Picture yourself sitting on the patio, surrounded by vineyards, sipping on the latest vintage of an award winning Chardonnay. Perhaps it is the crisp acidity of the Sauvignon Blanc that tantalizes your tastebuds. A gentle breeze off of Lake Ontario rustles the vine leaves as you wait for your lunch – welcome to Prince Edward County – welcome to the Taste Trail.
Prince Edward County is young, full of flavour and bursting at the seams. Descriptors such as “epicurean renaissance”, “artisanal food producers” and “gastronomic capital of Ontario” only scratch the surface of the region. The choice of venues is exploding – it can make your head spin. What local delicacies do you try first? Self catered or tour? The options could fill an entire week and leave you wanting to come back for more. The region is rife with things to do beyond the gastronomical delights – Sandbanks Provincial Park for amazing beaches and the largest fresh water sand dunes in the world, antique and artist tours – there really is something for everyone.
Wine growing in the area has taken off, and the producers are noteworthy with awards from the local, national and international stage. The growing season in Prince Edward County is short, the winters, while moderated by the effects of Lake Ontario, tend to be colder than Niagara. There is a heavy limestone influence in the terroir – but I am no wine expert. Best to talk to the vintners – their knowledge of the region and their produce will appeal to the wine lover in you. Your understanding of the wines of the county and appreciation for what is on offer, coupled with amazing culinary pairing tips will make leave you wanting more.
For a taste of the County, I visited 3 different tasting rooms – each with their own appeal. I barely scratched the surface as the region has grown from one winery in the year 2000 to 32 wineries and 9 vineyards in 2011.
When I first visited Huff Estates a number of years ago, it was not the picture of the winery that I wanted to visit. It was sleek and modern, had an air of high tech. We were in the region for the weekend, but I was on a mission – I wanted a riesling for a family dinner I was hosting, and I wanted it to make an impact. The flavours needed to jump on my palate and complement the meal. My vision of the winery was of a Tuscan paradise, reminiscent of the old world. We walked up to the tasting room – I was convinced we were in the wrong place. It was not the picture in my head! I was wrong – so very wrong! We spoke to the sommelier, described the menu and the setting for dinner and I had my “You had me at Hello” moment! I walked away with a number of bottles, and have been back on a number of occasions for their amazing riesling. I am told it is their biggest seller, coupled with their multi-award winning Cuveé. The zingy and flirtatious 2010 medium dry riesling has yet again made it into my collection!
First planting was in 2001, with the tasting room and patio open since 2004. They now also have an enclosed patio to enable visitors to enjoy the vistas and lunch, regardless of the weather. Huff Estates is more than just a winery. While I have not been beyond the cellar door, they also have an inn and art gallery on the property.
I arrived at Sandbanks Estate Winery late in the day. They had changed considerably since my first visit with a brand new tasting room, deck and gazebo. In line with the beachy Sandbanks theme, colourful Adirondack chairs were dotted around the deck. From inside, the girls were laughing and joking – the atmosphere was set before I even stepped through the door. Joking, I asked the girls if they had been tasting all afternoon – it felt like I had walked in to a house warming party – the atmosphere pleasant and playful (just like their Sauvignon Blanc whose label speaks of a summer breeze!). I warned them – I can be a bit of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc snob – would they be up to the challenge as I rarely stray from my beloved Marlborough region! Out came the newly released 2011 Sandbanks Sauvignon Blanc. A perfect blend of crisp and light flavour – I was transported to their colourful deck chairs – this is summer! Once again, a few bottles made it to my collection.
Sandbanks was first planted in 2000, operating out of a smaller tasting room until 2010 when the bright and airy new facility was opened. Catherine Langlois, vintner and owner with her husband, have created a beautiful facility with amazing wines. The new tasting rooms are open and airy, reminiscent of a beach house. Keeping it all in the family, the high impact art is done by her mother – colour paintings that complement the surroundings, adding splashes of colour amongst the bottles. Their signature wine is the Dunes white, however I feel the first release of their Sauvignon Blanc may well offer a challenge to their top selection.
As I was talking to the ladies in the tasting room, I noticed a soon to be released new addition to the Sandbanks lineup – Love. I was too early to try – and disappointed to miss out on their exciting new wine. One of the girls had had the privilege of tasting prior to the June 30 release date. When asked to describe with one word – “seductive”. Just the description melts in your mouth – your soul surrenders to the description of white wine and (organic) cassis blending in a seductive dance on your palate. The anticipation to taste this sultry nectar of the gods is palatable! But alas, patience is a virtue! Only a few more days to release – this aperitivo will be waiting! (ED note: Sandbanks was kind enough to give me a bottle of their newest wine – LOVE – it has a delightful, silky finish that rolls gently off the tongue. I see a few more bottles in my future!)
With storm clouds rolling in, and time running out, I drove out to the tasting room at Norman Hardie, fingers crossed that it would still be open. Talking to people throughout the day, this winery came up in conversation on countless occasions – it was one that I needed to take the time to see. Right from the sign at the gate, I new this was going to be an establishment that was setting itself apart. The lines were simple and classic, an understated elegance.
I had the feeling that the cellar doors were moments from closing (it was already after 6pm after all!). The ladies in the tasting room were only to happy to keep the doors open for me a little longer as I asked questions about their wines.
Norman Hardie’s journey in winemaking says it all – this is boutique winery that is all about the wine. The flavours of the wines are reflected in the year – the limestone terroir and the climate. His motto is “do it right from the start” – and you can taste this in their signature wines. An elegant Pinot and beautifully balanced Chardonnay – not too oaky, but a delicate finish that reminds me of what a Chardonnay means to me.
Norman Hardie’s wines are limited – he produces only 7,000 cases a year. His attention to detail and pursuit of excellence makes his wine a favourite in fine dining restaurants, with a huge market in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal to name a few.
A visit to the cellar door is worth the drive. This winery is not your typical tourist planned winery – the functioning facility is visible, the people at the cellar door highly knowledgeable. I was surprised to know that one of the ladies I was speaking with was a graduate from Brock University’s Oenology and Viticulture program, but then it is that attention to detail that personifies Norman Hardie and his establishment.
On weekends, the winery takes it up a notch with a giant wood fired pizza oven for decadent yet simple flavours. Much of the produce for the hand crafted pizza comes from the gardens on the property. Sadly, it was too late in the day for me – the pizza oven and winery was about to close! Regrettably, distracted by the spectacular storms rolling in, I drove off without picking up a bottle of their fine Chardonnay. A mistake that surely will not be made again on my next visit!
For an interesting interview with Natalie MacLean of Nat Decants and Norman Hardie – visit her blog at Natalie MacLean.
While I didn’t make it to County Cider in Waupoos on this trip, I feel a trip to Prince Edward County is not complete without a stop to taste a specialty of the region! You are in for a real treat with the fresh zing of their hard cider, the effervescent refreshment of their non-alcoholic sparkling cider and decadent silkiness of their award winning iced cider. Sit on the patio for lunch, overlooking Lake Ontario and enjoy.
Life is good here in the County!
Cycling and wine touring by bicycle are becoming more and more popular in the county. The bucolic backroads and views lend themselves perfectly for two wheeled travel. You may also enjoy an earlier post about cycling in Prince Edward County – it is yours to discover!