On The Taste Trail in "The County"
In search of Burgundian-style wines in Prince Edward County (Aug. 2018)
This summer my wife Sue and I visited the “County” with the sole purpose of discovering the tastes of their wines made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes – the traditional grapes found in wines from the iconic Burgundy region in France. First, prior to the wine discoveries, I can’t help but mention the phenomenal marketing success that Prince Edward County has accomplished. Despite the fact there are about two dozen counties in Ontario there is only one that gets to use the words “The County” to describe itself…and, everyone in Toronto knows exactly which county is being referred to: Prince Edward County on the shores of Lake Ontario, near Bellville. It’s an amazing piece of clever marketing.
Now, how about the wines?! We started our journey near the village of Consecon. It’s considered the gateway to the County. We drove off the Loyalist Parkway to visit the Hillier Creek Estates Winery. Their Chardonnay was nice and buttery with the usual apple and even a hint of lemon flavours, including fresh acidity. However, it was the 2012 Pinot Noir that really caught my fancy with its earthy bouquet and berry-like flavours followed by a balanced, long aftertaste. Lovely wine!
Our next stop was at Rosehall Run Vineyards. This winery was on the top of my must visits due to their award-winning Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs (gold medals at the National Wine Awards of Canada). Although I favour older Pinots I couldn’t resist the 2016 which had all the elements of a great Burgundy (I bought 2 bottles). Their Chardonnay was also brilliant, but my real surprise came from their sparkling “Ceremony” which was made exclusively from Chardonnay, thereby described as Blanc de Blanc…i.e. white wine from white grapes. This winery might well be one of the preeminent flag-bearers for County wines. I’d take their wines to any international wine competition and feel confident they would finish near or at the top. (Check out their cool chandelier made from vine stocks in the tasting room.)
Day Two on our discovery took us to the Black Prince Winery just outside Picton. I liked their Chardonnay which came in as the best white value I encountered over the weekend. The other reason for visiting Black Prince is the aged vinegars made by Canadian Cellars. Originally the operation was meant to be a barrel making business, operated by cooper Pete Marla, until it morphed into vinegar production. The Maple Balsamic vinegar is aged in old barrels for many months and is a perfect match for any good oil as a basis for an intriguing vinaigrette.
Our next stop was the architecturally modern winery, Huff Estates. This property includes an inn and the Oeno Gallery (which included some nice artwork by my friend Charles Pachter). We met up with the retail manager Brianne, who treated us to a complimentary tasting with server Adem. We were duly impressed with their wines, favouring their take on Chardonnay. Huff also makes excellent sparkling wines at reasonable prices. We enjoyed the overall ambience and energy created by the multi-purpose trio of buildings. A definite "go to" place in the County!
At this point we were off the main roads and into the back country. As compared to the Niagara wine trail, Prince Edward County has a seductive rural charm. When we were driving along Closson Road we were forced off the road, along with another car, to allow farm machinery to pass us.
Speaking of Closson Road, here again we found some clever marketing. All the wineries and attractions along this road have branded themselves collectively under the website ‘ClossonRoad.com’ – it’s like a mini region within the County. We visited three of the wineries beginning with The Old Third Vineyard. It’s located in beautifully restored rustic barn. We fell in love with their 2014 Pinot Noir sparkling wine (this time a Blanc de Noir – white wine made with black grapes). The beauty of sparkling wine made solely with Pinot Noir is the depth of flavour…it’s like drinking a white wine that has lingering flavours of a red wine. The other surprise at The Old Third was their traditional method 2015 Cider made from Russet apples. Owner Jens Korberg said that this beauty was fermented twice, once in bulk and then in the bottle. The result is a clean but complex apple cider. We then proceeded to the much anticipated award-winning Closson Chase winery where we were given a flight of three Pinot Noirs by our host Michael. We were told that the 2016 ‘Churchside’ Pinot had scored 96 points in a Toronto Star review – it was delicious, showing lots of Pinot character and an interesting mid palate taste of marzipan. In the end I bought the 2013 ‘Hillier’ wine which once again confirmed my preference for Pinot Noir with a little age. Closson Chase, like our next stop, is located in a restored barn. While you are at Closson Chase make sure you walk across the road to check out the Hospice de Beaune inspired roof on the church.
