Regional wineries, bakeries welcome rise of culinary tourism, including corporate events

culinary tourism
From left to right: North Grenville Councillor Doreen O’Sullivan; Patti Johnson of Violets on Main Village Bakery; Matthew McShane of Sunflower Bake Shop; Brent Murray of The Village Pantry; North Grenville Councillor Deb Wilson of Grahame’s Bakery; Merrickville-Wolford Mayor Michael Cameron; Westport Mayor Robin Jones; Rick Taylor of Tasty Goodness Bake Shop; Leeds Grenville Warden and North Grenville Mayor Nancy Peckford; North Grenville Deputy Mayor John Barclay; Jeff Day of the Nut-Free Gourmet Bake Shop; Matthew Shapton of Hall's Apple Market; and Jon Levett of The Crusty Bakers. The map shows all Adventures locations in Leeds Grenville.

From bakery trails to guided wine tours, culinary tourism is becoming a popular way for locals and tourists to discover some of Eastern Ontario’s “best-kept secrets,” providing a boost for regional businesses.

In the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville (UCLG), the Fresh-Baked Adventures Trail is the latest – but certainly not the only – approach to culinary tourism, guiding participants to bakeries and cafes across the area. 

“We did a new tourism strategy in 2022 so that we were strategic in our approach to supporting the revitalization from COVID and were making sure we support the (tourism) industry coming back,” said Ann Weir, economic development manager with UCLG. “Part of it is bringing new experiences to the region and culinary tourism is one of the top areas of growth that will be a growing area for years to come.”

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The trail features 12 bakeries and seven cafes, including local favourites in communities such as Kemptville, Brockville, Westport and Gananoque.

“We really want to leverage those iconic brands and bring products together to build that culinary opportunity,” Weir explained. “The bakeries are amazing and to die for … We have known so many are visited frequently, but we want to share it beyond the locals.

“From an economic perspective, food is such an important part of this,” she continued. “But it’s also about bringing new revenues, supporting local business and products and bringing those flavours to more people.”  

The Fresh-Baked Adventures Trail is the second of three local tourism initiatives planned for UCLG, following Garden Adventures, which features local nurseries and greenhouses. A Foodie Shop Adventures campaign, offering an itinerary of specialty food destinations, will launch July 6.

“There’s lots to do and see in the region,” said Weir. “So by the end there are some great places to enjoy spectacular foods and places to take something home in the way of being able to make some new foods.”

Meanwhile, vineyards across Eastern Ontario are preparing for a fifth year of working together with Ottawa-based tour agency La Vida Local, which introduces participants to wine, cider and spirits from the National Capital Region.

The company offers guided bus tours to local wineries, craft distilleries, cider houses and micro-breweries across Eastern Ontario and West Quebec. This year, the tours have expanded to include corporate opportunities.

Janet Moul, co-owner of Jabulani Vineyard and Winery in Richmond, said the vineyard’s “symbiotic relationship” with La Vida Local has brought more exposure. Moul and her husband and co-owner, Tom, have seen an increase in the number and scope of tours in recent years.

“This year, (the tours) expanded quite quickly and people are more willing to get out,” Moul said. “They expanded to deal with more corporate stuff and that’s big on our list as far as expansion goes.”

With private tours such as bachelorette parties, Jabulani opens on weekends and sees an average of 12 people per tour. But with the introduction of corporate events, the vineyard will serve larger groups throughout the work week. Many corporate tours consist of up to 40 people, with one booked in August for 75 participants, Moul said, maximizing the vineyard’s exposure.

“We have different groups here that had no idea we existed,” Moul told OBJ. “We’re Ottawa’s best-kept secret.”

Iona Green, co-owner and operator of La Vida Local, said she and business partner Ruth McKlusky have been “delighted” with the “epicurean riches available right at our front door.”

“When we started this venture five years ago, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone with the faintest idea that this region is home to so many great wineries,” said Green in a release. 

McKlusky added that, “It’s been an exciting journey to both discover this growing industry in the region and to share it with so many people in the Ottawa area and beyond. 

“The wine and spirits being produced right here in Eastern Ontario rival anything you’re going to find elsewhere in the province and they just keep getting better every year.”  

Growing cold-hardy hybrid grapes developed by the University of Minnesota, the National Capital Region is an emerging wine region that is beginning to capture the attention and imagination of wine enthusiasts from near and far, according to the owners of La Vida Local.

Since its launch in 2018, La Vida Local has taken more than 1,000 visitors to such Eastern Ontario wineries as Jabulani, KIN Vineyards in Carp, and Domaine Perrault and Vignoble Clos du Vully in Navan. Other tours involve spirits, with locations like Dairy Distillery in Almonte, as well as ciders from various orchards in the region.

Wine-making contributes $5.5 billion to the provincial economy each year, while wine tourism welcomes more than 2.6 million visitors annually, generating over $1.04 billion in tourism revenue and employment. 

“It’s time for Eastern Ontario to take its rightful place on the wine map of this province,” said Green.

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