St David’s Bench is one of four sub-appellations in Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario. Located just below the rise of the Niagara Escarpment, the region is at a slightly higher altitude than the areas closer to the lake, and the growing conditions here are well-suited to Chardonnay and the Bordeaux varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.
The bench is the southernmost in Niagara-on-the-lake, and covers a thin strip of land roughly 5 miles (8km) from the edge of Lake Ontario. St David’s Bench rises from what was the ancient shoreline of Lake Iroquois (the predecessor to Lake Ontario) to the base of the escarpment. The western boundary abuts the southern suburbs of St Catharines, while the eastern edge is bordered by the Niagara River, at the very beginning of the deep, 7-mile-long (11km) gorge that ends at the famed Niagara Falls.
The vineyards of St David's Bench are found on the gentle north-facing slopes that lead up to the base of the Niagara Escarpment. Here, the vines are protected from the cold southerly breezes and instead are subject to more moderate breezes from Lake Ontario in the north. The sudden rise of the escarpment serves to circulate the air from the lake, promoting constant air movement in the region and staving off frost. Good sun exposure in the spring leads to early budding, and the growing season in St David's Bench is sufficiently long to ensure an excellent balance of acidity and phenolic ripeness in the grapes.
Deep clay soils over a base of Queenston shale provide year-round water retention for the vines in St David's Bench, and many small streams offer drainage during the spring snow-melt. Water runoff from the limestone soils of the Escarpment is rich in minerals and is said to contribute to the stony minerality of the finished wines made here.
While St David's Bench is better known for its dry wines from both red and white grape varieties, the climate in late fall and early winter is conducive to the production of ice wine, made here from Riesling and Cabernet Franc.