A few days in The County

I’m just back from a few days touring around Prince Edward County with two food and wine-loving friends. My friend Sandy and I were visiting Susan and her dozen chickens, who live just outside Belleville. 

Before arriving at Susan’s, Sandy and I did a bit of exploring of the western end of Prince Edward County (The County). Our first stop was Loch Mór Cider Co. on Danforth Road in Hillier. Sandy had been there before and she raved about their sour cherry cider. I warned her that I don’t tend to like flavoured ciders, but she assured me it was dry and delicious. We shared their Flight 1, which included their Hopped Cider; Savvy Pomme Sparkling, which is made using Russet apples; Sour Cherry; and Pommeau, which is a fortified cider.

We both loved the Hopped Cider and I must agree – the dark amber Sour Cherry is delicious. The County is known for its ciders and the Loch Mór Ciders do The County proud. Their tasting room is comfortable and their large patio overlooking the young orchard is very relaxing. They serve light bites that they source locally and that change often, but there’s likely to be something you’ll enjoy with a tasting flight or with a glass of your favourite cider.  

From there we drove into Wellington for lunch at LaCondesa – a Mexican restaurant I went to last year for the first time and I loved it. They do tacos and tostadas. We ordered two tacos each and they were as good as I remembered. It’s a cute spot with lots of space indoors and a small, well shaded front patio. I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a casual, tasty dining option in Wellington.

The next day Sandy, Susan, and I headed back to explore the southern and more eastern end of The County. Susan was kind enough to be the designated driver and our first stop was Lighthall Vineyards in Milford. We had all been there before, but not recently. They have expanded their tasting area and have also started making cheese. (They buy ewe’s milk from a local farmer and they craft the cheese at the winery.)

Sandy and I shared their White flight, which included their Riesling 2022, Pinot Gri 2021, Foundation Chardonnay 2021, which is aged in egg-shaped cement barrels, and their Estate Chardonnay 2019, which is lightly oaked. They do a lovely job of pairing each wine in their flights with their cheeses. My favourite wine was their Estate Chardonnay 2019. My favourite cheese was Frenchie, which they served with their Riesling. All their cheeses are very nice and we noticed them sold at other shops in The County, which speaks to their popularity.

at Lighthall Vineyards

Our next stop was Exultet Estates, which is also in Milford. Exultet is unusual in that it doesn’t advertise. It’s open to the public, but you won’t find it in the WineCountryOntario guide or even in the Prince Edward County Chamber of Commerce map. In 2004 Gerard and Lia Spinosa purchased a 200-acre former cheese factory and planted Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Vidal. Gerard is the winemaker and Lia leads the tastings. Their wines have have won many awards and they are focused on high end restaurants, but you can buy their wine at the winery.

Lia Spinosa of Exultet

It’s definitely worth finding, especially if you like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. They offer flights that feature “a splash” of six of your choice. Lia is very knowledgeable about the different expressions of the wine that the winemaker (her husband) was focusing on for each offering and it’s nice to compare different craftings of the same variety.

From Exultet we headed to County Road 8 where we came across Del-Gatto Estates. This is another winery you won’t find in the WineCountryOntario guide. The three of us had all been to Del-Gatto before but not since before the pandemic – so we stopped in. When I looked at the tasting menu, I noticed the 2020 Petite Pearl. I asked what that is and the woman helping us said, “it’s Petite Pearl”. I was still confused, so I asked, “but what variety of grape is in it?” She explained the grape is called Petit Pearl, which is wintery hearty. She explained that they’re the only winery in The County that features winter hearty varietals.

I looked at the tasting menu again and saw that a Frontenac Noir and Marquette and then I understood. I asked her if those varietals grow in places like the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and she said yes, though they source theirs from Minnesota. I know that the winemakers in The County bury the vines to guard against the cold, so it makes sense to use varieties that are particularly cold hearty. They also have some of the more traditional varietals (Pinto Grigio, Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Vidal for example). The service is friendly and it’s a lovely spot to try something different.

Our next stop was Cressy Mustard on County Road 8, near Waupoos Estates Winery. I had never heard of it, but Susan is a fan and she was determined to find it. I was expecting a farm stand of some sort. I was pleasantly surprised to see that in addition to a shop that sells all sorts of Cressy Mustards and relishes, they have a bit of a café. It was truly our lucky day – they were featuring pickerel tacos and truffle fries. We shared an order of each and they were amazing. The basket of fries was HUGE and about the crispiest I’ve ever had – not to mention the truffle aioli and shaved parm that was on top. Go for the mustard – stay for a bite!

