By Alex and Priya, A Vine Romance
Move over Niagara, Prince Edward County is coming of age as a wine country area in Ontario!
Whether it’s the big names like Norm Hardie, Closson Chase and Karlo Estates, or the smaller ones like Domaine Darius or Trail Estates, we’ve spent many a weekend exploring the wineries of this region and wanted to share some of our favourite spots with you.
Priya: First things first is finding a great home base for all your County experiences. We were lucky to get a spot at The Ferg, a beautiful boutique property co-owned by our very good friend, Anna Hardwick.
It consists of 3 self-contained units with full kitchens each of which has it’s own design sense and appeal. We were in the Main House and took no time making ourselves at home preparing dinner and beginning a night of blind wine-tastings.
Alex: I highly recommend you all try a night of blind tastings, whether you’re in training like myself or just someone who appreciates a good glass like Priya, trying things blind can really be a great learning experience as you might be surprised what you like when you don’t know what it is.
Priya: I totally agree! Sometimes what you think you like colours your actual experience of tasting, so gather a group of friends and give blind tasting a try. It’s an illuminating experience. We digress however. Alex, tell us something about the County.
Alex: There are over 35 wineries in this part of Ontario, with the main grapes being chardonnay, pinot noir, riesling and cabernet franc. Then you have some unique hybrids such as marquette and frontenac gris. With the County being much cooler than Niagara, these grapes were chosen because they thrive in the cooler weather, while the hybrids were created to be frost-resistant.
Priya: How cold is the County? Cold enough that the vines need to be buried in the fall so their trunks don’t die off in the winter. This process is called ‘hilling’ or ‘burying’ the vines, and while it’s certainly a task to pile on the dirt, it’s even more delicate in the spring to ‘de-hill’ as you have to be very careful not to damage the vines.
Alex: There is something so serene about driving along the county roads, with nothing but fields, vineyards and gorgeous old barns that really puts your soul at ease. There’s no rush, no timeline, no appointments. It’s all about cruising and enjoying the view in between tasting some incredible wines.
Priya: Absolutely. And while most people think of wine country as a spring/summer/fall activity, the County is so beautiful in the winter with the little streets all dressed up for the holidays that it’s a very special time to visit. Oh and there’s always Wassail, a nod to the celebration of harvest before winter arrives through singing, feasting and mulled wine. Don’t miss the last weekend of Wassail on December 3 and 4.
Alex: There’s nothing like a cup of warm, mulled wine to keep the winter chill away by!
Priya: Cloves and cinnamon and oranges, oh my! I can taste the holidays in every sip. Now, you’ll have to make several trips to visit all 35 wineries, but here is a manageable list of 4 that you can easily do in a day, let alone an entire weekend.
We’ve mentioned them before and that’s because they continue to impress with interesting options like their white port style Van Alstine which is a great dessert wine for those who find ice wine too cloying or honey-like. Their red barn is visible a mile away and is just as rustic and cozy inside as it looks outside. What we particularly love is that they are the first vegan-certified winery in all of North America. Talk about being pioneers. Alex is also steadfast in his belief that their petit verdot is one of the best in the world.
They’re also known for their Pinot Noir as these are the two grapes they grow and they do it very well. They were one of the original wineries that took root in the County back in the 1990’s and have become one of the region’s best-known.
We hadn’t known of Domaine Darius until Sherry Karlo suggested it to us and it became quite the ‘it’s a small world after all’ moment when we visited owners Joni and Dave Gillingham. Turns out, the couple are originally from Newfoundland, where Alex was born. In fact, Dave grew up in the same farming town as Alex did and they reminisced over local haunts and trying to discover whether they knew any folks in common.
They’ve been open for only 2 years so they’re definitely the new kids on the block, but don’t let that fool you. Dave was part of an amateur winemaking club for 3o years (along with fellow County winery owners the late Richard Karlo and Dan Sullivan) and won many awards for his wines before turning his passion into a more full-time hobby. “Winemaking is a third science, a third artistry and a third good luck” Dave observes, and clearly all three have come together perfectly in his case.
We had a fantastic tasting with Dave, as he led us into the cellar and gave us some barrel tastings of their ripasso and pinot noir along with a taste of the soon-to-be-released 2015 Chardonnay.
This winery is notable for being totally off grid, running exclusively on solar and wind powers. If you get to visit this winery, ask Dave or Joni for the stories behind their port style wines and you’ll get a great slice of Newfoundland history!
This was another recommendation from Sherry Karlo, and another very young winery. Also another place we were pleasantly surprised at the quality of winemaking. We sampled their entire lineup and each found a favourite, or three.
Alex: The 2015 Unfiltered Chardonnay was my purchase as I find it came across as very balanced – a smoky, spicy, clean nose with ripe pear fruit in the background.
Priya: My pick was the Vintners Weiss which I feel has a lovely level of sweetness for my still-evolving palate. Fresh and bright with a lot of floral notes to smell and to taste. I compare it to drinking a bouquet of spring flowers, now doesn’t that sound divine?
All in all, it was a lovely escape. And should you tire of wine, there are plenty of great antique shops, boutiques and specialty food stores to fill your day.
Priya & Alex, A Vine Romance
Wine Blogger & Sommelier
Alex and Priya are not only wine lovers, but lovers in real life. No wine snobbery here — they’re all about bringing wine back to the masses.
Alex is a Certified Sommelier who lives, breathes, and of course, drinks wine. He is very passionate about wine and is currently the in-house sommelier for celebrity chef Susur Lee’s “Lee Restaurant”.
Alex was the only person in a class of over 200 students to earn a perfect score on his Wine Specialist Exam in Napa, California.
Priya, an actor and on-camera host with top Canadian film talent, is a casual drinker and an entertaining hostess. With her background as a comic performer and producer, Priya has also produced and hosted events for groups of 100 to more than 2,000 guests.
Together, they are the hosts of the television series, “The Drink” on Bell FIBE1. Visit www.avineromance.com for more info.