The Riverbend Inn is known for it’s vinous atmosphere and culinary prowess, but what is not well known, is it’s fascinating history.
The 17-acre parcel of land that fills the corner of John Street and Niagara River Parkway was originally deeded to William McClellan in 1809. McClellan built a modest stone farmhouse on the property and farmed the land.
In 1860 the farm was purchased by Dr. Thomas Halliday Watt and a large 6, 500 square foot Georgian red brick mansion was built as his stately residence where he grew fruit and worked as a consulting surgeon until his death in 1902.
In 1908 his second wife sold the property to Mr. Dawson who began a poultry farm, only keeping the land until 1909. The land then belonged to Mr. Gibnne who finally sold it to General Nelles, a noted ship-builder, in 1920. General Nelles planted the beautiful tall oaks that you see on the property and gave the property the title of “Oaklands”
General Nelles remained at the home until 1927 when he sold it to a group of 6 sisters, Kate, Gladys, Adel, Mora, Olga and Elga Ansley. The Ansley sisters converted the large residence into a school for mentally disabled boys. They believed that having a warm, loving family environment for these children to live in would encourage mental and social development, which was a very progressive view for the time.
At the height of it’s success the school housed 16 children or various ages happily socializing with the local community. The school existed for 45 years, until the sisters could no longer manage it on their own.
In 1972 the home was purchased by Dr. Afrukteh of Niagara Falls. No longer a home for the disadvantaged, Dr. Afrukteh divided the property into apartments, 4 or 5 in the house and 2 in the coach house. One of the tenants, Peggy Anderson, set up a charity called Newark Neighbours in the former entrance of the Inn. Eventually Newark Neighbours grew too large and was moved into the barn on the Northwest section of the property and still operates out of it today. Newark Neighbours is Niagara-on-the-Lake’s non-profit organization that provides food and clothing for residents in town who demonstrate a financial need.
Dr. Afrukteh opened a private art gallery in the home in 1984 and in 1988 he built a 12,000 square feet addition to the original building in order to accommodate the gallery. Unfortunately the art gallery last just a few years before it closed down, leaving the building vacant for many years until it caught the eye of the Wiens family.
The Wiens family approached Dr. Afrukteh to purchase the property in 2002 and, even though they were not the highest bidders, he agreed to sell to them because he believed they would respect the home and the property. The Wiens family purchased the 17 acre property and turned it into the 21 room Georgian-style inn.
During the renovations they removed the old cherry orchard as well as the peach trees on the south side of the property and planted 12 acres of vineyards with Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Vidal. The Riverbend Inn & Vineyard opened it’s door to the public on April 12th, 2004.
The Riverbend Inn is surrounded by its own 12 acre vineyard. Preparation of the Inn’s vineyards began in 2002. In the vineyard, no two years are the same. Part of the charm of wine is it’s unpredictability and seeming unwillingness to cooperate. Stand behind the Inn, survey the area, you can see how one side of the vineyard could produce a completely different result in wine than the others. The exposure to the sun, the way the water pools or drains or the way the air flows around the vines all alter the brilliant character of each vintage.
The vineyard consists of blocks of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Vidal. The first vintage of the Riverbend Inn Wine was released in the fall of 2006. All of our wines are estate bottled using only our own grapes exclusively and produce about 2000 cases of wine a year.
The Riverbend Inn vineyard sits in a sub-appellation called the Niagara River. It is one of 10 sub-appellations that make up Niagara’s wine region. Identified for its greater heat units in a season and incredibly rich sandy soils, this micro region translates into fantastic wines for the Inn.