A New Vintage of Wineries in The County

It’s been a couple of years since I last reported on the newest wineries in Prince Edward County (“The County”) and with the continued growth in the number of wine producers , it looks like it’s time once again.  There have been 6 new wineries opening in the past couple of years, one of which (Three Dog Winery) had just opened for business at the time of my last post on the subject, but I didn’t get over there at the time.  It’s in the far northeastern corner of the County (although conveniently accessible from the 401) while four of the other five are in the Hillier region, reinforcing the preeminence of Hiller as the core area for wine production in Prince Edward.  So let’s start there.

Domaine Darius, whose handle reflects one of the middle names of the owner, is located within the eastern reaches of Hiller, next to Sugarbush Vineyards.  All of their grapes are sourced from the County, mainly the estate vineyard.  The Rosé is a blend of Gamay and Auxerrois, made in a traditional way by macerating separately for just one day before pressing off the skins.  The result is medium pink and refreshing in a French style.  Their Chardonnay has more pretentions as it is barrel fermented and then aged for 18 months in a mix of French and Minnesota oak before blending.  Consequently, the usual high acidity found in the County is somewhat balanced by the sweek oaky notes and perfumed nose.  Finally, the red is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Gamay, and Marquette.  Interestingly, the Cab Franc influence takes a back seat to the Gamay, whose spicy fruit is prominent in the nose and mouth, and the Marquette, which provides some characteristic hybrid notes in the finish, although the Cab Franc is probably responsible for the modest tannins.

Domaine Darius boasts beautiful gardens, available for public use (e.g. picnicking), as well as their grapevines.

In addition to their grapevines, Domaine Darius also boasts beautiful gardens, available for public use (e.g. picnicking).

The two new wineries in central Hillier are Trail Estate Winery and Traynor Family VIneyard.  For now, both are focussed on producing wine from Niagara grapes while they wait for their young estate vines to come on line. First up will beTrail Estate, which expects to release its estate Baco Noir before the end of the year.  There is a lot of promise at Trail as the wines on display all exhibit a deft winemaking hand, a light touch that should benefit County fruit.  However, things may turn out quite differently in a year or two since their new winemaker started just last week, and of course the source of fruit will be change.  Time will tell.

All the wines on display employ fruit sourced from Niagara, but the first estate wine (Baco Noir) is due to be released this year.

Tasting at Trail Estate.  All the wines on display employ fruit sourced from Niagara, but the first estate wine (Baco Noir) is due to be released this year.

Meanwhile, Mike Traynor is bringing his many years of winemaking experience to the family vineyard, and is also letting the fruit speak for itself with unoaked Chardonnay and Pinot Gris (sourced from Watson’s Vineyard in Niagara).  Like Trail Estate, Traynor’s first estate offering will be hybird based, the 2014 Alta Red, a blend of 60% Frontenac Gris and 40% Marquette.  They are also showing a major concern for the environment, if all the electric charging stations out front are anything to go by!

The parking lot at Traynor Family Vineyard is marked by a trio of charging stations for electric cars.

The parking lot at Traynor Family Vineyard is marked by a trio of charging stations for electric cars.

The fourth new winery in the Hillier area is Terra Estate Winery, alone on the north shore of Lake Consecon.  The nearest neighbour winery is Redtail Vineyard in Consecon.  To be completely accurate, Terra Estate is really in Ameliasburgh ward (as is Redtail), but Hillier is literally across the street.  Since I first posted this article I was able to meet one of the Terra Estate co-owners, Alexandra Tam.  The owners live in Toronto but the site is overseen by their vineyard manager Edgar Ramirez, who lives locally, while the wine is made by Emiliano Furlan, who lives in Italy but flies over for the harvest and fermentation.  The first acre of the vineyard was planted with Cabernet Franc in 2007 but since then it has grown to 10 hectares, big enough to justify the recent acquisition of their own bottling machine, shown below.

The new bottling line at Terra Estate, inside the winery.

The new bottling line at Terra Estate, inside the winery.