Our final stop on Closson Road was the Grange of Prince Edward Vineyards & Estate Winery located in another barn-like building. Our host was Maggie Granger who led us through a varied tasting. They too made fine Pinot Noirs yet strangely we ended up buying their 2014 Cabernet Franc – this grape has been an Ontario star for a few years as a result of it consistently producing mature tasting reds with good colour and deep flavour. My problem is that many Francs have a green, herb-like flavour. This one did not. Bravo Grange for making the finest Cab Franc I’ve tasted in years. I can’t help but give the Grange another “bravo” because they sell more of my books, “WineSense – The Three Keys to Understanding Wine,” than almost any winery in Ontario (Thanks guys!!). BTW: You too can buy my book by going to ‘bobdesautels.com’.
It was getting late but Sue and I, diligent wine troopers are we, forged on to Sandbanks where we were led through a tasting by a well-prepared Matthew. Shifting from our obsession of Pinot Noirs, my wife’s favourite grape, we ended up buying their 2017 Entre Nous Chardonnay. My French heritage may have influenced our choice, given the name, but this wine had everything I like about a good Chardonnay…and, at a great price. When you visit Sandbanks be sure to take in the artwork. Owner Catherine Langois has included pictures by her mother in the winery…some of the paintings reminded me of Mark Rothko’s work.
Last stop of the day was at By Chadsey’s Cairns winery. The name of this property was a result of some interesting history…I won’t spoil it for you, but look out for a white horse when you visit. The winery was not a big producer of our favoured grapes but we did end up liking their sparkling red wine…yes, I said red. I first came to appreciate sparkling reds in Australia many years ago and rarely do you see them in Canada. I enjoy serving dinners with various sparkling wines, including real Champagne. Serving a red sparkling is a fun addition to the evening.
[Note:At the end of my blog are four pictures of my favourite purchases.]
Cheese – Sue and I are also big cheese lovers so we naturally visited Fifth Town Artisan Cheese Co. It is Canada’s greenest cheese producer which for us is a big reason to support them. They make goat, cow and sheep milk cheeses and are well worth a visit. We also visited the Black River Cheese Co. which makes wonderful aged cheddars.
Restaurant – A real highlight of our trip was dinner at Hartley’s Tavern in Picton. This is a family run and inspired restaurant. Father Jim, mother Janine and daughter Jordon handle the service side of the business with the help of some staff. In the kitchen is the star of the show – Stratford trained Jared Hartley, who, at the young age of 20 years, has created an imaginative menu that delivers where it counts: presentation and taste. The rest of the family provide impeccable service which ensures a complete dining experience. All the values I promote at my restaurants are evident at Hartley’s Tavern (local, top quality, sustainable, friendliness, etc.). I highly recommend a visit!
Windmills – There is a highly charged debate about a windmill project in the County. In his questionable wisdom, Premier Doug Ford cancelled a local project nearing completion and ready to go. Environmentalists had tried to stop the original project because of it infringing on the habitat of Blanding’s turtles. Local people, in favour of the project, pointed out that these turtles are not endangered at this point. Ontario.ca says they are “threatened” but not endangered. The debate goes on while the beautiful windmills sit idle. Looks like the Ontario government, in trying to save money, will end up getting sued by the company that built them. (Note: the project was built with the complete support of the previous Liberal government. Strange times indeed!)
Hillier Creek – www.hilliercreekwinery.com
Rosehall Run – www.rosehallrun.com
Black Prince – www.blackprincewinery.com
The Old Third – www.theoldthird.com
Closson Chase – www.clossonchase.com
Grange of Prince Edward – www.grangeofprinceedward.com
Huff Estates – www.huffestates.com
Sandbanks – www.sandbankswinery.com
By Chadsey’s Cairns – www.bychadseyscairns.com
Fifth Town Cheese – www.fifthtown.com
Black River Cheese Co. – www.blackrivercheese.com
Hartley’s Tavern – 613.476.8888; www.hartleystavern.com
Blanding’s Turtles –www.ontario.ca/page/blandings-turtle
Books & Company(great book store!)- 289 Main Street in Picton; www.pictonbookstore.com
1. a) Canadian Cellars – Maple Balsamic (aged in old barrels) Vinegar
b) The Old Third Cider 2015 Traditional Method – Golden Russet apples
2. Trio of Sparkling/Trad. Method
a) “Ceremony” Rosehall Run Blanc de Blan
b) The Old Third Pinot Noir 2014
c) Darkling Sparkling 2014 – By Chadseys Cairns
3. a) Rosehall Run 2016 Chardonnay
- b) Sandbanks Entre Nous Chardonnay 2017 (good value)
c) Grange of Prince Edward 2014 Cabernet Franc
4. a) Rosehall Run 2016 Pinot Noir
b) Closson Chase 2013 Pinot Noir
c) Hillier Creek Estates 2012 Pinot Noir