#PEC – Road Trip!

26 May
loyalist gin

66 Gilead Loyalist Gin

I’ve been a bit remiss over the last month. Not sure why I haven’t been posting stuff. I’ve been writing it, just never getting to the part where I upload, edit, rewrite, think about it, and finally post it. Bloggers will understand. That all changes today.

We traveled to Prince Edward County for the first weekend in May. For those not familiar with “The County”, let me provide a brief introduction.

TheCounty_logoPrince Edward County is on the north shore of Lake Ontario. It was originally settled by indigenous people and following the American Revolution, land was granted by The Crown to United Empire Loyalists. Interesting how The Crown decided that they owned the land in the first place. A rant for another time? You see the term “Loyalist” at every turn as it constitutes a lot of the sense of who the people are and where they came from. Plus, it’s a cool way to brand stuff, I presume. Minus the topograhy, it does have a New Englandy feel.

Over the past 20 years or so, courageous winapreneurs have been planting vines and working the vineyards to produce worthy wines. Understandably, it’s taken awhile to establish a track record that warrants the accolades that some County wines are now receiving. To get a feel for the wine trade there, you only have to think back to your first wander in Niagara region when they were trying to get established. Wineries that bore the descriptor ‘cottage winery’ were springing up all over the place and the region was absent of any grand chateau-style tasting rooms, vanity wineries, or lavish wedding venues. That’s changed in Niagara now.

In The County, there remains a sense of exploration and adventure among the 30 plus wineries. Now, that doesn’t mean that the wines are a casualty to experimentation or still years away from a recognizable sense of place. In fact, I’d have to say that the most striking feature of PEC wines is their sense of place. The prime varietals are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. If you’re a cool climate dude or dudette, this might be your new favourite place. It’s one of those places where you’d say, “You can’t grow vinifera grapes here. It’s too damn cold in the winter.” Well, they’ve thought of that and each fall, the vines are buried. I’m not kidding, they mound dirt on top of the vines. And in the spring, pull all that dirt back off them. Seems like a lot of work because it is. Is it worth it? You bet.

I’ll include our full tasting notes in a later post. Most of the wineries discussed have a ‘club’ approach to participating in their thing. If you’re interested in learning more about the wineries or ordering some for yourself, click the links provided.

Closson Chase

Closson Chase

Closson Chase 

We had two days to wander, dropping into a number of wineries and a distillery. We started at Closson Chase. Like many of the wineries, the tasting room at Closson Chase is in a converted barn (above). Great ambience – no pretensions. Vines are planted on fractured limestone sloping towards Lake Ontario giving the wines a definite Burgundian feel. Until recently, Deborah Paskus was the winemaker there after establishing herself as a Chardonnay Ninja in Niagara. To get an idea of the quality of their Chardonnays, I quote Jancis Robinson, “We have served them blind to wine professionals with top white Burgundies and, quite literally, amazed and astounded our friends.” High praise indeed. The 2013 Closson Chase Vineyard Chardonnay ($27.95) was in  perfect balance with just enough oak peaking through – acidity on the finish. They craft Pinot made from Niagara grapes as well as those from their own estate. I did prefer their 2013 KJ Watson Vineyard Pinot ($34.95) which hails from Niagara. Their 2012 Closson Chase Pinot Noir ($29.95) prepared me for the general structure and character of the County Pinots that I would be experiencing the rest of our trip. Lean, powerful, minerally, and earthy. You never think, “Umm, that’s ripe.” More Oregon and Burgundy less California.  http://clossonchase.com/

The Old Third Tasting Room

Tasting Room – The Old Third

The Old Third

The tasting room staff at Closson told us about a winery that I hadn’t heard of – The Old Third. It’s just down the road from Closson, easy to find. What a cool place. Big open to the roof barn with a tasting room and another area that could serve as a sit-around-and-chat-room – a large open window looking out across the vineyard. The guy who was staffing the room was across the road hanging out when we arrived. It’s all pretty laid back. This winery also specialized in Chardonnay and Pinot with a Cabernet Franc and traditional method cider thrown in for fun. Loved the 2013 Pinot ($42.00) – minerally, lean, powerful and dusty. Really a ’boutique’ winery with small batches of wines from fruit grown on the estate.  http://www.theoldthird.com/