The site is planted with hybrids Frontenac and Vidal, plus vinifera Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and, interestingly, Viognier.  Only the Cab Franc Reserve, from a selected site, sees any oak.  The newly bottled 2014 Cab Franc and Riesling both exhibited clean fruit.  The Riesling was particularly perfumed, likely due to cold fermentation.  It was tasty and crisp, but not at all mouth-puckering as can happen in the County.  The Cab Franc finished with good length but a bit of greenness that was not detectable earlier.  I suspect that some judicious blending will round it out nicely – I understand they have already tried some experiments with Frontenac.  I tasted a barrel sample of the Cab Franc Reserve, which is just completing its eight months in wood.  The oak had added plenty of spiciness and tannins, muting the fruit somewhat in the process – here time will tell.

Far in the east, near Waupoos, lies Cape VIneyard, whose 2½ hectare vineyard boasts some of the oldest vines in the County, planted by owner and winemaker Michael Lewis in the 1990’s.  That antiquity is not entirely unexpected since Waupoos is the home of some of the oldest vines in the County, as well as the first two wineries:  Waupoos Estates and County Cider.  The fruit in Cape Vineyard’s wines is all County, the vineyards are biodynamic, and the wine is definitely part of the “natural wine” movement.  I was only able to taste the three reds, of which the Loyalist Red was the most enjoyable, made 90% from the intriguing and rarely seen Perle Noir, leavened with 10% Cabernet Franc.  Both the pure Cab Franc and the Pinot Noir were atypical for those varietals; both had noticeable oxidation and perhaps some VA.  This may be the downside of more natural wines as they can be unstable.  Both bottles had been opened the previous day, but that is not usually enough time to account for the characteristics.  The wines I missed out on were the Vidal, the Chardonnay, and the Pinotage Rosé, all sold out.  It will be interesting to see how Pinotage pans out in the County climate… perhaps a good reason for another visit next year.  I’d also like to try a snack from Reggie’s Mediterranean food truck, stationed at the winery.

Patio and vines at Cape Vineyards, looking towards neighbour FIfth Town Artisan Cheese company.

Patio and vines at Cape Vineyards, looking towards neighbour FIfth Town Artisan Cheese company.

Finally we come back to Three Dog Winery.  When I visited, John was hobbling about the property, recovering from a badly twisted ankle sustained while walking his (three, of course) dogs.   He still happily poured the portfolio.  The business plan here resembles that of Sandbanks more than anyone else in the County, but on a much smaller scale since the production is only 1700 cases per year.  The emphasis is on good value, user-friendly wines that can be enjoyed with food or on their own.  Most of the fruit is estate grown, filled out with some grapes from the Watson Vineyard in Niagara.  The line-up includes a delicate Pinot Grigio and a nice summery rosé made by vinifying Gamay and Vidal separately, then blending.  Lastly, the late harvest “Sweet Sister” (Vidal) would go well with a variety of fatty or spicy dishes.

Three Dog Winery and tasting room all in one.

Three Dog Winery and tasting room, all in one.

I had also thought that there was a new “virtual winery” in the County, but the “Nicholas Pearce” label from the eponymous importing agency is simply a rebranding of Glenn Symons’ excellent Lighthall Vineyards Chardonnay for marketing purposes.  It’s certainly a good choice since Lighthall’s old vines, planted by artist Peter Mennacher almost 15 years ago, give the wine some real depth.  Speaking of depth, I should add somewhat paranthetically that when I was travelling around the County I stopped in at an old favourite, the Old Third Winery, specialists in Burgundian Pinot Noir.  For one reason or another I was unable to visit them last year, but it turns out that I didn’t miss anything since Bruno and Jens unfortunately lost 90% of their crop to a late frost in 2012 and weren’t able to make any wine in what was otherwise a glorious vintage.  Anyway, the 2013 is out now and it solidifies their position as one of the best Pinot Noir producers in Ontario.  There is a lovely balance, medium body, and fine structure topped off with nicely ripe tannins that presage a long life ahead of it.  If I were to update my ranking of PEC wineries, The Old Third would definitely fall into the top category.  Stopping in at established wineries like Lighthall and The Old Third confirms how important mature vines and great winemaking are in the County.  That realization provides us with a lot of hope that many of these new wineries will also reach great heights in the future as their vines and winemaking both mature.

