker in Niagara. Each Porsche picked up a complimentary package of yummy cheese curds, and some folks enjoyed grilled cheese sandwiches.

Our second segment consisted of a number of rural roads and a drive though the charming town of Fenwick, then back north and ending up at the international award-winning Flat Rock Cellars. Here we enjoyed wine tasting, and a delightful and entertaining tour of the vineyards and the cellars.

Our third segment consisted of very twisty roads familiar to those who have toured this region. I always find roads with a tunnel of trees fascinating, and we travelled several of those. Our final stop was 13th Street Winery just west of St. Catharines. Here we had a tasty late lunch of salads and gourmet sandwiches, in the production area of the winery, surrounded by gleaming stainless-steel tanks of wine. Some headed home after lunch, but a few stayed for a guided tour of the new art gallery, lead by UCR member, Taycan owner, and former sports car dealer, John Mann, and his staff. I also saw a few folks coming out of the 13th Street bakery clutching bags of goodies.

Jeff and I got some very positive feedback and we managed to cover the distance without losing anybody. These events would be impossible without the incredible enthusiasm of UCR volunteers, and the support of Driving Tours Chair Larry Funnell and President Stefan Walther. Our thanks to them and to all who participated. </>

Photography by Gerry Cornwell and Jeff Millman

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