Keint-he Gamay Noir

Keint-he Gamay Noir

Keint-he Winery and Vineyards

On to another well reviewed winery – Keint-he. Did I mention that at almost every winery, we were the only ones in the tasting room? Speaks to timing, I guess. A while back, I had a Keint-he Chardonnay that was made in the County from Niagara grapes, but never their county wines. Have to say that the Keint-he wines seemed to hit the right note for me. The 2013 Portage Chardonnay ($25.00) was all local with a bit of oak thrown in to please those that like a bit of butter.The 2011 Portage Pinot ($20.00) made from County fruit was similar to the Old Third ones above – lighter but still lean and muscular without heaviness – mineral elements, particularly on the finish. If I had to say one red fruit, I’d refuse, there wasn’t any obvious berry peaking through. Although, I seemed a bit muddled after a day of tasting, which I don’t mind – it keeps it interesting and that’s what GPS is for. Right? They have a 2013 Voyageur Gamay Noir ($25.00) from Beamsville Bench appellation fruit. It is tangy and, what’s the word I’m searching for?……….oh yeah, ‘good’. Needs a bit of a chill to bring out the fruit. Not as dark as a Moulin-a-Vent but not as fresh as many other New World Gamays either. I liked it a lot. http://www.keint-he.ca/

IMG_0742

Pizza Time

Norman Hardie Winery and Vineyard

Now, if you asked around, lots of wine geeks know of Norman Hardie and his story. Studied at the University of Dijon, sommelier at The Four Seasons, and itinerant wine worker, he traveled the globe learning about the agriculture that is the magic behind the sip. He discovered the ubiquitous limestone and clay in The County and established Norman Hardie Winery and Vineyard in 2003 with a planting of Pinot Noir. Subsequently, he’s increased to plantings of Chardonnay and Pinot Gris as well. He purchases grapes, including Riesling, from Niagara and other county sites. This winery has a cool wood-fired pizza oven and a great patio (that’s it above) for sipping and just relaxing; which is exactly what we did.

The wine? Well, if you’re a fan of mineral-driven Pinots and Chardonnays, this is the place for you. The Pinot that took my breath away was the 2012 Norman Hardie Cuvee ‘L’ Pinot Noir ($69.00). It’s made from Niagara and County grapes fermented separately and then later blended and allowed to knit together in old French oak, Understated, elegant, dark fruits and a looooooong finish – ready for years in the cellar. The 2013 Norman Hardie County Pinot Noir ($39.00) is a fine example of County reds – first sip seems overly restrained. Second sip starts to build and then as you finish the bottle (did I just admit that?) you notice the depth, layering and a refreshing quality to the wine that wasn’t there at the beginning. Nice to have a wine with lower ABV too (10.9%).

Norman Hardie also had the only Riesling we tasted in The County. A blend of Niagara and County fruit. The 2013 Norman Hardie Riesling ($21.00) bone-dry, needs some time to develop – and that might as well get done in my cellar, eh? What do the critics think of Norman Hardie? “The Chardonnays emerging from Hardie’s small vineyard in Prince Edward County…..are laser etched with acidity, minerality, and the sort of originality that we once thought only Burgundy could deliver “ Matt Kramer http://www.normanhardie.com/