We ended the day stopping at Lake on the Mountain Provincial Park. As the name implies – there’s a lovely lake that is located on a crest that sits about 60 metres up with views of the surrounding waters of Picton Bay. We stopped briefly and walked around the small boardwalk along the edge of the lake – but our main destination was the beautiful patio across the street at the Miller House Café. The view from the patio is spectacular! Directly below is the ferry dock for the Glenora Ferry, which is so fun to watch.

The Miller House has a lovely menu of unique light fare including “flambées” (which are elongated flatbreads with different toppings), creative platters (similar to charcuterie boards), and tartines (toasted French bread with different toppings).   

I only get to The County about once a year – and every time I go, I think I should go more often. It’s hilly and curvy and fun to drive around. Every curve brings a surprise – you might see a field with cows or sheep, or rows of vines, or an apple orchard, or a beach with a sailboat off in the distance! And every time I go there, I’m surprised at how many new great cafes and restaurants there are, not to mention great wineries, cideries, distilleries, and more.

Hollyhocks a Miller House Cafe

Prince Edward County’s Craft Distillery: Kinsip House of Fine Spirits

On a recent visit to Prince Edward County friends and I stopped in at Kinsip House of Fine Spirits. It’s at 66 Gilead Road in Bloomfield. If that address rings a bell, that’s because it used to house Gilead Distillery. The distillery was re-named Kinsip when it was sold a couple years ago.

Jamie Moody, Retail Manager at Kinsip House of Fine Spirits

I had been to the distillery in its previous incarnation and I wondered whether it had changed much. I’m happy to report the cozy tasting room is still in the same historic farm house. According to Jamie Moody, the retail manager, Kinsip has continued to use some of Gilead’s recipes, but it has also crafted new products. My friend Sandy was glad to hear it, as she was especially fond of the Gilead’s Duck Island Rum, which they still make.

Jamie led through a quick tasting flight that included the Duck Island Rum, their Maple Whisky, and County Cassis. Sandy confirmed that Kinsip’s Duck Island Rum is as good as when it was made under the Gilead name. I was especially interested in trying their Maple Whisky to see how it compared to my favourite – Sortilège from Quebec. Kinsip’s Maple Whisky is quite a lot lighter on the maple than the Sortilèege.

And then there was the County Cassis. We decided to try it based on Jamie’s description. Well, I’m so glad we did. We were all pretty blown away by it. Its a silky smooth, delicious sipper.

Though Jamie had described the County Cassis it before we tried it – after tasting it, we all wanted to hear the description again. Jamie was kind enough to let me shoot a short video of him describing it. Click here to see the video.

If you’re in the County and you like fine spirits, you owe it to yourself to stop in at Kinsip. They craft a variety of spirits, liquors, and bitters – there’s bound to be something to your liking.

Catherine Langlois – winemaker and owner of Sandbanks Estate Winery

Catherine Langlois

I love Prince Edward County and always look for reasons to visit. This week I had a sad reason – the funeral of a friend’s mother. Because it was a planned trip on a weekday, I decided to see if Catherine Langlois – the winemaker/owner of Sandbanks Estate Winery might be in that day. I dropped the winery an e-mail to ask about meeting Catherine. They got back to me right away and we set it up a meeting.

I love meeting winemakers and have found it especially interesting chatting with women winemakers. Catherine was kind enough to take time from her busy schedule to meet with me and she let me film a short video with her. Click here to watch the video.

As I mentioned to Catherine when we were done shooting the video, I think Sandbanks is an incredibly inviting place. I’ve often thought about why that is. I think lots has to do with the colour scheme and the welcoming lawn full of colourful Muskoka chairs. From the very first time a friend and I were tooling down the Loyalist Parkway headed toward Picton, as we came upon the winery, we were drawn like a magnet to stop in. I imagine that’s how lots of people “discover” Sandbanks Estate Winery.

After meeting Catherine, I now realize that the winery’s ambiance is nothing less than a manifestation of Catherine’s friendliness, enthusiasm, and warmth.

