By Kim Gertler, CAPS Ontario
It’s one of Canada’s youngest wine regions — designated as a VQA appellation in 2007 — but Prince Edward County (known as simply “the County” or PEC) is steeped in history. Not long after the Iroquois nation deserted this limestone plateau — that spikes out into Lake Ontario like an ancient arrowhead — it became a gathering spot for Loyalists who fled the rebel cause down south, to unite in allegiance to the crown. These days, “the County” is more of a Mecca for a particular brand of urban rebel — those fleeing the city stress in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and beyond — to hit the trail in search of great food, wine and outdoorsy adventures. And wouldn’t you know it — sommeliers have played their part in helping to blaze that trail.
As a wine region, the County’s star attraction is its broad limestone bedrock. But, when you visit here, it’s the water that will strike you. With more than 800 km of shoreline, there seems to be water around every corner in stunning variety. From wildlife wetlands to streams and springs, from rivers and inlets to canals and stone-lined spits and even a “lake on the mountain,” the aquatic sights are surprising. Then there’s Lake Ontario, which helps the County moderate late summer into a longer ripening season in the fall. Winter is another story — temperatures are so severe that winemakers have to “hill up” the vineyards with earth to protect the vines from freezing to death. It’s worth the effort, though. Prince Edward County is renowned for its fabulous cool weather wines — pinot noir, chardonnay and sparkling are the stars. In the summer, there are more than 40 wineries to explore, but they compete with another star attraction, the spectacular Sandbanks Provincial Park.
Sandbanks is home to two of the largest freshwater sandbars in the world and some of Ontario’s most glorious beaches. They beckon out for a dip, a picnic and a long sandy stroll — just minutes from the vineyards — a tempting detour from the tasting tour.
Kim's PEC Pick:
Point Petre Conservation Area
Check out the beach at Point Petre for a striking, stony alternative to Sandbanks. It’s like an infinity pool with a limestone floor, stretching out into Lake Ontario, at the far southern tip of the County. A perfect spot for a midday swim.
Tip: Say it like a local — it’s “Point Peter” not “Point Pea-tree.”
Master Sommelier, Principle Critic WineAlign, Author: Volvanic Wines, Salt, Grit and Power
The County is changing so rapidly — there’s so much interest in the region, especially its wines and growing food scene. Several Toronto chefs and restaurateurs have made their way there to launch exciting projects — and hopefully PEC never looses its rural country charm. The wines are improving year over year. At the moment, I’m loving the 2011 Sacrament from Hinterland, their best sparkling release yet (in my view), a 50-50 pinot noir-chardonnay blend left 60 months on lees. Traditional method sparkling is clearly a PEC strength, and soon I’ll be able to drink it more often when we finish renovating our 19th century farmhouse in nearby Rosehall on the west side of the County, in the heart of wine country. From there it’s just a few minutes to Hinterland, Hardie, Rosehall Run, Casa Dea, The Old Third and others.
Sommelier Country Pourer
“My company name is County Pourer. So it follows me wherever we go …. Our first trip to the County was in August 2008. After, I pop quizzed my husband — ‘where do you want to retire?’ His answer sealed our fate: ‘the County, of course.’ In 2011, we bought our house in Picton. I’m a country kid from south of Owen Sound, so it just felt like home — limestone outcrops, thin soils, the lakes, the wind, the small towns. The people are wonderful. It was always home for us, no second thoughts, no doubts. It’s a state of mind and body — corny, I know. And I love the wines. Like the soils, the wines are nich. I love that individuality. Our life in the County depends on the season. If it’s summer, you’ll find us in the garden. If it’s winter, — I refer to our time as ‘gluttony and sloth.’ Usually a meal that takes time to prepare, like Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourgogne. Sadly we aren’t in Picton these days as much as we would like, but there’s always a County martini on the agenda if we arrive in the evening.”
– Lynn Abernethy, “County Pourer”
Lynn's PEC Dinner Selections:
Pre-Dinner Cocktail: County Martini
One measure of Traynor Family Vineyard Madonna Vermouth to three of Kinsip’s Juniper Wit Gin, shaken with ice, served with three olives.
Aperitif: Rosehall Run’s Ceremony, Blanc de Blancs Brut, Non-Vintage
One hundred per cent chardonnay from three years of harvested farm fruit. Dry, elegant, traditional method.
White: The Grange Pinot Gris, 2016
Caroline Granger and her daughter Maggie make
this wine from a special block of fruit on their farm. It’s a true gris-style in the Alsace method with notes of peach, apricot and yellow apple. There’s approximately 36 hours of skin contact maceration so the colour is absolutely delightful.
The Main Course Red: 2013 Long Dog Winery Otto Pinot Noir
There are many amazing pinot noir producers in the County but one of my first loves is Long Dog Winery. This wine has notes of deep cherry, raspberry, mushroom and white pepper. Sort of if like Burgundy and Oregon had a baby.
Dessert: Huff Estates, First Frost, 2016, Vidal
Not an icewine, but harvested from estate grown fruit after the first frost of the season. Delectable and luscious with aromas of peach, apricot, lime and lychee.
Lynn Abernethy's five County tips
1. County Cider: Just because.
2. Parson Brewing: Probably the fastest growing industry in the County is craft brew. Try Parson’s, but don’t stop there.
3. Jackson Falls Restaurant and Inn: Food with indigenous influence and a fun local wine cellar (and I hear great rooms).
4. The June Motel: The bloggers are all talking about this renovated “motel.”
5. The Claramount Inn: The main restaurant, Clara’s, is great.
Photos Courtesy of: Johnny C. Y. Lam, Terry Culbert, County Cider Company, Nikolas Koeing