By Mary Jane (MJ) MacDonald
Can’t think of a better way to spend a weekend: grab some silly musical instruments from the Dollar Store, fill a picnic basket with snacks, confirm your B&B and hit the 401, heading East. Then, before you get to Trenton head due south into “the County” – Prince Edward County, that is.
PEC is a destination for anyone who likes a good country drive, loves pottery and stained glass, craves comfort food, and gets giddy matching it with divine wine. In the ‘80s, it was discovered that this land was at the ideal latitude and had the perfect soil and climate for Burgundian grape varietals. If you are more than curious about that, pick up a copy of Geoff Heinricks A Fool and Forty Acres. More than 20 years later, 35 wineries call PEC home and viticulture has diversified and flourished. Visitors have begun to discover the unique terroir, the friendly people and the range of activities year round in the county.
This past weekend was probably my 6th visit to the County. Each time I try new things, go to new places and love it even more. The draw this time was the annual Wassailing celebration.
This delightful event takes place for three weekends, usually at the end of November and into early December, marking and celebrating the end of the harvest (this year dates include Nov 18-20, 25-27 and Dec 2-4). If you are looking for some adventure, unique holiday gifts, and you love wine, this is the destination (and perhaps occasion) for you.
Our weekend itinerary might intrigue you, if not incent you to make the trek.
Saturday, November 19
Within the hamlet of Wellington (on Rte. 33, Loyalist Parkway), not far from our B&B, we took a quick detour and landed at The Carriage House Cooperage. Owned by Pete Bradford, this shop gives you a whole new appreciation for working with wood and the multiple uses of a wine barrel. From tea light holders to tables and stools, the barrel staves and tops are featured creatively throughout the shop. You immediately feel welcome and it is difficult to leave without making a purchase – even if it’s only Pete’s homemade red wine vinegar.
Enroute to our first wine stop we drove past the highly recommended Danforth Mill, owned by Swedish born Kerstin Kilburn who grinds her own flour and makes all the bread products on site. Oh the smell! We slipped away with the most delicious cheese and rosemary scone, a boule of spelt/kamut/rye and some spelt and herb flatbreds. The farmhouse is charming with a rustic tin ceiling and antique stove, which was previously used for heating the house. Only open Friday-Sunday, drop by and you won’t be disappointed. (613) 399-2377.
We finally hit our first scheduled wine stop: The Grange of Prince Edward County, one of the first wineries in the region, whose vines were planted starting in 2001. We had some tasting room competition with a bus load of students from Queen’s but they did not get in our way of kick starting the wine-filled day. Soon we were being attended to by President, CEO and winemaker Caroline Granger, trying glasses of the award winning ’08 GPE Brut and proceeded to try the ’10 Pinot Gris, the ’09 Estate Bottled Riesling, two ’07 Pinot Noirs side by side (Trumpour’s Mill and Diana Block) and two ’08 Cab Francs (Trumpour’s Mill and Northfield). We managed to fill a box before leaving the beautifully restored barn-cum winery. It’s certainly worth a stop, including a visit to the upper level art gallery.
Next stop: Prince Edward Lavender, a brief side bar to our day of wine. This little gem of a store, just down the road from Grange, owned by Roland Ann Leblanc & Derek Ryles, is filled with all sorts of lavender gifts and delicacies. From mugs to t-shirts, essential oil to chocolate bars, you can not walk out of here without making at least a small purchase either. You actually feel better just breathing that beautiful scent. Be sure to walk around to the back and check out the fields of lavender behind the shop before you drive away.
Our next stop, one of my faves in the County, was Closson Chase Vineyards, literally at the corner of Closson and Chase Roads and technically in Hillier. With “viticulturist and iconoclast” Deborah Paskus at the winemaking helm, one can simply not deny these wines are worth every penny, starting at $25. The lavender coloured century-old barn is stunning on arrival. When you enter, Vanessa Pandos’ stained glass takes your breath away, built right into the barn walls and representing the CCV brand and logo. On this visit we were treated with additional glass pieces hanging free form in the main barn space, capturing the wonderful sun we were blessed with that day. So why were we so looking forward to this spot?
It was the Wassail matches that caught our attention: ’09 Closson Chase Vineyard Chardonnay with applewood smoked cheddar grilled cheese and a ’09 CCV Pinot Noir with a rich duck/sausage cassoulet. We just about died and went to heaven. If you like burgundian varieties (that is all they make) then you must visit!
