This article was published in The Globe and Mail on July 24th, 2009.
Even whipping wind and ominous clouds threatening to burst didn’t keep eager visitors away from Prince Edward County winery tasting rooms on a recent Saturday. At Waupoos Winery, Huff Estates and the County Cider Company, staff juggled an onslaught of visitors impervious to the weather and eager to test County wares.
Prince Edward County, with its mix of family-owned wineries, creative chefs and chic art galleries, is officially on the hit list of weekenders from Toronto to Montreal: With the inclusion of 13 of its wineries in Andrew Brooks’s definitive wine-tour guide, Crush on Niagara , the rustic island will no longer be known only for its beaches and fertile farmland. Yet, with its dreamy landscape and laid-back vibe, the County can’t help but pay homage to its rural roots, making it a perfect place to escape the city in style.
Wedged in the “golden triangle,” within two to three hours’ drive from Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa, Prince Edward County has an enviable position. Blink, however, and you may miss it. “I drove that stretch of the 401 from Toronto to Quebec countless times and never realized that along the way there was a bridge leading to another world,” says Henriette Labelle-Campbell, events manager at The Waring House Inn in Picton.
Two decades ago, Labelle-Campbell and her husband crossed that bridge and invested in a summer home. Eventually they decided to make a permanent move, and they haven’t looked back. “When we settled in the County in 1998, it was a rural community with very few amenities for tourists. If you hadn’t eaten dinner at a local diner by 8 p.m., then you were out of luck.”
These days, there is very little chance of going hungry after dark. The Waring House is home to Amelia’s Garden, a fine-dining restaurant that is a favourite with locals. Executive chef Luis de Sousa’s five-course tasting menu features seasonal dishes that are paired with locally produced wines. (A timely offering right now: Baby Blue pie made with in-season local blueberries and rhubarb and an oatmeal-cinnamon streusel topping.)
The Waring House is one of more than 20 designated stops on the Taste Trail, a self-guided route that links some of Prince Edward County’s finest restaurants, artisanal food producers and wineries. Consider it a delectable connect-the-dots game that introduces visitors to the island’s epicureans.
One path leads from Picton eastward along County Road 8. The scenery shifts between undulating fields rich with apple orchards and pristine vineyards on one side to stunning inlets on the other. There’s no clutter in sight, and the crisp breeze over the water adds an air of calm.
A sign points to the Fifth Town Artisan Cheese Company, an environmentally responsible producer of cheese made with fresh, local goat and sheep milk. Owner Petra Cooper, co-founder of the Ontario Cheese Society, is considered a visionary. Fifth Town’s production facility is the first in North America to earn the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) platinum designation, and it won the 2009 Ontario Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence.
Since opening two years ago, Fifth Town has revived the tradition of cheese-making in the County and Cooper has single-handedly taken charge. “It’s all about the chemistry,” she says. “I’m in the caves every day checking the cheese to make sure that everything is just right.” Her formula seems to be working. Cape Vessey, Fifth Town’s first hard cheese, won Grand Champion Goat Cheese at the 2008 Royal Winter Fair.
Cooper is not the only County up-and-comer. Torontonian Mark Bartkiw, a photographer by profession, has unveiled an organically grown pick-your-own vegetable, fruit and flower farm in Big Island. “My wife and I had always fantasized about living in the country, but we didn’t intend to farm when we moved here three years ago,” Bartkiw says. “After living here for a year, I was so inspired by the land.”
In addition to the pick-your-own product, Bartkiw has a market stand that has become a daily stop for residents and day trippers. Community kinship is a cornerstone in Prince Edward County. “There is a great deal of collaboration between businesses here. People really work together to help deliver an outstanding experience to visitors,” says Karin Potters, owner of Pinch Gourmet, a shop that sells everything from locally produced sausage to organic smoked salmon to hand-baked oat biscuits. Potters’s husband, Michael, is owner and head chef at Harvest restaurant. Of the many wines featured on the Harvest menu, locally grown labels are in abundance, including those by Frederic Picard of Huff Estates.