Ontario Wine Society brings some of PEC to Toronto

Last night’s Ontario Wine Society event at Quince Bistro was fun. It was a walk-around tasting featuring the wines from three excellent Prince Edward County Vineyards and a selection of finger foods from Qunce:

  • The Grange of Prince Edward County — with Maggie, one of the winemakers there (and daughter of winemaker Caroline Granger) there to talk about what she was pouring;
  •  Trail Estate Winery – with Alex Sproll there to tell us about what he was pouring and about the newish winery; and
  • Traynor Family Vineyard – with Mike Traynor, winemaker/owner was there to tell us about what he was pouring and how things are going at the very new winery.

    Mike Traynor-Winemaker
    Mike Traynor — Winemaker/Owner of Traynor Family Vineyard

All the wines were very good representations of Ontario wines. It was interesting to hear how the past few harsh winters and springtime freezes have impacted the PEC wineries. As a result, many are ending up sourcing at least some of their grapes from other growers — typically in the Niagara region.

So, with the exception of the wines from The Grange, where all their wines are from their estate grown grapes, some of the wines served by Trail Estates and Traynor Family Vineyard were not necessarily made with PEC grapes. (Of course, it’s also worth noting that both of these wineries are still quite new, so it’s no wonder they have to look elsewhere for grapes in order to have wine to sell.)

If I had to pick a favourite from each winery, I’d choose: The Grange’s 2010 Pinot Noir Reserve, Mike Traynor’s 2014 Sauvignon Blanc, and Trail Estate’s 2013 Cab Franc-Cab Sauv blend.

If you’re out and about in PEC and you need to charge up…

Traynor Family Vineyard IMG_3000Traynor Family Vineyard is one of the newest wineries in Prince Edward County – they opened in September 2014. When we stopped there in June they had a big crowd for their Open House and folks were enjoying the live music.Traynor Family Vineyard Tesla Charging Station IMG_2998




They also had something I’d never seen – a Tesla Charging Station.

I spoke with Donna Traynor (mother of owner/winemaker Mike Traynor) and she wasn’t quite sure how Mike convinced the Tesla folks to put them in – but it’s a terrific idea – especially if you’re out and about in PEC and you find your Tesla could use a charge.

Traynor Family Vineyard  IMG_2995

Even if you don’t have a Tesla, it’s worth a look, so why not stop in this long weekend. Picnickers are welcome and the Traynor family (Mike and his wife Rebecca) would be happy to help you choose the right wine for you to enjoy there or to take home.

Videos from Broken Stone Winery and Hubbs Creek Vineyard

In June when I was in Prince Edward County I stopped at some old favourites and some that I hadn’t been to before — including Broken Stone Winery and Hubbs Creek Vineyard.  At both I was lucky enough to catch the winemaker/owners who were gracious enough to speak on video.

Click here to see Tim Kuepfer (winemaker and co-owner with Micheline Kuepfer) of Broken Stone Winery talking about the winery and their goals for the future. Broken Stone Winery has been open for three years.

Broken Stone Winery IMG_2988




Broken Stone Winery IMG_2990Click here to see John Battista Calvieri (winemaker and co-owner with Joseph Calvieri) of Hubbs Creek Vineyard explaining his ambions as a garagiste.

Hubbs Creek Vineyard IMG_2962Hubbs Creek Vineyard IMG_2964

Evidence of Prince Edward County’s Record Cold in May

A couple weeks ago visiting wineries in Prince Edward County I got the chance to see – first hand – the impact of the cold snap that hit on May 22-23. Our first stop was Hillier Creek Estates. As we drove in my friend wondered whether the vines planted out front were new, as they were very small and virtually no leaves. I said I was pretty sure that that in years past those vines were tall and hearty with leaves.Hillier Creek Estates Damaged Crops May 2015 IMG_2951

Woody Cassell, the vineyard manager at Hillier Creek Estates told me the sad news – all their vines were damaged in the cold snap in May. The primary and secondary buds were so damaged that they won’t be harvesting anything this year. Woody was kind enough to take me into the vineyard to show me. Here’s a short video of Woody explaining what they’re doing this year.

