Looking for a weekend wine and food getaway? Ontario's Prince Edward County should be on your list of destinations, and not just because it’s only a four-hour drive from Montreal. You should go because the wines are very much worth trying and buying.
I have been excited by the potential of Prince Edward County (PEC) since my first visit to the region in 2010. An hour’s drive west of Kingston, this area jutting out into Lake Ontario is known for the white sand beaches of Sandbanks Provincial Park. But PEC’s wine and food scene is becoming an equally important tourist draw.
All great wine regions start with interesting soil, and PEC is blessed with what many grape growers dream of having under their feet: limestone. This subsoil — the secret to the success of pinot noir and chardonnay in Burgundy — lies under a mix of sand, clay and shale. It results in vines that are naturally low-yielding, and that often show that most elusive and sought-after quality: minerality.
But PEC’s true strength lies with its people. There is very much a vigneron feel about the place. While certain wineries have invested in visitor tasting rooms and restaurants, in many smaller wineries you are served by the winemakers themselves. They’ll pour you some of their wines in between working in the field or bottling.
My recent visit was my fourth, and each time I am more impressed by the quality. Vine age is increasing, as is the know-how. And as PEC turns 21 years old (most of the vines have been planted after 2000), the future is indeed bright.
There is something for nearly every palate. No, you won’t find teeth-staining cabernet sauvignon, but if you are a lover of pinot noir, chardonnay and sparkling wines, you will find lots to love. Even those looking for orange wines, pét-nats and other trendy styles are likely to be happy. The region’s sparkling wine pioneer Hinterland and the relatively new Trail Estate excel in these styles. Hinterland also has a food truck to handle snacks and offers oysters on weekends.
So, who to visit? Depends on what you want. Grange, Huff, Rosehall Run, Norman Hardie and Karlo Estates have invested a lot in their tasting rooms. The wines are classically styled. The folks at Karlo also focus on wine and plant-based food pairings, and as long as you’re in before 8 p.m., they say you can stay until you leave as they turn the tasting room into a wine bar. They did add “as long as the clients are fun.”
While their visitor rooms are much less elaborate, Stanners and Lighthall are well worth a visit for the quality of the wines. Lighthall also offers up homemade cheeses to be sampled along with the wines.
With close to 40 working wineries — not to mention the beach and activities ranging from biking to courses on fermenting vegetables — there is lots to discover in PEC. If you’re planning to go, winecountryontario.ca and visitpec.ca are good places to start your research.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019