Prince Edward County: A wine lover’s guide

Prince Edward County
One of the beaches at Sandbanks
Provincial Park.

A couple of decades ago, tourists came to Prince Edward County for the thrill of the great outdoors. Golden beaches. Glassy lakes. Rolling fields studded with photogenic dilapidated barns and mom-and-pop farm shops. Those things are still here, and people still come for them, but they’re no longer the main draw. Most weekenders who make the drive about 2.5 hours east from buzzy Toronto in summertime are keen to experience just one thing: Ontario’s most exciting new wine scene.

Practically an island, Prince Edward dangles by a thin strip of land from southern Ontario – it’s almost entirely surrounded by the gently lapping surf of Lake Ontario and dotted with other bodies of water. Because of its unusual climate, it has long produced excellent orchard fruit – and, as local winemakers have established in recent years, it is also capable of producing quality grapes.

But viticulture here is not simple. The icy, snowy winters can easily kill vines, so the plants must be protected so they can survive. In autumn, the vines are either ‘hilled up’ with earth or covered with a layer of protective fabric. In spring, when the thaw comes, they must be carefully uncovered again, as can be seen in Traynor Vineyards’ blog ‘A year in the vineyard’. Costs are high and yields are low.

But the effort is worth it: Prince Edward County’s wine scene is immensely exciting. While there is slowly a regional style being established – lean Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs are particularly promising – there aren’t yet any fixed rules among the region’s three dozen or so producers. You’ll find some winemakers working with niche hybrid varieties such as Marechal Foch and Baco Noir. Redtail Vineyards produces pét-nats, carbonic maceration field blends and low-intervention Rieslings, and has even joined forces with local breweries. In comparison to the glossy, more conventional wineries in the long-established Niagara Peninsula region to the south of Toronto or the Okanagan Valley in Canada’s western province of British Columbia, Prince Edward County still feels edgy and pleasingly unpolished.

A tasting tour

The purple barn at Closson Chase. Credit: New York Times

Most of the wineries of note are clustered in the County’s west, hugged by Consecon Lake to the north and beachy Sandbanks Provincial Park to the south. Public transport is almost non-existent, so you’ll need a car to explore, but the drives are never far: usually five to ten minutes between cellar doors.

Start at Closson Chase, in Hillier, one of the County’s benchmark estates – it’s impossible to miss with its giant purple barn and picturesque church featuring a Beaune-style patterned roof. Inside at the tasting bar the elegant, precise Chardonnays should be the first thing you tackle. The Grande Cuvée comes with toasty, nutty notes and a fresh lick of acidity.

Just down the road heading west, innovative sparkling wine specialist Hinterland is an entirely different proposition. Ancestral-method rosé and Charmat-method Riesling-Vidal blends join a fortified, aperitif-style ratafia Chardonnay. The L’Imparfait range, meanwhile, is pushing the boundaries of County winemaking – made in conjunction with one of Canada’s top chefs, David McMillan, it includes a spontaneous-ferment Savagnin and a co-fermented Blaufränkisch and Gewurztraminer blend.

Somewhere between the two producers stylistically – and just a few minutes’ drive back east – you’ll find The Old Third Vineyard. Here owners Bruno François and Jens Korberg stick predominantly to leading County varieties (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Gamay), but all the wines are unfined and unfiltered. The tasting room, set in a vast old barn, is particularly atmospheric. Its pasta bar serves up fresh handmade pasta during peak summer season, too. If you’d like to keep tasting, you’ll find plenty more wines worth sipping. Further east, in Bloomfield,…

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Prince Edward County: A wine lover’s guide  
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