Prince Edward County is still a mystery to many wine drinkers in other parts of the country. The region's production is small and the wines rarely travel further than Toronto or Montreal. Not long after I moved to Toronto, I was planning a trip to Niagara and I booked an appointment at a winery in Prince Edward County. I naively believed all the wine was made in the same part of the province and didn't realize that Prince Edward County was three hours in the other direction. The County has become my favourite region to visit—I love the wines and the pastoral feel. I've gotten a pretty good grasp on exactly where it is.
Here is the County in a nutshell for those who haven't been...
Prince Edward County has been a VQA appellation since 2007. It's on the northeastern edge of Lake Ontario, and depending on traffic, about a two-and-a-half-hour drive northeast from Toronto and a three-hour drive southwest from Ottawa. The County is surrounded by lakeshore, which brings breezes during the growing season. It's also home to some brilliant sandy beaches (among North America's largest freshwater beaches). It's quite a bit cooler than Niagara (1366 degree days versus 1413), and especially in the winter where growers need to bury their vines every year in mounds of dirt to prevent winterkill. Maggie from the Grange of Prince Edward Vineyards and Estate Winery told me that they devote an extra six weeks of work to burying and then digging out their vines every vintage. The soils here are mostly clay loam or sandy loam over limestone bedrock with shale fragments. This part of the province is especially suited to cool-climate grapes and some of the varieties that are able to ripen in Niagara won't consistently ripen here. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay do very well in the County. Also Cabernet Franc, Riesling, Gamay, and Pinot Gris. The wines usually have heaps of natural acid and great mineral characters.
Many wineries in Prince Edward County also make wines with Niagara fruit so volume stats are sometimes hard to separate. Being a young region, acreage stats also vary depending on the source, but it's likely somewhere between 500 to 800 acres. As a general number and for context, acreage of plantings are somewhere around 5% of that of the Niagara Peninsula and less than 10% of the Okanagan. There are around 40 wineries in the County and even the bigger producers would be considered quite small on a global scale.
There are a couple great Prince Edward County wineries available through My Wine Canada. Trail Estate Winery is a brand new spot focusing on fresh and aromatic whites and rosé, as well as reds from Baco Noir and Pinot Noir and they are already getting plenty of attention. Keint-he Winery and Vineyards ranks among the best producers in the region and their focus is on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The very elegant and pretty Portage 2011 Pinot Noir, made with fruit from three estate vineyards in the County is my favourite.
For a few other fantastic spots, check out the sparkling wines from Hinterland Wine Company. They are the home of some of the greatest bubble in Ontario including the juicy and addictive Method Ancestral—made in the same style as Bugey Cerdon.
The Old Third is a tiny winery that is off many people's radar, but the wines are worth seeking out. They make a lovely Pinot Noir Blanc that is aromatic and delicious.
The Grange of Prince Edward Vineyards and Estate Winery, which is now available on My Wine Canada, grows delicious Gamay. They make a Passetoutgrain blend of Gamay and Pinot Noir sold in magnums that is becoming famous. Maggie hand-paints a bunny on each bottle for the label (dubbed the Bunny Wine).
Finally, it's impossible to talk about Prince Edward County without mentioning the wines from Norman Hardie which are stellar across the board.
Jake Skakun is a writer and sommelier from Vancouver, currently living in Toronto. He can be found most days pulling corks and twisting caps at the Black Hoof. He Tweets and Instagrams @jakeskakun.