A mere 5 minute drive from Closson Chase on County Rd. #2 is Vanessa Pandos’ home and stained glass gallery, Shattered. Focussing on found, reclaimed and unusual objects, her gallery is not to be missed. You’ll find gorgeous, one-of-a kind pieces made in old window frames along with unique jewellery made with glass and stone.
After the art break, we continued south with one of the newer wineries in mind: Karlo Estates. From the outside, you’d never know this building is so spacious and full of character: it is another converted barn with an addition off the back to bring in light and accommodate larger parties and a second tasting bar. On arrival here we got the courage to make a Wassailing entrance. We entered with a flourish, singing a made up version of the Wassail Song. We received a few chuckles (earned a free tasting) and it geared us up for almost an hour on site, trying 7 different and wonderful wines, all produced by owner and winemaker, Richard Karlo. The highlight of this stop was the newly released ’09 Van Alstine which I dubbed “heaven in a glass” after one sip. It is considered to be Canada’s first ever ‘white port’ made with 75% Frontenac Blanc and 25% Gewurztraminer. At $29 it is a bargain and sure to be a holiday best seller.
This is a winery to watch. Richard Karlo is serious(ly fun), seasoned and experimental – and his partner, Sherry Martin, is knowledgeable, entertaining and a very talented artist. If time allows, visit her art gallery upstairs (she teaches art classes at OCAD in Toronto when she is not pouring wine), then stroll to the back of the property and check out the famous stone bridge – built without any mortar. You can bet we did not get out of there without a full sampling of Karlo product!
We made one final winery stop at By Chadsey’s Cairns back on Loyalist Parkway, a winery proud to say they are 100% County. The owners, Richard Johnston and Vida Zalnieriunas are pioneers in the County, planting in the late ‘90s. Strolling up to the converted schoolhouse tasting room with our instruments in full swing, we briefly entertained another small crowd and proceeded to try six lovely and varied wines. The adjacent barn and graveyard can not be missed on this stop.
We refueled at East & Main with a scrumptious Countylicious dinner. This was a perfect location to end a busy and educational day in the County. Reservations are a must.
As we strolled Main St. back to the B&B (Wellington Willows, 341 Main St., one of our travel mates revealed, “I think I am actually wined out.” We were prepared to bet the next morning things might be a little different!
Sunday, November 20
And we were so right! After a delicious breakfast of coffee/juice, homemade danishes, granola/yogurt and fruit, omelet roll and toast, and a chat with owners Linda and Ron, we were sufficiently supported for another day (or at least a ½ day) of wine touring.
First stop: Keint-He Winery and Vineyards. Having read Geoff Heinricks aforementioned book many years ago, we were thrilled to learn his wines were now accessible at a winery. After being greeted by Bryan Rogers, whose family owns the winery, we enjoyed a Pinot Meunier – rare to find except in Champagne – and several divine Pinot Noirs. The highlight was the ’08 Pineaux Sauvage, a Botrytis affected Pinot Noir – and at $55 and 12.6% alcohol, worth every penny. If you like apricot and nuts with a hint of effervescence, this one’s for you. Keep it for a few days (or even hours) and you’ll enjoy a more sherry-like beverage, richer, hotter and with caramel and spice.
We planned to make our last stop Norman Hardie before heading home. We were delighted to have the tasting room to ourselves and were treated to a full line up served by MacKenzie, starting with the ’10 Riesling, moving to the ’09 Niagara, County and divine Cuvée ‘L’ Pinot Noirs and finishing with the ’09 County Cabernet Franc. Each one a true delight. Norm certainly knows how to make great wine, and he has earned much acclaim in Burgundy and around the world for his work. The team behind the scenes appeared briefly and it was clear they were exhausted from a long growing and harvesting season. Yes, another small lot joined the other soldiers in the car for the route home.
Our thanks to all the winemakers, winery staff and vineyard hands that bring the liquid bounty to us each year! And to the farmers, chefs and servers who also bring that culinary bounty to our tables year round. Next time we’re staying another night in the County – just too many great things to see and do. Cheers.
MJ Macdonald is a wine enthusiast with a life-long devotion to travel, wine and wellness. By day, MJ is a corporate trainer, by night, a yoga instructor and wine educator, with certification through the International Sommelier Guild (ISG). MJ and her partner Angie endeavour to share their passion with consumers through their Toronto-based business The Cellar Sisters. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. www.thecellarsisters.ca