The Latest from Prince Edward County

It’s time to revisit “The County” since I last posted on the subject.  I was unable to get around much last summer for personal reasons, so I have two years to catch up on.  During the past week I visited a number of the newer wineries located all over the County, ranging from one that had been operating for four years or so, but which I had not yet visited, to a winery that only opened the day before I arrived.


Lighthall Vineyards winery building in the south of Prince Edward County

Lighthall Vineyards has a long history as it boasts some of the oldest vines in the county, planted by Peter and Alice Mennacher in 2000.  For many years these quality grapes (notably the Chardonnay) were supplied to the likes of Closson Chase and Huff Estates, but after Glenn Symons purchased it in 2008 he opened the winery, with 2009 being the first vintage for sale.  Glenn uses a concrete fermentation tank for his Pinot Noir and all oak aging is carried out exclusively in French oak.  I’m familiar with the quality of


Lighthall Pinot Noir 2011

the Chardonnay, both from the days it was vinified at Huff Estates and more recently, so I was looking forward to the tasting.  Unfortunately, the examples of the 2009 and 2011 that I was offered had been opened for a while and the level had reached the heel of the bottle, so I hesitated to make a judgment.  Please, winery pourers, never offer wine from a bottle that was opened the day before!  The Gewürztraminer had a lovely perfume, but faded a bit in the mouth – it would, however, make a very nice and refreshing summer wine.  The star that day was the Pinot Noir, which exhibited that classic County mineral backbone along with delicate fruit.

Jennifer pouring at the Devil's Wishbone tasting bar at the winery

Jennifer pouring at the Devil’s Wishbone tasting bar at the winery

Another winery that has been open for a couple of years is the Devil’s Wishbone, located east of the Lake on the Mountain.  Like Lighthall, they got the business up and running by selling grapes to wineries and they continue to do so, although after 2013 the vineyard will supply the estate only.  In their case it had been Stanners that benefitted from the Devil’s Pinot Noir and

Devil's Wishbone Pinot Noir 2010

Devil’s Wishbone Pinot Noir 2010

Cabernet Franc.  The Franc was sold out when I visited, but there was Pinot Noir and two variations on Pinot Gris to enjoy.  The first is called Pinot Grigio and is appropriately made in a minerally County style, while the other is vinified from grapes that were left on the deep pink Pinot Gris skins for a day or so and had therefore picked up enough colour to make a nice, slightly sweet rosé, perfect for a summer patio.  The Pinot Noir is particularly recommended as it has very good complexity for relatively young vines.  It’s also a pleasant visit to the winery as owner Paul Gallagher has maintained the ambience of the nineteenth century barn, including the byre where the tasting room is located.

Hubbs Creek Winery on Danforth Road in Prince Edward County

Hubbs Creek Winery on Danforth Road in Prince Edward County

Hubbs Creek in the Hillier area has also been growing grapes for years; in fact their first high density Pinot Noir vines were planted in 2002, so the Calvieri brothers (John and Joseph, whose family hails originally from Calabria) have waited a long time before starting their winery.  Their first vintage was 2009, but only with the 2010 have they been able to sell much at retail.  Their Pinot Noir is classic County, showing real finesse with a solid backbone of acidity balanced by lovely fruit.  They also have Pinot Gris and Chardonnay.  This is definitely a winery to keep an eye on for the future.

