Wassail: A Food & Wine Adventure in Prince Edward County

Touted as Ontario’s ‘gastronomic capital’ and one of Canada’s most emerging wine regions, Prince Edward County has become a mecca for international epicureans. The picturesque island community (known by locals as “The County”) is just two and half hours from Toronto by car and is home to over 35 winemakers, as well as emerging artists, organic farms and chefs specializing in farm-to-table cuisine. For travellers with a palate for local ingredients and County classics like chardonnay, pinot noir and riesling, P.E.C. provides an ideal setting to escape the hustle and bustle of the city for a day, letting your senses guide you.

 

The County is made up of several quaint communities, including Wellington, a village situated on the shores of Lake Ontario, with a view of some of the largest freshwater dunes in the world. Wellington has become even more of a hot spot since The Drake Devonshire opened in 2014, but, so far, it has remained less touristy than other wine regions in Ontario, allowing visitors to still discover tucked-away gems.

 

Here & There Magazine visited the region during Wassail, an autumn celebration of harvest, with the Prince Edward County Winegrowers Association. The annual event, which takes place during the last two weekends of November and first week of December (just before the winemakers bury their vines for the winter) attracts visitors from all over the world. Guided by Michelle Paris, a certified sommelier and the owner of Adventure in Wine, we visited a few of the Prince Edward County’s best wineries, restaurants and unique highlights.

 

The Wineries

 

The County’s pride may come by the glass, but the proof is in its cold-climate terroir. While the region encompasses about 1,000 square kilometres, much of that consists of shoreline and limestone rich soil, ideal for growing grapes that make high acidity wines. World-famous regions like Champagne and Burgundy possess similar soil, so you can imagine why Prince Edward County has quickly become a wine lover’s destination.

 

We began our wine tasting experience by heading to Lacey Estates, a family owned and operated winery in Hillier that produces balanced and flavourful wines – their 2015 Riesling Off Dry was a true standout. Next, we headed down the road to Closson Chase Vineyards, a winery that uses centuries-old European traditions and sustainable techniques. Their chardonnay, for example, is fermented in oak barrels and perfected using the “bâtonnage” process of stirring the lees (the wine’s residual yeast particles) regularly. After sipping on some pinot noir, we strolled over to the property’s beautifully restored church, featuring a tiled roof designed by Canadian artist Helga Boelen in a style often found in Burgundy, France – quite a unique point of interest in itself.

 

The Farms

 

Golden fields and grazing cows are a typical sight in rural Ontario. Alpacas, on the other hand, are not – except in Prince Edward County, that is. For a second, you might think you’ve landed in Peru! At SHED at Chetwyn Farms, a modern-day Alpaca farm and shop, herding and caring for these adorable creatures is all in a day’s work. The farm’s woolly gang won us over immediately with their inquisitive personalities. Though we couldn’t take one home with us, the pop-up shop (housed in a former chicken coop) offered the next best thing with its range of locally spun-yarns, alpaca throws and fair-trade accessories. More hand-made gifts can be found down the road at Prince Edward County Lavender, a lavender farm and shop that brings a touch of Provence to Ontario.

 

The Food

 

Prince Edward County’s culinary scene is quickly evolving, with many new artisanal shops and trendy cafés opening their doors. The new darling of Wellington is undoubtedly The Courage Café and Bar, a hip hub for brunch, drinks and everything in between. The decor is an instant attention-grabber; from the rose gold-accented glassware to the embossed wallpaper, the interiors make you feel as if you’ve been transported to a café in Brooklyn. However, their menu and wine list keeps it fairly local. For lunch, we had the flavourful Farmer’s Daughter quinoa salad and a glass of Rosehall Run’s Pixie sparkling rosé, a P.E.C. favourite.

 

Another restaurant known for sourcing local ingredients is Kin Café in Bloomfield. We had dinner at the bright and airy eatery before setting out to wander the quaint village of Wellington by night. In and around the town hall, Wassail festivities were in full swing – a true testament to the local celebration of harvest and hometown pride. After a day of wine, food and autumnal surroundings, we’ve only just had a nibble of Prince Edward County’s bounty. On our next trip back, we just might stay, and taste, a little longer.

 

Wassail 2016 dates: Nov 19 & 20, Nov 26 & 27, Dec 3 & 4

www.princeedwardcountywine.ca

Words by Julia Eskins

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