Sunday, 16 March 2014

PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY - Hillier in the Morning

Cycling to the Wineries of Hillier: Since many of the County's wineries are concentrated in Hillier ward at the southwestern end of the island, a friend and I decided to cycle winery to winery. You can find a wine tour map at The County Wines website, although not all wineries are listed. We arranged to rent bicycles  from Bloomfield Bicycle in the small town of Wellington. They will kindly drop off and pick up from predetermined locations so we arranged to start at By Chadsey Cairns winery in the morning. We had comfortable 21 speed hybrid bikes with a complimentary water bottle and county map included with the rental price for each bike. Unfortunately By Chadsey Cairns had yet to open so we started our adventure by cycling to the following wineries prior to a lunch break: Norman Hardie, Casa Dea, Rosehall Run, and Hillier Creek Estates. Another friend decided not to cycle so she provided much appreciated support in the car...we had the option of buying a lot of wine along the route!

From Norman Hardie to Hillier Creek Estates:  Wine tasting tourism is not only about the wine. Of course the quality of the wine is important but the wine tasting experience is enhanced by free (with a wine purchase) or reasonably priced tastings and friendly customer service by knowledgeable staff. We were especially fortunate to speak to the owners/winemakers the previous afternoon at Lighthall, Exultet and Long Dog.

The first stop at Norman Hardie was the least enjoyable of the day. While Norman Hardie is renowned for his wines, the service was unfriendly and the tasting cost was higher than any other winery we visited. I tasted a Pinot Gris and the County Pinor Noir 2011. I found the Pinot Gris to be strong in citrus and minerality aromas (not unexpected due to the limestone terrioir) but without a hint of honey or spice that I enjoy in a Pinot Gris. The 2011 Pinot Noir reflected its classic characteristics but it was not an outstanding example of the varietal. It was the only winery we left without make a purchase (I bought a total of 36 bottles during our visit)!

At Casa Dea Estates we were met by a very friendly server (she became even more like-able when she told us she rode a Harley Davidson!), who provided generous tastings accompanied by cheerful conversation and her own opinion on the wines we were tasting. Casa Dea is the second oldest winery in the County and has 61 acres under vine. It also has beautiful gardens and a pleasant café. I tasted the Pinot Gris and Pinot Gris Reserve (oaked) and found the honey, stone fruit and floral aromas and flavours to be what I expect from a Pinot Gris.I bought a bottle of each.  I also tasted a Pinot Noir 2010, Dea's Rosé, Dea's Cuvee (a sparling blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay), Gamay 2010 and Cabernet Franc Reserve 2009. I enjoyed the latter two reds. The Gamay had aromas of cherry, anise, white pepper and leather and the Cab Franc was a delicious (i.e. not overly herbaceous) example of the varietal.

Rosehall Run is the last winery along Greer Road (the same road as the previous two wineries). Lynn Sullivan, managing partner at the winery, served us at the tasting bar. She explained the her and her husband (the winemaker) bought the land in 2000, planted vines in 2001, produced their first vintage in 2004, and opened the winery in 2006. At the Painted Peppercorn café the previous day I had a glass of Sullyzwicker white (a blend of 7 varietals) with lunch. It had aromas of orange blossom, honey and green apple and flavours of clementine and a hint of vanilla. It is a light crisp wine that can be easily paired with summer fare or enjoyed on its own (and it's affordable at 14.95/bottle). I enjoyed the creamy oak aged 2010 Chardonnay JCR Rosehall Vineyard made from Estate grapes and also the 2010 Pinot Noir Rosehall Vineyard. I purchased the Chardonnay (at 29.95) but passed on the Pinot Noir. In general County wine prices reflect the costs of low production.

We hoped to enjoy pizza for lunch at Hillier Creek Estates but they operate their brick oven from Wednesday through Sunday (in the summer). Regardless, we enjoyed the wine and great conversation with Woody, the operations manager who arrived in the County from Newfoundland (having met one of the owners during his service in the Navy). He poured our tastings and shared information about the winery and his opinion on a Riesling, a Gamay Noir 2009, and three Pinot Noirs from two vintages.

I especially enjoyed the Gamay Noir with its herbaceous and pepper aromas and rhubarb, cherry and pepper flavours and the Pinot Noir 2009. This latter wine was aged for two years (part of that time in oak) and had cherry, mint, chocolate and peppery aromas and flavours. The 2009 Pinot Estate Reserve is oaked for three years and consequently more tannic. I identified fewer typical pinot aromas and flavours in the reserve. The wines are available for purchase at the winery and served at County restaurants.