Hillier Creek Estates  a Snapping Turtle IMG_2954Though walking through the vineyard was sobering – leave it to Mother Nature to provide a reminder that just because there won’t be grapes this year, doesn’t mean there aren’t other signs of life. Sitting smack dab in the middle of the row was a huge snapping turtle. Woody explained they get them every year. Apparently they wander over from a nearby creek and they bury their eggs in the vineyard. So, in a few months’ time little turtles will be scurrying about — as usual.Sandbanks Estate Winery -- Fog Rolling In IMG_2955Sandbanks Estate Winery IMG_2956We then headed to Sandbanks Estate Winery, which is much closer to the water than Hillier Creek Estates. En route we passed through lots of fog. Indeed, the closer you got to the water, the better you could see the fog literally rolling in. The moderating impact of the water was clear at Sandbanks Estates, as their vines looked healthy and green. Unlike Hillier Creek Estates, the late May cold snap didn’t impact their vines at all.

Nearby Keint-he Winery & Vineyards suffered some loss, but like Sandbanks, they were luckier than some. And of course, they – like other growers in the county – did all they could to try to keep the air circulating those cold nights, but with record low temperatures, there’s only so much they could do.

Some Prince Edward County Faves

A few weeks ago I was in Prince Edward County and I did a blog post about some new discoveries there. In that post I mentioned that I’d do a follow-up post about that trip – so here it is.

First, a confession: I love the County (as locals refer to Prince Edward County). It has a very special vibe. It’s a strange combination of rural, colonial, and hip, but unpretentious. The folks I’ve met while visiting have all been friendly, without being particularly outgoing. My guess is that they just like the County and are happy to have people visit – but they don’t necessarily want it over-run with tourists, so they keep a kind of low profile.

IMG_0146As for the wineries, there are over 30 to choose from. As I’ve noted elsewhere, in touring County wineries, one of the first things you might notice is how many of them are housed in handsome old barns. Indeed, some of my favourites are: Closson Chase, The Grange of Prince Edward County, and Karlo Estates. But, of course, plenty of wineries are housed in other facilities – some of which are newer and specially built (like Keint-he Winery and Vineyards and Sandbanks Estate Winery, and Huff Estates).

Sandbanks Estate Winery is one of three in a row on the Loyalist Parkway (Highway 33). You can’t miss it – it’s the one with the colourful Muskoka chairs on the patio. The cheery colours and casual atmosphere of the tasting room and wrap-around patio really make you think you should sit down and enjoy a glass.IMG_1857

The place I stayed (Isaiah Tubbs Resort and Conference Centre in Bloomfield) had given me a voucher for a formal wine tasting at a few different places, and the one I decided to try was Sandbanks. My rationale was simple: I’ve noticed Sandbanks wines on various restaurant wine lists, as well as at the LCBO, so I wanted to taste some of their wines to know which I might order or buy when I see it in Toronto. It was great to taste some of their summer sippers (like Dunes, which is a Vidal, and Shoreline, which is a Chardonnay-Riesling-Gewürz blend). Of course, I also tried some reds and I ended up leaving with some of their 2013 Baco Noir (which I’m pleased to say is something I can pick up at my local Vintages – and which I see is on special right now).

IMG_2542I also stopped in at The Grange of Prince Edward County. As I mentioned, it is one of my favourite wineries to visit. I fell in love with this winery the first time I visited. The property just has a very special feel – you really get the sense that the Granger family takes their stewardship of the old farm quite personally. The barn is beautiful – both inside and out. Though I didn’t have an appointment, I was hoping that winemaker Caroline Granger might be there – and she was. I had met her at a wine tasting before, so I knew she was passionate about the winery and her wines and I was interested in hearing her talk about the farm.

She graciously agreed to let me shoot a short video of her. I’m so glad that she did, as she waxed poetic about the farm, community agriculture, terroir-driven wine and food. Click here to watch the video.

I also stopped in to say hello to Bryan Rogers at Keint-he Winery & Vineyards and Norman Hardie, of Norman Hardie Winery. Keint-he has ex expanded their patio and Bryan tells me they are planning on participating in the Farmer’s Market program, though I don’t have any specifics about dates or markets they’ll be at.IMG_1859

The pizza oven at Norman Hardie was already up and running for the season, and Norman will be participating in the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (i4C) in Niagara in mid-July.

New Discoveries in Prince Edward County

Earlier this week I spent a couple days touring wineries in Prince Edward County (the County, for short). I’ve visited the County a number of times and, quite simply, I’ve fallen in love with it. There’s definitely lots to explore there – from history (with its Loyalist past), to art (the County Arts Trail is as well known – and as well marked – as the Wine Route) , to food (Vickie’s Veggies comes to mind), cheese (The Black River Cheese Co. and Fifth Town Artisan Cheese), and an increasingly vibrant culinary scene.

