The Modern-Day Bootleggers of YDH: Wine Edition

Posted : February 4, 2021

Our blog is chock full of great ideas for fun things to see and do in York Durham and Headwaters. We are always adding new content and updating old posts, but sometimes you might stumble upon something from our vault. If this article has inspired you to hit the road, be sure to double-check that the featured stops in this post are still welcoming visitors.

Can you imagine that just a century ago, the creation, trade and transport of alcohol was forbidden thanks to the Ontario Temperance Act? It might be hard to believe now but this was the reality for Ontarians from 1916 to 1927. Wine doesn’t immediately come to mind when you think of the prohibition era, but the irrepressible determination those bootleggers embodied rings true for these wineries in York, Durham and Headwaters.

Woman with Wine

First, let’s start at Willow Springs Winery in the town of Stouffville. The Willow Springs Team are leading the charge for wine in York Region as they’re not only the first winery in the area to receive VQA Ontario Certification but also the first to produce VQA wines along the stunning Oak Ridges Moraine. They’re also putting York Region on the map for icewine (move over, Niagara!) as they’ve taken home the gold for five consecutive years. The best part? They’re doing this all through sustainable agriculture and integrated pest management by creating habitats for predators of pests on the grounds. If that’s not innovative, I don’t know what is!

Willow Springs Winery

Now we’ll head to Newmarket where you’ll find Holland Marsh Wineries and a direct link to the prohibition era. The Holland Marsh was actually one of the first regions in Ontario for moonshine production! This “old-world” thinking is not foreign to the Nersisyan Family as their family lineage directly links them to what archaeologists say is the birthplace of wine in Armenia. Emigrating to Canada in the 1990s, their blood, sweat and tears have gone into blazing the way for emerging wine regions in the province. You’ll enjoy unparalleled flavours due to the soil composition within the winery’s bowl-shaped micro-climate which is magnified by their environmental practices. At Holland Marsh, they manage their vineyard with the utmost respect for nature by handpicking grapes, using remaining skins and seeds for compost on-site, and more. Try the king of their reserve wines, the Melange Red, and you’ll understand immediately.

Holland Marsh Winery Wine Pour

Next, you’ll want to visit Windrush Estate Winery in the Hockley Valley. What really sets them apart from other winemakers is their dedication to empowering at-risk youth by donating 10% of their profits to create opportunities for them. Just like the bootleggers of the day, Windrush is fighting against the system – only they’re creating brighter futures for these children in the process. By stopping in for a tour (when it’s safe to do so) and purchasing their wine, you’re able to contribute to this great cause. Who doesn’t love helping the community while enjoying a bottle or two?


Last but certainly not least, make your way towards Orangeville to Adamo Estate Winery. As you can imagine, bootleggers often had to trust their gut and follow their instincts while navigating the landscape of prohibition. That’s exactly what Mario Adamo did when planting the first test vines in this region of Ontario. It wasn’t known for grapes at all, but the rolling hills reminded him of his home of Calabria in Italy and so he went for it. Needless to say, he was right! It’s thanks to this intuition that Adamo has helped to put this budding wine region on the map. Their cold climate techniques and environmental practices have produced a number of award-winning wines for all to enjoy.

Adamo Estate Winery Tasting

Raise a glass if you’re thrilled we don’t live in the times of prohibition! It may be legal to indulge in these incredible vintages now but you can’t deny that each of these wineries has a little “bootlegger” in them. Will you succumb to temptation and plan a visit when it’s safe to do so? The answer is most likely yes but in the meantime, stop by and pick up a bottle or two to go and enjoy a taste from the comfort of your own home. While you’re at it, why not pick up a few beers as well and see how these breweries in York, Durham and Headwaters are an ode to the prohibition era in Ontario.

Story by Lindsay Davies

Lindsay Davies is a crazy Canuck who’s been bit by the travel bug. Proud to call Ontario home, she loves exploring the province and beyond. As a graphic designer and social media marketer by trade, she travels the world while sharing her adventures to inspire others on her blog, I’ve Been Bit! When not behind her computer screen, Lindsay is in her natural habitat when she’s chasing waterfalls, exploring new trails, frolicking on ice roads (don’t knock it until you try it!), and indulging in the odd glass of wine, beer, or cider. Chances are you’ll be able to spot her by some funky coloured hair or a wacky pair of tights she’s wearing! Follow her adventures on Facebook (@ivebeenbit), Twitter and Instagram (@IBBtravel).

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