We left our bikes locked at Hillier Creek Estates and drove to Wellington to enjoy a wonderful lunch before continuing our wine tasting adventure.

Sunday, 9 March 2014


The County:  PEC was named as Ontario's fourth designated viticulture area (DVA)  in 2007. The municipality of Prince Edward County is actually the smallest municipality in Ontario and is divided into ten wards. Over a three day period I visited wineries in three wards: South Marysburgh, Hillier and North Marysburgh. Most wineries are concentrated in the Hillier ward at the west end of the island but quality wines in this new wine region can be from any part of the County. The benefit of a visit to PEC is the proximity of an amazing combination of pastoral scenery, beaches, locally produced fruits and vegetables, wine, beer, cider, and cheese, as well as local art studios and shops.  My friends and I visited mid-week in August which had its benefits: hotel availability (and even then many places were booked) and less traffic on the roads and fewer people waiting for tastings at the wineries. The disadvantage was that some wineries operate pizza ovens or cafes only on weekends.

South Marysburgh:  After driving from Ottawa to the County in the morning and enjoying a lunch of county-inspired dishes at the Painted Peppercorn in Picton we checked into the Waring House Inn  (even mid week accommodation was difficult to reserve a few weeks in advance). We then decided to visit wineries in the southeastern peninsula south of the villages of Cherry Valley and Milford and close to Sandbanks Provincial Park. Our first stop was at Lighthall Winery. I had already visited in July but this time owner Glenn Symons was at the tasting bar and I learned more about Lighthall wines and his wine making practices (see another blog dedicated to Lighthall wines). From Lighthall we went on to Exultet and Long Dog wineries. I preferred the pinot noirs I tasted at these three wineries in South Marysburgh out of all of the pinot noir wine we tasted over the course of the three days. This may because the microclimate provides warmer temperatures; grapes begin to ripen 7 to 10 days earlier than vines in more northerly wards of the County.

Exultet:  The wines from Exultet are estate grown, generally single varietal and sold only through the winery. I tasted two 2012 white wines: a blend called "White Light" (89% vidal and 11% chardonnay) and a Pinot Grigio. While those particular whites were too light for my palate I enjoyed the three Pinot Noirs I tasted from three consecutive vintages: 2009. 2010 and 2011. The 2009 was made from six clones of Pinot Noir and had dark berry and spicy notes and a fuller body. It is one of the more expensive wines at $65 per bottle, but obviously an excellent vintage. The 2010 Cru X had pleasant cherry and cranberry aromas and favours  and medium tannins that would make it a perfect pairing for turkey or other poultry. I purchased two bottles and Lia Spinosa, co-owner of Exultet with her husband Gerry, advised me to cellar it for two years and decant one hour prior to drinking. The 2011 Pinot Noir was lighter in body and tannins and would not would be a pinot to drink immediately. I also purchased a 100% Vidal Icewine. The grapes were harvested on Boxing Day, 2012 due to the ideal temperatures (-10 to -12 C)  required for an ice wine by Ontario's regulatory authority (the Vintners' Quality Alliance). Extultet's wines, especially their Chardonnays, are award-winning and need to be purchased promptly as production is low.

Long Dog: We waited for a bit in the pleasant barn converted into a tasting room and we were about to pour ourselves some wine when James Lahti, one of the owners at  Long Dog, arrived to chat with us. I tasted four pinots from 2007, 2008 and 2009; and purchased three. (Like Exultet, Long Dog wines are only available through the winery).  Long Dog has some of the oldest vines in the County, along with By Chadsey Cairns vineyard, with plantings commencing in 1999. My favourite, that day, was the 2008 Top Dog Pinot Noir. This wine is a blend of two vinification processes: grapes harvested from the original plantings in blocks A and C were fermented and oaked for approximately 26 months in new wood (50%) and old barrels (50%). I enjoyed the pine and cedar aromas of this blend. James suggested this wine could be cellared to I'm waiting. The 2008 Barrel Select Pinot Noir is a light body red fruit pinot that I enjoyed in February 2014. The 2009 Top Dog was another purchase: made from the oldest vines and aged approximately 32 months in new French oak barrels.