I think it’s safe to say that I love food, I love learning how it is locally produced and I also love a glass of wine at night.
Even if I keep track of what I like and what to avoid, I am not a connoisseur when it comes to wine. I am what you can call a “regular Joe”, who loves trying new flavours and imagining the work behind the wine, its story. Do I taste wood or apple? Is it smoky or nutty? I also wonder what the wine makers were hoping to achieve with it?
Last week, Jacob and I decided to go camping — 3 nights in Bon Echo Provincial Park, 2 nights in Prince Edward County. Neither of us had ever visited a winery. I was far from imagining that I would totally fall in love, not only with the region but with the people I would meet.
I woke up early that morning, excited to hit the road and make the best out of this day. I pushed Jacob out of bed, had a quick bite at the hotel and off we went. We took the Loyalist Parkway out of Trenton and cruised our way to Picton, stopping many times on the way there to take pictures of the beautiful landscape. We then went to a photography exhibition, grabbed a coffee and walked a bit around Main Street. By the time it was noon we were on our way to our first winery.
As we stepped out of the car, still trying to take in all the beauty surrounding us, we started talking with a couple of local residents who gave us some suggestions as to where to have lunch, where to make reservations for dinner, which wineries we should absolutely see, and what was the best wine in their opinion. Again, we ended up with more possibilities than we had time on our hands. We thanked the nice couple, promising to visit their son’s restaurant in Ottawa, Wellington Gastro Pub.
By Chadsey’s Cairns Winery
From the parking lot, all we could see was a barn surrounded by grape vines. As we followed the dirt path leading to a barn, we couldn’t help noticing the peacefulness of the land and how crisp the air was. We made our way to a cozy apple house built in the 1850’s where we would do our first wine tasting ever in a winery.
The vineyard, now for sale, belongs to Richard and his wife Vida and is located near Lake Ontario. I would learn through some research that the winery was named after an early settler, Ira Chadsey. Ira, over 200 years ago, built stone cairns on the property to guide him home when he would return in the afterlife as a white horse.
The natural light in the apple house made us feel welcomed right away, as if we entered a charming brick house that had been built just to welcome guests. Jacob and I tasted their rosé and their Riesling, looking for a light wine to enjoy on a hot summer day back at home. The Riesling did the trick right away. It was crisp with some notes of apple and wood.
By Chadsey’s Cairn is also known for making Chardonnay, Muscat, Chenin Blanc and Gewürztraminer. We would learn on our journey through the County that Chardonnay and Riesling are grapes that grow easily in the region, hence the reason why so many wineries choose to grow it and successfully transform it into a memorable wine.
As we walked the way back to the car through the dirt path, I couldn’t help but wish every visit would be longer.
Sandbanks Estate Winery
The next winery on our list was bigger than what we would see in the county in general over the next day. Also located close to Lake Ontario, Sandbanks Estate Winery’s owner and winemaker, Catherine Langlois, grew quite a reputation over the past 12 years. With many of Sandbanks wines available at the LCBO, they also won several awards for their products.
We did a quick visit inside and then made our way to their beautiful gazebo to taste those wines. We started with their Riesling, which was sweet and easy to drink, and then had a couple of other tastes of their white wines. I believe their Shoreline was my favourite. Easy on the taste, with a spicy finish.
We tasted their rosé and slowly made it to their red wines. I have to say some of their red wines were impressive. I am thinking of the Mouton Noir and the Baco which both had strong oak finishes. We bought a bottle of Mouton Noir for a friend who absolutely loves and understands wine. We also picked up 2 t-shirts of their Monton Noir – they are kind of cool!
Norman Hardie Winery & Vineyard
At this point of the trip, we were very excited not only to visit Norman Hardie Winery but to try one of his pizzas. Locals had told us his wine was the best in the County and that the pizzas were to die for.
The road leading up to the winery was beautiful and the more we drove, the more we could see the barn. Stepping foot inside, it was refreshing to see so much simplicity, yet so much attention to detail. Jacob held my hand as we climbed the wooden stairs and made it to a simple bar. Some food was for sale, a couple of pictures were on the wall, a magazine was opened at the page where Norman Hardie was interviewed.
There is a reason this winery is so successful, we would learn. Norman Hardie’s experience in winemaking speaks for itself: he worked on wineries in Burgundy, Oregon, California, New Zealand and South Africa before coming here. His wines have gained international notoriety and are being sold in restaurants across Canada, Japan, New York, Hong Kong, Denmark and the United Kingdom.
We did a tasting of 3 of his wines and decided to buy their County Chardonnay. We would later be told that that specific wine “is what Prince Edward County tastes like.”
As we made our way downstairs to the patio overlooking the vines, I recognized Norman Hardie talking with some people. As we passed next to him, we took the time to introduce ourselves and tell him how much we liked his wine. He would later come by our table and chat with us about the work on the winery.
The pizza was delicious, made in a traditional stone outdoor wood oven. The Chef, David, would later take the time to talk with us about the business and his path.
The staff was also great. We had such a good time that Jacob and I decided that we would do a full post about our visit to Norman Hardie Winery later this month. We didn’t want to leave. I wish we could have stayed there to learn more from them. But after our pizza and a glass of wine, we said goodbye and promised ourselves to write them a thank you letter.
Hinterland Wine Company
Located in an old Dairy Farm, this winery produces premium sparkling wine. We had the chance to taste four of their wines, three of them made using the charmat method, and one of them the traditional way. We would learn that the charmat method consists of fermenting the wine in large pressurized containers, which is quicker. The traditional way takes longer and consists of fermenting the wine in their bottles. Our visit to this winery was short but it was interesting to see what they could produce.
The first vines of Hinterland were planted in 2005 and after three years, they were able to release their first sparkling wine. We quickly bought a bottle of rosé sparkling wine made from the traditional method, and hit the road. With only two hours left, we still had 2 wineries on our list to visit.
The Grange of Prince Edward
The first glance at this winery took my breath away; it is truly spectacular. The owner, Caroline Granger, grows seven varieties of grapes on her 60 acre vineyard and takes real pride in her products. While some of her wines can be purchased at the LCBO, she produces wines in three lines that each have their own specialty.
The Single Vineyard Line was created for wine collectors and connoisseurs and are made in small batches, making them even more precious. The Select Line was designed for restaurants and are food friendly. The last line, the Estate Line, is more accessible and easy to pair with food or to enjoy on its own. We ended up buying a 2011 Fume Blanc from the Single Vineyard Lane.
Waupoos Estates Winery
From The Grange, I took the wheel to drive to the other side of the County to visit the oldest winery. Waupoos first planted vines in Prince Edward County in 1993. Eight years later, they would officially open their doors as a winery.
Once we passed Picton, I took Route 8. Jacob had fallen into a light sleep as I was driving our car through this wonderful piece of Ontario countryside. We arrived at 5:50 p.m., which is ten minutes before their closing time. Once again, I was speechless in front of so much care, so much attention, so much dedication.
We would come back the next day for lunch with Jacob’s mother and grandmother and would enjoy a perfect day. We would also end-up buying their last bottle of 2011 Riesling, which was the perfect drink to enjoy while writing this post. We also bought some homemade chocolate and a bottle of 2012 Geisenheim. If I ever have something big to celebrate, I think I would go back to Waupoos. There is something magical and unique about it. I guess you have to see it to believe it.
We will be back
As we drove back home the next evening, I felt very lucky we had a chance to meet so many people who actually made a difference in the way I see wine and agriculture around here. We truly can be proud of their products and we should share them with the people around us. I know I will be back there soon to visit more wineries and will always be proud to serve our Ontario wines at a our dinner table.