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 2015...so 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.