Broken Stone Pinot Noir 2011

Broken Stone Pinot Noir 2011

Also in the Hillier area is Broken Stone, where the previous owner planted the first vines in 2008, just before selling to the present owners, Tim and Micheline Kuepfer.  Tim is the winemaker while Micheline runs the tasting room.  They have about 2 acres of vines, comprising Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay, but only the Pinot Noir is available for purchase so far.  I tasted a vertical of 2010, 2011, and 2012.  The 2012 is already released because the owners are aiming at value wines, so they (oak) chip their wine, obviating the necessity for long aging in barrel.  At this point the butterscotch oak nose is overwhelming; some time will be needed before the flavours become properly integrated.  The 2010 was a also slightly unbalanced with notable tobacco aromas dominating.  The 2011, however, exhibited very good PEC character and acid/fruit balance – it was easily my preferred vintage and definitely a smart buy.

Tasting Bar at TerraCello Winery, just up the road from Huff Estates

Tasting Bar at TerraCello Winery, just up the road from Huff Estates

TerraCello Riesling 2011

TerraCello Riesling 2011

Certainly the newest winery that I visited was TerraCello – in fact it only opened the day before I showed up!  Like the Calvieris at Hubbs Creek, the owners Anthony (“call me Antonio”) and Daniela Auciello are proud of their Italian heritage – in their case their families came originally from Puglia, the heel rather than the toe of the boot.  The Pinot Noir 2010, although three years old, still had a newly vinified nose, perhaps because winemaker Antonio uses no oak at all.  The Riesling was the most promising with a lovely floral nose followed by a steely backbone, arising from that ubiquitous PEC acidity.  The entire winery, as well as the outdoor pizza oven and the nascent art gallery, were all built by Antonio.  The picture below shows the tasting bar.

Daniela at the tasting bar, TerraCello Winery

Daniela at the tasting bar, TerraCello Winery

A couple of the newer wineries have come and gone (although in one case only temporarily).  I can remember not too long ago enjoying the fine Cabernet Franc from Fieldstone Winery, vinified at Rosehall Run.  However, with the unfortunate death of owner and pioneer County grape grower Dick Singer in 2010, Fieldstone no longer operates as an independent winery.  Management of the vineyard has been taken over by Norman Hardie.  These vines will broaden the Norm Hardie portfolio with Cab Franc and Syrah, as welll as providing an additional source of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay.

On the 8th Winery opened in late 2011, but with the recent serious illness of one of the owners (who sold up to his partner), the business has closed to the public this year and is reorganizing before reopening in 2014.

If you haven’t been to the County for two or three years, more has changed than just the wine scene.  Some well known restaurants are gone and others have arisen to take their place.  After Michael Potters closed Harvest at the end of 2010 he signed on as chef at the restaurant of Angeline’s Inn in Bloomfield.  Haute cuisine only lasted a year at Angeline’s before Michael moved on to the position of Head Chef at Hockley Valley Resort in the Caledon area.  At that point Angeline’s closed its dining room, but this year a restaurant has reemerged there, called The Hubb.   Also closed for almost two summers has been the Devonshire Inn and its restaurant in Wellington, as it undergoes extensive renovations – current plans are for a September 2013 reopening under the name Drake Devonshire Inn.  However, that loss in Wellington was balanced by the 2011 opening of Pomodoro, owned by East & Main and serving quality Italian cuisine.  Another interesting place that has come on the scene recently is the Agrarian in Bloomfield.  It offers beautifully cooked small plates or tapas in the rustic dining room, along with a gourmet food and cheese market.

The Duke of Marysburgh pub in Waupoos.

The Duke of Marysburgh pub in Waupoos.

Finally, for a surprise dining experience that’s been around forever, try the Duke of Marysburgh pub in Waupoos, which has been in business for some 20 years.  Owner Vas da Silva may entertain you with live music while his French wife is an accomplished chef who provides quality fare at a fair price indoors or, preferably, in the fully screened patio.

The Best of Prince Edward County

Vineyard at Long Dog Winery

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.

Winery at the Grange of Prince Edwqrd

Winery at the Grange of Prince Edward

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:

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).

Wine and accessories shop at Huff Estates Winery

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.

For a complete list of County wineries, take a look at one of these sites:
Wikipedia article on PEC wines
County wines official website
Wines of Canada (PEC page).