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Report 1814: Forty Two Hours in Prince Edward County or A Wine Tour of Loyalist Ontario

By Doug Phillips from Canada, Spring 2010

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Page 2 of 3: Wineries, Artisans, Cheese shops and a Tall Poppy

photo by Doug Phillips

A selection from the 8 wineries we visited.

Prince Edward County is Ontario's newest wine region. There are over 30 wineries and vineyards in the area - most of them quite small, some with less than 10 acres of vines under cultivation. The largest, The Grange of Prince Edward Winery, has 60 acres.

The Saturday of our visit (May 29, 2010) coincided with an opportunity to sample almost all of the wines in the area in one location only a short walk from the Merrill Inn. It is an annual spring event, called the Terroir, held at the Crystal Palace in Picton. However, we were not tempted to take part. I am not a fan of somebody describing the specific area where a wine was produced while pouring a sample of the product, when I can easily visit the property myself. It certainly adds to the experience, even if I have to restrict my consumption. As an added bonus, the focus on the Terroir meant that, with one exception, there were few visitors at the vineyards we visited.

We planned our excursion based on the recommendation of Edward Shubert, who provided us with his opinion of the four best producers in the area - Keint-He, Norman Hardie, Closson Chase and Long Dog. While we visited several other wineries, a couple of cheese producers and some artist studios, we began our day by locating those four vineyards on a map and plotting our journey. This also provided us with the opportunity of seeing much of the county.

Saturday

9:30am

Wine & Barrel Tour

Following our breakfast at the Merrill Inn we drove through Picton along Highway 33 (the Loyalist Parkway) and over to the village of Bloomfield where we stopped to look in a few shops and also paid a brief visit to the Peta Hall gallery. Then on to the larger community of Wellington where we made three stops - the Wellington Pottery, Armstrong Glassworks and a unique enterprise, The Barrel Shop, located in an old mill behind the Armstrong Glassworks.

The entrepreneurs behind The Barrel Shop are reviving the Canadian production of oak barrels for the wine making industry after an absence of many decades. One aspect of the business is recycling old barrels into consumer products like tables, stools or novelty items. Since the mill is unheated, in winter production is relocated. No website, but a great place to visit. Highly recommend that you drop in if they are open. Aside from some of the wineries, The Barrel Shop was my favourite stop. I'm a big fan. Hope they do well.

A few miles past Wellington, a right turn on Hubbs Creek Road brought us to Keint-He winery where we were greeted by a large friendly dog, and eventually one of the three owners of the property - the other two were at the Terroir in Picton. I asked about the name of the property. Keint-he is derived from a native word. Keint-he was the name of one of the four Seneca villages in this part of eastern Ontario. It has been anglicized into the word Quinte, as in Bay of Quinte. Oh, I didn't know that - I always thought that Quinte was somehow related to the French word for fifteen, quinze. Glad I asked the question.

Back on the Loyalist Parkway we soon came upon another winery - Sandbanks Estate Winery, featuring a large new tasting boutique and freshly spray-painted lanes in the gravel parking area. Sandbanks Winery was the busiest place we visited all day, no doubt at least partly due to its location on a bend on the Loyalist Parkway and the very attractive new facilities. The rosé wines of Sandbanks are perfect for the summer - and evoke some of our times in the Luberon.

A short drive from Sandbanks Winery, a left turn on Greer Road brought us to Norman Hardie Winery - the second highly recommended property in the area. The tasting area was quite different from Sandbanks - a small area in the upper level of a basic metal-framed building that served as the production facilities of the winery. Our host was a conscript - a sales representative for a group of small producers who happened to be visiting. Only one employee was on the premises - others were in Picton.

There was a large contrast from the very basic facilities at Norman Hardie to our next stop at The Grange of Prince Edward Winery just outside Hillier - a picturesque setting, large renovated mill with a spectacular stone fireplace as a tasting room, and an unsolicited offer of a tour of the property including the production area. The wines of The Grange are marketed under Trumpour's Mill label, after the name of the original farming family. We would drop in at The Grange on future visits to the Prince Edward County. Highly recommend.

Then on to the third of our recommended wineries - Closson Chase - pleasant reception by a young couple - not the owners, who are the winemaker and his wife, a well-known Canadian actress. We noticed a group of six women, fellow guests at the Merrill Inn enjoying a picnic lunch in the garden at Closson Chase.

1:30pm

Tall Poppy Café, Wellington

Lunch back in Wellington at the Tall Poppy Café. Open less than a month it is developing a good reputation. And yes, it is run by a couple of tall Australians. Google "Tall Poppy Syndrome" if you are a bit confused.

2:30pm

More Wine and a Bit of Cheese

Our morning was spent west of Picton within a few miles of Bloomfield and Wellington. After lunch we drove south of Picton and spent the next few hours in an even more rural area with very small communities, sometimes only a curve in the road, named Cherry Valley, Milford, Black River and Cressy. Our first stop was at Long Dog Winery, the fourth recommended estate. It was the smallest property we visited; the tasting room is reached by walking through a small garden. It appears to be a husband-and-wife operation - the wife was in the tasting room. The owners have at least two dachshunds, hence the name of the winery. While the production at Long Dog is quite small, the wines are very good and, while it may seem a bit of an odd comment, the labels are excellent.

Next we drove over to Black River Cheese where we sampled and made some purchases - a popular spot.

Back into Picton and a stop at Black Prince Winery just on the edge of the town. The retail area features their own wines as well as wines from at least two other producers in the area. The location of Black Prince likely ensures a steady stream of visitors.

We had heard good reports of an artisanal cheese factory - Fifth Town Cheese. While it has a Picton address, Fifth Town Cheese is actually several miles from the town along Highway 8, past Waupoos and very near Cressy. It is a small operation but produces an interesting variety of excellent cheeses. I especially liked Counting Sheep and Lemon Fetish. You may have your own favourites. Go there if you are in the area. Along with Sandbanks Winery, Fifth Town Cheese was the busiest pace we visited - and by far the most remote.

7:00pm

Merrill Inn Restaurant

The morning breakfast area is transformed into an intimate restaurant in the evenings, opening onto a patio and back garden. The menu features local produce very well prepared and presented. Following a very pleasant dinner, we enjoyed an evening stroll around the neighbourhood, admiring the many well-preserved and impressive residences in the area.

Sunday

10:00am

Homeward Bound

After breakfast we headed for home with two brief stops along the way. Lake on the Mountain is a natural curiosity, a small lake 62 metres above the nearby Bay of Quinte. It is an odd sensation, being so close to two tranquil bodies of water at distinctly different elevations. From the road opposite the Lake on the Mountain, we could watch the transit of the Glenora Ferry far below and plan our time for a minimum wait at the ferry dock.

A few miles from the Glenora Ferry we made our final winery stop - at 33 Vines Winery. The tasting room is unique - a bright red caboose sitting on a short section of relocated train tracks.

Back home by 1:00pm.

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