According to Picard, size and geography bind the County and set it apart. “Niagara has 25 years of growing experience and more than a hundred wineries,” he says. “We’re a young region and the newest Designated Viticulture Area in Ontario.” More established County estates such as Closson Chase Vineyards, founded in the late 1990s by esteemed viticulturist Deborah Paskus (a pioneer of the new County terroir), have been joined by the award-winning vintages of Huff, Waupoos and Norman Hardie Winery. One of the latest estates to make its mark is Redtail Vineyard, Canada’s first off-grid winery, which produces up to 700 cases a year.
And it’s not just food and wine producers who are chipping in. Prince Edward County’s arts scene is also emerging. Its jazz festival is expanding, it has a vibrant theatre program, and the Arts Trail – a route of more than 20 artists and galleries around the island – is gaining exposure. Visitors can stop in at a variety of exhibition spaces, from Mad Dog Gallery, in a renovated timber-framed barn, to the new Oeno Gallery, housed in a contemporary light-filled space on the grounds of Huff Estates.
Oeno co -owner Carlyn Moulton moved to the County in 2004. Like other big-city transplants, she can’t imagine living anywhere else. “It’s a real place,” she says, “not just one fabricated for tourists.”
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Must-try flavours from Prince Edward County
- 2007 Closson Chase Pinot Noir
- 2007 Huff Estates Riesling Off Dry
- Cape Vessey by Fifth Town Cheese Company
- Barley Days beer by the Waring House
- Waupoos Winery’s Waupoos Maple Ice
- The County Cider Company Ice Cider
- A Buddha Dog hot dog with red pepper jelly and brie.
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Pack your bags
Where to stay
Waring House Inn County Road 1 and Highway 33; 800-621-4956;www.waringhouse.com. Thirty-two new rooms housed in two new geothermally heated and air conditioned buildings. Amelia’s Garden serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Where to eat
Harvest Restaurant 106 Bridge St., Picton; 613-476-6763;www.harvestrestaurant.ca. Chef Michael Potters offers a six-course tasting menu ($80).
Where to go
Fifth Town Artisan Cheese 4309 County Rd. 8, Picton; 613-476-5755;www.fifthtown.ca.
Huff Estates At the northwest corner of County Road 1 and Highway 62 South; 866-484-4667; www.huffestates.com.
Red Tail Vineyard 422 Partridge Hollow Rd., near Consecon, 613-394-3243; www.redtailvineyard.com.
Mad Dog Gallery 525 County Rd. 11, Picton; 613-476-7744;www.maddoggallery.ca.
Oeno Gallery 2274 County Rd. 1, Bloomfield; 613-393-2216;www.oenogallery.com.
Special to The Globe and Mail
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Prince Edward County wineries that made the cut in Andrew Brooks’s Crush on Niagara:
Bergeron Estate Winery 9656 Loyalist Pkwy, Adolphustown, 613-373-0181, www.bergeronestatewinery.com.
Black Prince Winery 13370 Loyalist Pkwy, RR1 Picton, 613-476-4888,www.blackprincewinery.com.
By Chadsey’s Cairns Winery and Vineyard 17432 Loyalist Pkwy, Wellington, 613-399-2992, www.bychadseyscairns.com.
Carmela Estates Winery (now called Casa-Dea Estates) 1186 Greer Rd., Wellington, 613-399-3939, www.casadeaestates.com.
Closson Chase Vineyards 629 Closson Rd., Hillier, 888-201-2300,www.clossonchase.com.
The Grange of Prince Edward County Vineyards and Estate Winery990 Closson Rd., Hillier, 866-792-7712, www.thegrangewines.com.
Huff Estates 2274 Country Rd. 1, Bloomfield, 866-484-4667,www.huffestates.ca.
Long Dog Winery and Vineyard 104 Brewers Rd., Milford, 613-476-4140, www.longdog.ca.
Norman Hardie Winery and Vineyard 1152 Greer Rd., RR1 Wellington, 613-399-5297, www.normanhardie.com.
Rosehall Run Vineyards 1243 Greer Rd., RR1 Wellington, 888-399-1183,www.rosehallrun.com.
Sandbanks Estate Winery 17598 Loyalist Pkwy, Wellington, 613-399-1839, www.sandbankswinery.com.
Sugarbush Vineyards 1286 Wilson Rd., RR1 Hillier, 613-399-9000.www.sugarbushvineyards.ca.
Waupoos Estates Winery 3016 County Rd. 8, Picton, 613-476-8338,www.waupooswinery.com.