Prince Edward County (known by locals as “the County”) may be Ontario’s newest wine region, but its wines have grown up a lot since the first all-grape winery (Waupoos Estates) opened its doors eleven years ago. Viticulture was further kick-started by the tireless efforts of Geoff Heinricks to promote the County as a cool climate region and to educate prospective grape growers about the terroir. Then the Prince Edward County Winegrowers Association was formed and they were off and planting. The region has now established itself as a distinct Ontario DVA, boasting over 30 wineries and nearly 300ha of vines.
The land itself can be described as a giant slab of fractured limestone with a dusting of one sort of overburden or another. When you enhance that terroir with a cool climate growing season (similar number of degree days to Burgundy), you can understand the excitement, especially for northern grapes like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Melon de Bourgogne, Riesling, and Cabernet Franc.
This excitement has manifested itself in lots of press coverage. Reviews continue to appear with regularity and by all reports the wines are improving, even if they are a bit overpriced, by and large. However, very few writers have come up with a ranking of overall winery quality, although Bill Zacharkiw has taken a small stab at it. So I thought I would take the plunge and present my personal view on the best of The County. My criteria are: (1) they have been releasing wine long enough to have a reasonable track record; (2) the wines are good across the board with no stinkers; and (3) their portfolio should include one or more of the best individual wines of The County. In no particular order, my County “Grands Crus” are:
- Rosehall Run (winemaker Dan Sullivan), particularly good for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir;
- Norman Hardie (winemaker Norman Hardie), best for Pinot Noir;
- Closson Chase (winemaker Deborah Paskus), best for big-ass Chardonnay;
- Long Dog (winemaker James Lahti), good for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay*.
*Provisional, pending more data on how well Long Dog wines last. Most PEC
wines do not yet age particularly well, but Long Dog is more problematic because
of their use of plastic corks. I tried a 5 year old (2007) Top Dog Pinot Noir recently
and it was not as good as I had expected. However, I am not removing Long Dog
from the list yet because they are so good when young.
I just wish they would switch to cork or screwcap.
You may have observed the dominance of Pinot and Chardonnay from the best producers in The County. That trend confirms the Burgundian nature of the terroir with limestone soil and a cool climate. Now, there are also wineries that are producing good stuff, but don’t have a long track record. The “Ones to Watch” are:
- Stanners (winemaker Colin Stanners), best for classic Pinot Noir as well as Pinot Gris;
- The Old Third (winemaker Bruno François), only makes Pinot Noir;
- Keint-he (winemaker Geoff Heinricks), best for Pinot Noir;
- Hinterland (winemaker Jonas Newman), all sparkling, best for Les Etoiles and Rosé;
- Lighthall (winemaker Glenn Symons), best for Chardonnay;
- Exultet Estates (winemaker Gerry Spinosa), best for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Then there are the following wineries producing generally Good Quality Wine that on occasion can excel:
- Huff Estates (winemaker Frédéric Picard);
- By Chadsey’s Cairns (winemaker Vida Zalnieriunas);
- The Grange of Prince Edward (winemaker Adam Delorme);
- Karlo Estates (winemaker Richard Karlo);
- Redtail (winemaker Gilbert Pronovost).
Finally, where are the Good Value Wines? Well, wine growing in the County is intrinsically difficult, low yield, and expensive, so don’t expect a lot of bargains. However, there are a few wine growers that produce decent quality at reasonable price. The most noteworthy are Rosehall Run, Huff Estates, By Chadsey’s Cairns, The Grange, and Sandbanks Estate Winery (winemaker Catherine Langlois).
Of course, many of the wines from these producers are unavailable at the LCBO, since they don’t produce enough quantity for the whole province (at this point we all wistfully wish for some private niche retailers and then we wake up to reality). Wineries with a presence at the local monopoly (at least some of the time) include Rosehall Run, Norman Hardie, Closson Chase, Huff Estates, The Grange, and Sandbanks. Otherwise, you can try them at the winery, at some restaurants, and by ordering from the winery websites.