After exploring Windsor-Essex last week, I was excited to check out another Ontario wine destination: Prince Edward County. It’s just a 20-minute drive from Belleville’s train station and has more than 40 wineries to discover—not to mention bucolic farmland, a thriving local food scene and the world’s largest freshwater sand dunes. I head down early Friday, to get a head start on the weekend.
My first stop is Lighthall Vineyards, in Milford. It’s one of the less-visited, smaller wineries, because it’s a little removed from the main clusters of wineries around Hillier (on the West side) and Waupoos (on the East). You know what that means? More cheese for me!
This is the only winery in the County with a cheese-making program. They use sheep milk sourced in Belleville to make an earthy blue; a Chardonnay-washed-rind soft-ripened cheese, which is a lot like the French Reblochon; and a buttery brie.
“I like this one best at room temperature, runny and oozy, when I’m in the mood to feel coddled,” says Sam at the tasting bar, as he hands out slivers of brie and glasses of a crisp sparkling vidal. The green apple and grapefruit notes of the wine make a beautiful complement to the cheese, and the acidity and bubbles cut right through the creaminess. I pick up some cheese to take home as a souvenir. Everybody needs a little extra coddling now and then.
I Feel the Need for Mead
One of the most unusual—and ancient—wines made in Prince Edward County is mead. Beekeepers Gavin North and Bay Woodyard, the husband-and-wife team behind Honey Pie Hives and Herbals, make this honey wine on the premises. They also do beeswax and herb soaps (with the most charming illustrated labels), hive-shaped sugar cookies, customized jars of celebration honey and all kinds of bee-related goodies to sell in their farm store.
The air is humming as we pass a mini swarm of bees, glugging from the water fountain, in their garden full of wildflowers and hives. We step inside to taste several different meads covering a surprisingly broad spectrum of sweet to dry. My favourite is the Lovers Mead, which is on the sweeter side and said to be an aphrodisiac with its blend of herbs, ginger, and sweet basil. I do actually fall in love shortly afterwards, on my way out…. with the elderflower and cassis popsicles. Just what I need in today’s air-shimmering heat.
Cool Climate, Warm Welcome
Perhaps the most acclaimed of the County winemakers across Canada and internationally, South African-born Norm Hardie produces exceptional chardonnays and pinot noirs. He attributes some of his success to the County’s limestone soils—great for minerality—and its climate: cool nights and warm days.
Norman Hardie Winery and Vineyard is a pit stop for many locals and visitors around noon, but not just for the wines. People come for the enthusiastic hospitality, the sweeping views across the vines and the blister-crusted wood-fired pizza on the patio. My friend Eloise? she comes for the trampoline.
In the Pink
“It’s often cooler and overcast here in the County, a lot like in the Champagne region,” says Jonas Newmand, winemaker and co-owner, with wife, Vicky Samaras, of Hinterland Wine, as he pours us a glass of sparkling rosé.
Named Borealis, after the Northern Lights that the winemakers saw one October night, while out harvesting grapes, this pink has berry aromas, toasty notes and a lingering mineral finish. It’s made with Gamay grapes according to the charmat method, which is often used in Italy to make Prosecco. Borealis would make a festive choice for celebrations, but I’d happily sip it in the garden all summer long.
Beer Pit Stop
Right next door is County Road Beer Company, where Chef Neil Dowson is eager to show us his new dug-out pit by the beer garden. They christened it last week with a whole pig, wrapped in banana leaves and roasted for 12 hours on hot coals—enough to feed 75 guests.
“It was probably the most stressful cooking I’ve ever done—not knowing how it was doing down there until we unwrapped it at the end—and I’ve cooked for the queen,” says Dowson, laughing.
I order something less labour intensive, but well-suited nonetheless for alfresco
summer dining: freshly shucked oysters and grilled sweet County corn with melted butter and enough garlic aioli to keep vampires at bay.
To wash it down: a flight
of County Road Beer. The pretty quartet, ranging from wheaten blonde ale to sombre American stout, is perhaps an ironic choice to finish off a winery tour, but an excellent choice, in my humble opinion, for kicking off the weekend. Cheers!
If you’d rather not worry about designated drivers, reserve a spot with Sandbanks Vacations and Tours. You take a guided winery tour by shuttle bus or book a private car and guide—they’ll even pick you up from the train station.