IMG_1823I was especially interested in stopping in at some of the newer ones. First on my list was Hinterland Wine Co. Vicki Samaras and her husband Jonas Newman have been in business a couple years and they specialize in making bubbly. (Reason enough to stop in, I know!) They’re off to a terrific – and ambitious – start. They produce sparkling wines using three methods: the Traditional Method (like the one used to make Champagne) the Charmat Process (the method used to make Prosecco and Charmats), and the Ancestral method, which I wasn’t familiar with. Jonas was kind enough to let me shoot a video as he explained the different methods. They also serve oysters and sandwiches, so it’s a great place to stop at after a morning exploring the County.IMG_1831

Next on my list was The Old Third Vineyard. I’d seen the huge old barn that is the winery’s tasting room last time I was in the County, but the winery wasn’t open when I stopped. This time it was, and I had the chance to chat with co-owner Jens Korberg. They opened in 2010 and they focus on Pinot Noir – a variety that Korberg and Bruno Francios, the other owner and the winemaker – have always loved and that does particularly well in the County. The striking 1960s barn is both fragile looking and stately and the tasting bar area is simple but elegant. They produce about 1000 cases per year and thanks to a loyal following, they tend to sell out each vintage.

IMG_1870Also on my list was Three Dog Winery – the newest winery in the County. So new, in fact, that they’re having their Grand Opening this Saturday (June 14). Owners James and Sacha Squaire were busy putting last minute touches on things, but were happy to chat and let me sample their wines. The winery is on Fish Lake Road, which is at the north end of the County, off on its own – but it’s not as far off the beaten path as it may look on the map.IMG_1833

And finally, I happened upon Terra Cello Winery – one that wasn’t on my list at all. It’s been open a couple years but they don’t do much traditional advertising. They have a sign that’s clearly visible from the road (they’re on County Road 1) and they have a lovely Tuscan style patio adjoining the rustic brick Enoteca. It was such an inviting setting – and it looked like a door was open – I decided to go in, even though the sign said closed. Owner/winemaker Tony Auciello and his daughter Bella were around and invited me in. After spending a few minutes there it’s clear that Tony is well on the way toward achieving his goal of bringing a bit of the Italian countryside and lifestyle to the County. Here’s a short video of Tony describing Terra Cello.

I also stopped in at a few old favourites in the County. I’ll write a bit about them in another posting.

Terroir – a County Wine Celebration is Early this Year!

Terroir is a Prince Edward County (PEC) event in the charming Crystal Palace in Picton. A friend and I attended last year and had a terrific time. Most of the PEC wineries are there, as are some local restaurants and food purveyors, and it’s a great way to kick off the summer.IMG_0195

It’s normally on the Saturday after Victoria Day, which means the County’s lilacs are in full bloom and riding around the County is even lovelier than usual. Since Terroir is on the Saturday, if you go to the County for the weekend, you have all of Sunday to stop in at wineries before heading home.

Well, this year it seems they’ve moved the event up to the beginning of May – Saturday the 3rd, to be exact. This change came to my attention last week when I was updating the app and I noticed that Keint-he Winery & Vineyards mentioned on their website that they’ll be at Terroir on May 3rd. When I read that, I honestly thought the date was a mistake, so I checked Terroir’s official website and saw that it wasn’t a typo. I don’t mind saying that I’m kind of bummed out because I won’t be able to attend on May 3rd.

When I saw Bryan Rogers of Keint-He at the OWS 5 Star event last week I asked him about it and he said that the Terroir organizers (and apparently he’s one of them) moved Terroir up because they want a bit of time between Terroir and the County’s well known Great Canadian Cheese Festival, which is always the first weekend in June. Rogers also noted that they’ll see how it goes this year, and they may move the data again – until they figure out what works best.

Anyway – the date for 2014 is set – and it’s right around the corner (Saturday, May 3, 2014 from noon to 5 p.m.) – so start making your plans. Tickets are the same price as last year: $35 in advance and $40 at the door (if still available). I’m sure it’ll be a terrific event – and I guess those who are lucky enough to attend will just kick off their summer a bit early – nothing wrong with that!