Time for a weekender to pretty Prince Edward County. Visit some picture-perfect wineries, taste-test their latest offerings, and revel in the burgeoning local wine scene
BY DAVID LAWRASON
This story appears in the Summer edition of Ottawa Magazine. Buy the magazine on newsstands or order your online edition.
Local wine fans, rejoice! Now, more than ever before, distinctive (and increasingly good) wine is available directly from wineries situated right on the city’s doorstep. The wine region of Prince Edward County is just an ambitious day trip — or a comfy weekend jaunt — away. And every year, the County produces an ever greater range of reliable wines. You, too, can finally do as Europeans have been doing forever — head to the country to buy your wine personally and oh so locally.
A large virtual island west of Kingston, Prince Edward County is anchored in the limestone bedrock of Lake Ontario. Before 2000, it was barren of distinctive crops, save for a few lonely and aging apple orchards. But at the turn of the millennium, some prescient souls saw the future in wine, and a few vineyards were launched out of the heavy gravelled clay topsoil. Over the next decade, more than 30 wineries shot up, with a handful showing real prowess, especially with chardonnay and pinot noir, the grapes upon which burgundy is built. And though the growth of new wineries has slowed post-recession, the selection in the County is filling out as quality continues to improve.
Such pioneering properties as Norman Hardie, Rosehall Run, Huff Estates, and Closson Chase remain the go-to wineries for quality — especially as they release their reds from the excellent 2010 vintage. But for this column, we give some room to the lesser-known wineries. And though I haven’t yet had time to taste the new releases from The Old Third, Lacey Estates, Exultet, Keint-He, and Long Dog, they, too, should be on your touring list. Time for a road trip.
3630 Bubble 2008
$39 • 90 points
The Turnbull family, led by retired B.C. expats Bill and Anu Turnbull, have dense-planted one acre (3630 refers to the number of vines per acre) in the geographic centre of the County. Their wines are made off-site at other wineries, making 3630 a “virtual” winery. In the wet 2008 vintage, they put their entire crop of pinot noir and chardonnay into this sparkler. It’s light-bodied and intense, with just a hint of cherry fruit and a mouth-watering mineral finish.
Casa-Dea 2009 Cabernet Franc
$18.95 • 88 points
The pretty little red-roofed winery on Greer Road is hitting its stride under winemaker Paul Battliana as a reliable producer of well-priced County classics. Cabernet franc is a strong suit, a bit more weight and colour than pinot, with classic raspberry, tobacco, anise, and damp earth. Well balanced; will age five years.
Devil’s Wishbone 2010 Chardonnay
$21 • 86 points
Paul Gallagher began by selling grapes from his vineyard near historic Lake on the Mountain, east of Picton. His first vintage 2009s show the potential of the site but are a work-in-progress. This first glimpse of 2010 shows promise again — a dry but rich style with unique, if vague, nutty notes from only five weeks of aging in barrels made from Prince Edward County oak. It’s quite richly textured, with a dry, bitter finish.
The Grange of Prince Edward 2007 GPE Diana Block Pinot Noir
$35 • 91 points
GPE — which also makes Trumpour’s Mill — is a postcard old-guard winery. But it is in transition as Caroline Granger and her daughter, Maggie Belcastro, personally take on the winemaking and management of the maturing 60-acre vineyard on Closson Road. While awaiting the results of their collaboration, don’t miss their first estate pinot, now just entering prime. The ethereal burgundian bouquet of sour cherry and burning leaves defines PEC pinot. Heady stuff — and the reason the County has a big future.
Harwood Estate 2009 St. Laurent
$20 • 88 points
Harwood used to take their grapes to Black Prince Winery, but things are looking up with the young, energetic Lauren Horlock at the helm in the new solar-powered Loyalist Parkway winery near Hillier. St. Laurent is an Austrian red grape with great potential in PEC. This is a lifted, lively, intense young red with cran-raspberry fruit, some earthiness, tart and juicy acidity, and surprising flavour depth.
Hinterland 2009 Brut Rosé
$37 • 90 points
Jonas Newman and Vicki Samaras were not the first sparkling wine producers in PEC, but as specialists (and as a contract producer for other wineries), they have created a fine sparkling wine subculture from their retrofitted dairy barn on Closson Road. This new, nifty, dry pinot-based pink sparkler has mild raspberry fruit, minerality, and dancing effervescence.
Karlo Estates 2011 Frontenac Gris Rosé
$16 • 86 points
Richard Karlo has converted his red barn on Danforth Road near Wellington into a wine laboratory and tasting room. Karlo loves big bordeaux-style cab-merlot-based reds, based mostly on grapes from warmer Niagara. But he is also leading the charge with a new winter hybrid called Frontenac, making this delicious off-dry pink wine, as well as a super, lightly fortified white dessert wine called Van Alstine.
Lighthall Vineyards 2011 Progression (sparkling)
$20 • 88 points
Glenn Symons, who lived in Ottawa for 10 years, purchased the limestone-strewn Lighthall Vineyards near Milford in 2008. It was already famous for chardonnay, which remains a major focus. This year, however, he has added a dazzling sparkling wine based on winter-hardy Vidal grapes grown at low yield. It’s simple, fruity, and just a touch sweet, but it dances with racy County acidity and minerality.
Stanners Vineyard 2010 Pinot Gris Cuivré
$25 • 87 points
The Stanners family is hunkering down in their fine little straw-insulated winery in the village of Hillier, making honest and thoughtful wines that improve with every vintage. This pinot gris has a pearl grey shade, taking colour from short contact with the “gris” skins before fermentation. Look for subtle raspberry, licorice, and tea scents set in a smooth, vaguely sweet, and well-balanced style.