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A Whistle Stop Tour of Prince Edward County

GrapesThe kids are away at camp, so Janice and I took an opportunity this weekend to visit Prince Edward County, a new wine growing region in Ontario.  It’s a couple of hours drive from our house, on the north side of Lake Ontario, and is known primarily for cool climate reds like pinot noir, and whites like riesling and chardonnay.  Set on the Bay of Quinte, Prince Edward County is full of little coves, beaches (including the well known Sandbanks Park), shops and B&B’s.  While there is a lot to do, it’s also small enough that with a couple of days you can have a satisfying visit and cover quite a bit of ground.

Our first stop was Huff Estates, where we ate lunch (a beautiful gazpacho, accompanied by open-faced smoked salmon sandwiches). We tried their chardonnay, a wine called “lightbox” chardonnay, a rosé and several red bordeaux style wines made from cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc.  Their reisling was sold out. The chardonnay was a beautiful, balanced wine, which has just won best chardonnay in Ontario.  The rosé an easy drinking sipper, with a blast of strawberry on the nose. We picked up a few bottles of the chardonnay and rosé, but passed on all the reds.

Leaving Huff, we pulled into the The Grange of Prince Edward County next.  We didn’t stay long.  We were on a hunt for pinot noir, and they didn’t have any.  They were pouring a riesling, pinot gris, and rosé only.  The lack of pinot noir, it turns out, was widespread. 

Next was Clossen Family Vineyards.  Clossen makes pinot noir, riesling and chardonnay, but the only wine available was the chardonnay.  The pinot, with just 75 cases made, sold out almost immediately. We could only taste the chardonnay, which was a very drinkable fruit forward wine.  We also bought some of this wine, and learned that the pinot may be available at the Beckta restaurant in Ottawa.

Toward the western side of the county we paid a visit to the Norman Hardie, Carmela Estates, and Rosehall wineries.  Hardie is also the winemaker at Carmela Estates.  Hardie was only pouring his riesling, as (familiar story) the pinot was sold out.  The riesling was excellent (we bought some), and he was gracious enough to make us a reservation at the Carriage House restaurant in Bloomfield where we could try the pinot.  At Carmela Estates we picked up a couple of bottles of their pinot noir.  It’s a tasty light wine, drinkable now.  At the Rosehall winery we bought pinot too, but it was quite different, with an overabundance of oak that we hope will settle with age.  Rosehall also poured a white called “Sullyzwicker” — 94% ehrenfelser, 6% gewurtraminer — a fruity, semi-sweet wine that I imagine will go well with Asian food. We bought a couple of bottles to try.

Heading south, the road hugs the shore of Lake Ontario, sometimes high on bluffs overlooking the water, and sometimes dipping down to a beach or cove.  It’s a picturesque trip.  Along the way we visited the Sandbanks Estates winery, where we bought some of their cabernet franc and a cabernet franc rosé.  We also tried their baco noir, which I sometimes like.  Baco noir is an easy grape to do a poor job with, and most wineries do just that.  Sandbanks was, unfortunately, no exception.

By Chadsey’s Cairns is a very interesting winery, which includes a 160 year old loyalist cemetary.  They have quite a selection of wines, including three vintages of riesling.  We bought the 2003 vintage – smooth, drinkable, with a beautiful nose. 

Following the shoreline into Bloomfield, we stopped at Slicker’s for ice cream (fresh, made daily!), and Carruthers Chocolates for coffee.  Mmmmm….

By then it was nearly 4:00 PM.  Still, we managed one last winery visit to the Black Prince Winery.  These folks had a large selection of wines also.  We tasted quite a few, and in the end settled on several bottles of their cabernet franc, plus a pure pinot noir rosé with an incredible nose.  Again, the baco noir was a disappointment.

Checking in at the Brown’s Manor bed and breakfast, we got a change of clothes and visited with owner Leslie over a glass of Black Prince chardonnay, and local cheese. Brown’s Manor is a stunning c. 1900 period home converted to an elegant B&D. Our room was a beautifully renovated attic room with sloping ceilings and wood floors.  Reasonably priced, too, if you’re planning to head to Picton.

Leslie called us a cab back to Bloomfield, where we had dinner reservations at the Carriage House, which Norman Hardie had so kindly arranged.  Naturally, we ordered a bottle of the Norman Hardie 2004 pinot noir, since it had been impossible to try at the winery.  Tony Aspler called this wine “a poet’s wine”, and it didn’t disappoint.  It’s probably the best Ontario red I’ve ever had, and comparable to other great pinot noir I’ve had from France, California, and Oregon.  For starters, Janice had the house salad, and I had crepes with strawberry compote, and pan seared foie gras.  Yum! Janice’s main course was a beautiful combination of grilled, and thinly sliced duck breast, while I had a tasty venison and mushrooms dish.  The most disappointing thing about the meal was the somewhat gluey strawberry / rhubarb crumble for desert.  A glass of Waupoos ice cider (imagine icewine, made from apples) took my mind off the state of the desert in relatively short order, however.

Back at Brown’s Manor, the next morning, we had a lovely breakfast, and hit the road for more food and wine!

The first stop was the Black River Cheese Company, where a variety of cheddars and other cheeses are made.  We bought the onion sage cheddar, and pepper jack cheeses.  Their aged cheddar, however, we took a pass on, judging Perth’s Balderson cheese better.  The Black River cheese was delicious. Unfortunately, Balderson’s, which is the best cheddar I’ve ever tasted, is close to home.

BellaNext on our tour was the Long Dog Winery, named after the owners’ affection for wirehaired dachsunds.  After a noisy greeting by dachsund Bella we had an opportunity to taste Long Dog’s pinot gris, chardonnay, and 2003 and 2004 vintages of pinot noir.  The secret ingredient in the pinot gris is 15% pinot noir, which gives the wine a wonderful finish, and a much deeper taste.  We took some of this gem home, but passed on the Bella Reserve chardonnay. We also took home some of the promising, but young 2004 pinot noir.  On the advice of the winery, we won’t be opening it until Christmas 2007.

From Long Dog, we headed to Waupoos Estates, one of the original Prince Edward County wineries.  Set on the shoreline of the Bay of Quinte, the vines roll down to the lake, giving the winery a fabulous view of the water.  Waupoos has a large selection of wines, and we tasted quite a number of them.  We settled on the riesling and baco noir.  The riesling has a fruity nose, with a blast of green apple on the tongue, while the baco was nicely balanced, with plenty of fruit and not too much of the smokiness that baco is known for.

After visiting Waupoos Estates it was lunch time.  A short distance from Waupoos Estates we found the Waupoos County Cider company, where we stopped to buy cider, and have lunch.  Set high on a hill over the bay, you can have a sandwich, and a beer or a cider, and just chill out in the sun.  I had chorizo sausage, and Janice had a goat cheese and grilled vegetable wrap.

And then it was the Glenora Ferry, and home to Ottawa. 

We came away with three cases of wine, and will be drinking and enjoying these wines with friends and family for some time.  The best wines of the trip were Norman Hardie’s riesling and pinot noir, Long Dog’s pinot gris, and Huff’s chardonnay.  Generally, the cool climate grapes (whites and reds) turned out well, while wines made from Bordeaux grapes (merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and cabernet franc) were inferior products. 

{ 1 comment… add one }

  • MUM July 18, 2006, 10:04 am

    Sounds like a great trip! Wish I had been there. MA

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