If you’re looking for a day trip or a weekend away to try great wines, look no further than Prince Edward County…just 2.5 hrs drive from Ottawa. I’m always up for an outing and Easter Weekend saw me winery-hopping – and I even saw the Easter Bunny!
Take the scenic route – car, ferry & even a boat (or pedalo)
Driving from Ottawa, you can take the pictoresque Glenora ferry and make your first winery stop at Devils Wishbone, just past the really cool Lake on the Mountain – where you see a pretty lake right outside your car window (you can even get out & admire it) and then hundreds of feet down a cliff is the Bay of Quinte!
First Ferry, then Lake…now Winery. Devils Wishbone was the name the earliest settlers used for this location due to poor soil conditions for farming, which can be great soil for growing grapes! You will be warmly welcomed by winery owner Paul Gallagher and his friendly staff and you can enjoy their wines either inside the old barn or sitting out on his new deck; you can taste all of his carefully crafted local wines and enjoy the breathtaking views.
Wine & cheese – a match made in heaven
Be sure to stop in at Fifth Town Artisan Cheese Company located at 4309 County Road 8. You can poke around, taste some cheese, visit their chees-making facility, which by the way is completely GREEN; that is they are leaders in Advanced Sustainable Design.
A couple of suggestions – to sample & to buy, are: Plain Jane, County Maple, Lavender, Dill Weed and Lemon, Lemon Thyme and Cracked Black Pepper, Garlic and Chive, Cape Vessey, both Lacey Grey and Nude hand rolled chevre logs, Lost Lake… to name but a few of their great artisan cheeses (ok…that list is long, yet there is so much at their cheese store!). So for great cheese – and sustainability – buy from Fifth Town. Store hours Sat & Sun 11am-4pm.
Is it lunch-time yet?
For those of you who have worked up an appetite, it’s only a short drive to a delectable outdoor treat (see pergola terrace in photo at right), where I savoured their thin-crust pizza from the wood burning pizza oven & fantastic salad at The County Cider Company, located at 657 Bongards Crossing just near the Junction of County Road 8. Not only is the food great, you also get to enjoy the dramatic view from the outdoor patio perched high above Lake Ontario. My recommendation for that neck of the woods, but do check ahead for hours open.
Last stop today…but I’m back on the trail tomorrow!
I stopped to see Glenn Symons, winemaker of Lighthall Vineyards, because I knew which wine I wanted to go with my succulent BBQ Salmon that I had planned for dinner – his 2011 Chardonnay of course because it bursts with flavors of Asian pear and orchard fruit.
He had some great vineyard stories – don’t forget to ask about the Luna Moth – and insisted I sample his latest releases; then at the end of his busy Saturday full of tourists, media & chefs he invited me to sit outside & sip his latest spectacular Chardonnay on the patio. Cheers amigo!
Be careful when you get behind the wheel
I guess this is a good time to mention that you really ought to have a designated driver for his kind of outing. Sure it’s true winery hopping is not meant for drinking all you can but for sampling small sips of many different wines. It’s about discovering quality, not quantity. There’s an art to tasting wines and for those of you less familiar with oenology, I’ve shared a few tips below (at end of blog) on what I’ve learned over the past few years in this wonderful world of wine.
So I’ve covered the tiniest part of The County wineries (Marysburgh, North & South), some artisan cheese and a quick spot of lunch, but there is still much to see and do, so if you can – plan to spend the weekend.
Wine Samples…Day Two
I put my jalopy into high gear, heading straight through Picton and on through Bloomfield, Wellington into region of Hillier. For sure there many small quaint towns to see all over Ontario, but this is one spot where wine is really happenin’ so I wanted to make the most of the ‘terroir’ (wine lingo for the earth in the ground that grows the grapes that makes the wine).
Take the scenic route
Be calmed by the waves of Lake Ontario splashing against the shoreline on your left as you head into a different wine area – new soil, new ground, new wines.
First stop Karlo Estates (classic barn in photo at left), located at 561 Danforth Road, where you will hear the happy laughter of Richard Karlo before you see the winemaker himself. Karlo is run by Richard & his Partner Sherry Martin (also an artist in her own right), out of a beautiful old red barn converted into a tasting bar with oodles of ambience.
They boast an extensive wine list of about 12 wines covering the full range from light to full bodied and are the only winery in the county to produce a white port, alongside it’s sister red port. The barn itself is worth the detour and be sure to wander through the field to take a closer look at their medieval-looking bridge, the largest mortarless structure in North America. A tasting experience people travel far & wide for.
Un vero italiano
Hubb’s Creek (see photo at right) right across the street is the home of The County’s true Italian, Battista Calvieri, a wine grower who has been cultivating grapes for over 10 years with his first release in 2012. Worth waiting for to be sure, try his Pinot Gris, the Rosé being bottled soon and for me the Pinot Noir is his signature wine. More wines will be added to the list soon. Open weekends only & full time in Summer. A presto!
