Now that pandemic restrictions are (finally) starting to lift, many of us will be looking for outdoor activities to pursue this summer. And while wine tours of Ontario’s Niagara-on-the-Lake region have always been popular, we are here to tell you there’s a new game in town and it has two pairs of very long ears.

The Colaneri Estate Winery is offering up a one-hour experience they’re billing “Discover the Vineyard with Donkeys.” Yup, you read that correctly. Wine connoisseurs who think they’ve done it all can now cozy up to a cuddly donkey as they stroll the grape vines. Guests (who must wear closed-toe shoes) start off with a sparkling wine and are then given a presentation on the Mediterranean donkeys, a distinct breed that originated on the islands of Sardinia and Sicily, before heading out into the vineyard where they will have a chance to photograph, pet and lead the donkeys all under the careful guidance of experts.

Photo ops abound! (Colaneri Estate Winery Facebook)

The two donkeys are a bonded pair named Earl and Phyliss who are owned by Melina Morsch of Foxden Goat Yoga.  Morsch reached out to Colaneri to feature her Mediterranean donkeys and a unique partnership was born.

We asked Colaneri Estate Winery owner Christopher Colaneri what the inspiration was for the donkey experience. “With our Italian heritage and the look of the building, we thought this would be a perfect fit. We have never opened the vineyard to our visitors so we thought this would be a great way to introduce them. Plus, mini donkeys and wine, how can you not love that!”

That’s a good point. Colaneri also explained the donkey’s history in Italy’s winemaking. “Vineyards in Italy are quite different than ours in Niagara-on-the-Lake. They have very steep slopes and rocky terrain which is very hard to harvest and work up. So, they would pick the grapes, load them into the pack saddles of the donkeys and the donkeys would bring the grapes up the large slope,” he says. “This was actually my father’s last memory of Italy before immigrating to Canada. He was harvesting grapes in his grandfather’s vineyard and loading them onto the donkey!”

The donkeys have proven to be a hit with guests. “While we still have a cap on the group size we can accommodate, it has become very popular, especially when guests see the incredible photos that have been taken during it,” adds Colaneri. “We have received plenty of positive reactions including tears of joy and uncontrollable smiling! It is hard not to when you see those amazing animals.”