Rosehall Run

The last winery we hit was Rosehall Run. If you’re hungry, they have a food truck that serves, among other things, donut holes dusted with cinnamon or lavender. Yummy. The wine? Well, I loved their 2012 Rosehall Run Cabernet Franc Cuvée County ($29.95). Cab Franc in cooler climates sometimes – wait, almost always – carries a green pepper, vegetal nose and taste. This one didn’t. It was all fruit and dirt. Did I say I loved it? The 2012 Rosehall Run Rosehall Vineyard Chardonnay ($29.95) was the favourite of The Director. Apples and a creaminess that surprised us a bit as we hadn’t experienced that profile on the trip. http://www.rosehallrun.com/

gilead3

66 Gilead Distillery

66 Gilead Distillery

We ate at The Hubb in Bloomfield (see below) the first evening and as we finished we asked our server, Lindsey, what we should do the next day. She became quite animated and said, “Why don’t you come and see me at 66 Gilead, the distillery? I work here for breakfast in the morning and then I’m at the distillery from about 11.” So, how could we refuse that invitation? We trundled off to taste hard liquor, arriving at about noon. Yes, a bit scary. Lindsey welcomed us by name to the 66 Gilead tasting room. It’s in a restored farmhouse surrounded by barns, implement sheds and free range chickens. They have artwork, old vinyl, house-made bitters, and tasty treats for sale. It’s all very cool and laid back. My oldest son, Nathan, is a gin hound. On most visits, he helps himself to my gin as the front door is closing behind him. The 66 Gilead Loyalist Gin ($43.95) is interesting. Using botanicals grown in the area and a little touch of local hops and lavender, the gin is ultra soft. Dangerously so. Juniper does not dominate as it does in most other gins I’ve experienced. I had to get him a bottle. The LCBO carries this but in limited availability. They make a pine vodka that struck me as an acquired taste – didn’t care for it. But, the hit of the visit was the Wild Oak Whisky ($68.95). This had a definite Bourbon vibe. Styled with 47% alcohol it disappeared during a recent trip to the cottage with a friend. Funny that. They also fashion a maple whisky, rum, and a sporit distilled from sake among other spirits. For the maple whisky, they take a used whisky barrel and fill it with maple syrup, let sit for 6 months, drain, fill with whisky and let it sit for a good length of time. Viola. I didn’t try the whisky but the maple syrup was awesome! This was my first trip to a craft distiller. I will have to make a point of looking them up when I travel. If you get to 66 Gilead, say hi to Lindsey. http://66gileaddistillery.com/

Our trip to The County was fabulous. It is such a personable place. And, wherever you are, you can feel Lake Ontario’s presence. Not wishing to compare apples and oranges but, if you’ve been to a long established ‘tourist’ wine region, you’ll have experienced the other end of the spectrum. That doesn’t imply a lack of sophistication in PEC – far from it. It’s just a different vibe, an excitement about the possibilities and about being part of something unique. More interactive and, dare I say, friendly? I appreciate that difference. In The County, you can count on bumping into people that you saw at the restaurant the night before, served you at a winery and are now working part-time in a store where you’re picking up a gift. And, bless their hearts, they recognize you too. The wineries are all very close together – biking distance (not that we biked) and have friendly, knowledgeable staff. And, if you pick your time, you could be the only ones wasting theirs.

Additional tidbits:

We ate at The Hubb in Angeline’s Inn in Bloomfield. A bit noisy but the food was well prepared and inventive. Good wine list and by the glass (I had a Gamay from Lighthall – needed a slight chill – but perfect with the fish) – mostly local as you would expect. Countylicious menu $30 prix fixe 3 course meal. Enjoyed ceviche, beet salad, pickerel, a veggie pasta dish and great desserts. Highly recommend. http://angelines.ca/the-hubb-c16.php

We also ate at East and Main in Wellington. A bit more bistro-esque. Good selection of wines – mostly local. The wait staff was a woman from a tasting room we visited the day before. Countylicious menu prix fixe 3 course meal $35. Highly recommend. http://eastandmain.ca/

We stayed at The Century House B&B in Bloomfield. You guessed it. A lovely century home with spectacular gardens. $120 per night. Highly recommend. http://www.centuryhousebandb.com/

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