Like the rural quaintness of the French River of Nova Scotia and the excitement of the Napa Valley of the 1980's,
Prince Edward County continues to captivate her visitors with a spirit and engagement that is exciting to witness. Our rustic next door neighbour is growing up and attracting local, national and international attention offering exciting wineries, farm to table restaurant choices, unique shopping, local artisanal foods and cheeses, and serving up a warm-hearted and generous way of life, steeped in rural tradition with just a hint of modern thinking.
Friday Night Welcomes
We love carrying ourselves off the Friday-crazy east-bound 401 via Carrying Place and into The County's green and yellow rolling fields of corn and cereal rye, beckoning our city-weary eyes up to billowing, blowing clouds, dramatic against an electric blue Friday afternoon sky. Rustic red barns, some falling, some brand new, dot the rocky countryside, many with The County's latest eclectic offering: over 100 welcoming and eye-popping freshly painted Barn Quilts entice us further on and into her rural charms as beacons of rural folk art. This weekend we are planning to explore the Athol and North Marysburgh areas of The County, with stops in Waupoos, Lake on the Mountain, and Cherry Valley. A cottage bbq of pork tenderloin, new potatoes, and fresh-picked farm stand lettuces quickly follows first-night welcoming sips and nibbles of local cheeses and farm-fresh crudities and are a fitting start to our Good Friends, Good Wine Weekend v. 3.0. Rosé sipping, and catching up are our only priorities this Friday evening in quaint Cherry Valley, perhaps the only remaining portion of The County retaining her original rural charm. Oh, and to enjoy the shimmering sunset across East Lake and further west to Sandbanks and Lake Ontario, some choppy white caps a harbinger of a mid-summer rolling thunderstorm. The perfect way to spend our first night in The County.
Saturday: Wine Tasting and Lunch at Waupoos Winery
Our Saturday begins with a tasting and lunch at Waupoos Winery, the oldest established winery in The County. Waupoos, which in Ojibway means running rabbit, began operations in 1983 when Ed Neuser and Riata Kaimins took one look at the apple orchard and rocky, undulating 100 acres they had just purchased and decided to plant grapes instead. Flash forward to 2001 and their first vintage. Today winemaker Amy and husband, General Manager Kyle Baldwin produce 19 different varietals, the largest in The County. Kyle flashes a smile and adds "Pinot Gris is our most popular." Vines supposedly like to work hard; they produce a better product. And they like it arid. After Ontario's unusually hot, dry summer, Amy and Kyle are anticipating a bumper harvest. Terroir is an oft-used term in describing wine production in The County and Amy confirms it's importance: "Much like the Burgundy region of France, the broken up, natural limestone base of The County encourages both spreading and a deeper root system and of course adds that minerality we crave in the final tasting." Both are proud of their VQA status: "we meet 100 percent match of our list of grapes and usage," Amy explains. "Others typically reach 85 per cent." So much about wine making, we didn't know! Business has expanded to include a more experiential winery: a guest house, petting zoo, hard cider tastings in their general store, and an art gallery. Our Good Friends, Good Wine Weekend continues in the beautiful, sunlit Gazebo Restaurant where we enjoyed lunch and sample some of the best food, wine, craft beer and incredible views The County and Waupoos has to offer.
Now onto Fifth Town Cheese. I was introduced to the splendid Fifth Town cheese some years ago when I was asked by the LCBO to 'goLocal' and visit The County to savour and sip away a full day of PEC wines and cheese. I was so impressed by Fifth Town's LEEDS accreditation and incredible green process of cheese making that I have religiously followed their success over the years and was saddened to discover a couple of years later that they had gone out of business. Hallelujah! In May of 2013, Fifth Town Artisan Cheese Co. reopened under new ownership. While seeking (re)approval for their unique earth friendly production and processing facilities and their status as Canada's only LEED certified dairy, the Toronto retail store continued to sell some mighty fine cheese inspired by the original Fifth Town Artisan Cheese offering inspirational and favorite flavours like Cap Cressy, Gracie Grey, and Fellowship Too that followsummer had come to love.
The County Cider Company
Set in a beautiful limestone historic house and green rolling property with outstanding views west to Waupoos and onto Lake Ontario, The County Cider Company continues to be a popular meeting place for those who love a unique taste of Ontario cider. Their patio is a popular and busy option especially in summer with their wood-fired oven serving an apparent County winery or cidery must-have: wood fired pizza. Our hungry bunch enjoyed Three Cheese, Fun Guy Hots For You and traditional Margherita pizzas, and washed the savoury pies down with County Premium, Waupoos Draft or any of the Seasonal 'flavoured' ciders available from our smiling, friendly server. Take your life in your hands and sample the County Snake Bite (Cider PLUS Beer) or one of their apparently deadly Cider Cocktails: Fizzy Fuzzy Navel (peach cider and orange juice) or the County Cosmo (feral cider with orange juice). Stay for a tasting or on a particularly stunning County weekend like we had, sit on their glorious patio and enjoy the incredible view and gentle County mid-summer breezes.
Returning to Hinterland
We cross The County to grab some 2015, end of season, cherished bottles of Whitecap 2015 Method Charmant sparkling loveliness from the increasingly popular Hinterland Wine Company , located at the corner of Closson Road and Benway. Last year we had a personal tour of owner Jonas Newman's Sparkling process and also of his new business venture, County Road Beer Company, to produce craft beer for his already captivated sparkling wine fans. A newly-poured cement floor, vast open spaces, and plenty of dreaming, sweat and sawdust were evident at that time. I asked Jonas why he would venture into an already crammed craft beer market when his sparkling reputation was secure both in the County and indeed in Ontario. His answer: 'Because I can.." Needless to say, Jonas' Sparkling Wine and Craft Beer folly is firing on all cylinders. We couldn't push our way into either the tasting room or the breezy, open-air ale house and beer garden that Jonas has built.
Good Friends, Good Wine Weekend v.3.0 in the hopper. Time to start planning our next visit! #TravelWell to The County, my friends!