A Visit to the County
A few weeks into the summer I found myself, in “The County”. The County refers to Prince Edward County (not to be confused with Prince Edward Island), Ontario’s newest wine region which itself is a little island south of Belleville. I was there to experience one of my favourite winery events: 6 Barrels for 6 Chefs which is held annually at Huff Estates – if you have not been I would encourage you to check it out, especially if you are interested in food and wine. 6 chefs pair a delicacy alongside 6 still-in-barrel wines. The pairings range from the interesting to the sublime.
The next day I was off to visit a few of the newer wineries of the region and to see some of the new sights. Starting off at one of the coolest named wineries; Devil’s Wishbone, where owner and winemaker Paul Gallagher is putting his 11 acres to good use. For a while Paul was selling his fruit, but then decided it was time to take the next step and began making wine. County Rieslings aren’t usually what people remember, but Paul’s is so good that he has had no problems selling it since the winery opened; and even the $24.00 price tag hasn’t detered his his sales. For vintage he has doubled his production, keeping most of the grapes he grows for his own usage instead of selling them.
As for where the name of the winery comes from, early settlers used to say nothing grew in that corner of the County and it just so happens that the property is in the shape of a wishbone, hence ‘the devil’s wishbone’ – seems that Paul is up to the challenge of proving those early settlers wrong!
Next on our agenda was Karlo Estates. Many consider Richard (Karlo) a bit of a maverick in these parts, because he is growing grapes that no one thinks he should be growing. But Richard has embraced the Frontenac grape varieties (Noir and Gris), that were developed in Minnesota to withstand harsh winters. However, Richard seems to be making excellent wines from the usual grape varieties too: his delicious Riesling (not surprising it’s good, he helped Paul Gallagher make his and also used Paul’s grapes), as well as his outstanding, and well-priced, Pinot Noir are both excellent wine choices! I must also mention Richard’s Tawny Port, which I emphasize is a must for any port or non-port drinker.
Popping in at Hinterland is also a must, especially for bubbly-lovers, because Hinterland is Prince Edward County’s (PEC) first and only all-sparkling producer. PEC is perfectly suited for these types of wines because fully ripened grapes are not needed to produce good sparkling wine, in fact under-ripe grapes work best because they keep the acids high and the sugars low. It is for that reason so many County producers have at least one bubbly on their tasting menu. But Hinterland is the opposite, they are mostly fizz with the occasional still. At the time of my visit they were awaiting on some new equipment, hence only one sparkling wine was available for tasting: the delicious 2008 Rose Brut.
Finally, a stop off at Norman Hardie’s eponymous winery where Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are de rigueur. However, it seems that Norman is branching out these days, not just with his wines of choice (adding a steady flow of Riesling and Cabernet Franc to his wine list), but in what is being prepared on the property. The aforementioned Riesling is a mix of Niagara and County fruit and is crisp and lively; the new all-County Cabernet Franc is wonderful with its fruit, spice and tobacco character, and of course the Pinot Noirs and Chardonnay are well-worth the price of admission alone because those two other wines add to the breadth of the portfolio. However, there is yet another reason to visit, one that is not related to wine: a wood-fired pizza oven, where staff makes some of the most amazing thin crust pizzas. I guarantee that after one bite you’ll be turned from any fast-food pizza forever. The pizzas are the size of an LP record (remember those?) and made with fresh toppings and delicate and delicious sauces. These creations make this winery even more of a must-stop on your next visit to the County.
Wines to Experience …
Hinterland 2008 Rose Brut ($37.20 – ***1/2)
Karlo Estates 2009 Pinot Noir ($29.00 – ****+)
Karlo Estates 2008 Van Alstine Port ($29.00 / 500ml – ****1/2)
Norman Hardie 2010 Riesling ($21.00 – ****)
Norman Hardie 2009 Cabernet Franc ($25.00 – ****1/2)