In fact for those of you on the road of wine discovery like myself, you should know that Pinot noir is one of the county’s top grape varieties. It all comes down to the soil and it doesn’t take a scientist to figure out that that PEC is laden with the best soil for Pinot noir Grapes. Yabadaadoo, my favourite wine.
Every winery has a name & every name has a story
After munchies in Wellington (I popped into the Tall Poppy Café), then headed for an afternoon saunter through some vines at Keint-He Winery, named very aptly after what is now becoming Ontario’s fastest-growing wine region.
Keint-He Winery & Vineyards honours the native word Keint-He which is the name of one of the four Seneca villages in this part of Eastern Ontario; they were one of the five tribes of the Iroquois. The word Keint-He was later francocized into “Quinte” and used in English names such as the Bay of Quinte.
The painting used on their labels (Canoes in a Fog, Lake Superior in photo on left) was originally done by Canadian artist Frances Anne Hopkins.
As the afternoon progressed I had to start thinking of the dreary drive home, but not before a highly reccommended stop at By Chadsey’s Cairns – a long-winded name for a winery if ever there was one.
A warm welcome everywhere you go
Despite interrupting his lunch (with a glass of Chardonnay), winery owner Richard Johnston welcomed me with a history lesson, a tour & some great wines. All this only made me want to learn more about the origin of his grapes and as I tasted my way through his excellent repertoire of white, off white, red & dessert wines, I was left wanting more. This isn’t just another tick in the box – it’s a place to return to.
He is well served by his partner in wine, Vida Zalnieriunas, who is – as she would say “the winemaker”! Richard & Vida have an ongoing (curious) debate at the winery – is the winemaker the person who gives instructions or the one following the instructions, meaning the person doing all the slogging?
There is – again – a story behind the name of this winery – and it’s a good one if you have the time to listen and take it all in as the cairns (hand-built stone structures) are still there to this day and when you stand in the beautifully restored brick tasting room, you can almost see “Old Ira Chadsey” in 1870 walking the vineyards.
I think this bit of local folklore is worth sharing – so here you have it as told by Richard:
“The story has it that Ira is alleged to have declared that he would return after his death reincarnated as a white horse, and he was building the stone markers so he could find his way home. Then, seven years after his wife’s death, at the age of 77, Ira built a large bonfire in his maple syrup shack, located down the laneway by the cairns, and shot himself so that his body would be flung into the flames. The fire is said to have been so intense that nothing was found but the metal barrel of his gun.”
Richard claims that it would be hard to leave Ira on that note. “When it came time to name our vineyards, we decided Ira’s colourful and poignant tale deserved a firmer hold in time”
My day was full of rewards and I do believe that there is a Wine God.
My winery hopping tips…
Try not to cram too many winery visits into one day, amble leisurely & enjoy the atmosphere & countryside, talk to the people who pour for you & learn as you go.
Ask lots of questions and try as many or as few wines as you like (check tasting pricing before you start). Start with the whites, they whet your appetite (even if it’s just your appetite for more wine); then move to light weight reds, ending off with heavier reds and lastly sweet and/or dessert wine. See how friendly they all are – really ALL the winemakers, winery owners & staff in Prince Edward County are THIS friendly, take it from Bryan Rogers of Keint-He Winery (in photo at right).
Feel free to spit, even the experts do it; this way you are coating your palate with the exotic flavours of each wine that you try but not consuming 4 bottles of wine of an afternoon. (If you don’t see a spittoon handy, just ask).
Pick a theme for the day – taste a particular grape variety everywhere you go; or maybe you might want to do the A-Z of The County’s Chardonnay, so it’s whites from sun up to sundown; there are so many ways to taste wines, so don’t wait – get on to The County!
Final tip – Enjoy yourself, it’s a time of discovery.
What about the Easter Bunny?
My last stop (or you could say hop) in the afternoon before heading back to Ottawa was at Harwood Estates, where Elycia showed off her prowess in the wine domaine by explaining each & every one of Harwoods great wines. There was a nice cosy spot at the tasting bar to munch my sandwich (originally destined for a road-stop on the 401) while I learned about the little-known variety of St. Laurent from this very friendly bunny…oops I mean Elycia! My discovery of the day was Admiral’s Blend, a blend of estate Pinot Noir & St. Laurent which is medium-bodied with aromas of cherry, coffee and cardamom. A complex palate of Asian spice, cherry and chocolate
Can you imagine my surprise when I came away from a winery visit with a chocolate bunny! Another great day in Prince Edward County & thank you Harwood Estates.
Enjoy your travels & call on me as well as the others in the Savvy Team anytime on 613-SAVVYCO (728-8926) or firstname.lastname@example.org for suggestions of wineries to visit all across Ontario.