Getting out a bit more

From time to time I think my life has gotten a bit staid. Like, in a rut.

So I took an invite to head off to the NAC on Wednesday for a wine tasting of Prince Edward County wines. Now you should know that my wine drinking preferences run to warehouse do-it-yourself wineries where great Merlot comes through at $4/bottle. And I recall being to Prince Edward County once, to stay overnight at an overpriced lakeside “cottage” that did not leave me impressed. So PEC wasn’t high on my “must do” bucket list. But I was open to change my mind.

There was a dozen wineries present. Attendees went around the tables chatting to the vintners and sloshing back  slurping  sipping various wines. I had never done some comparative taste testing before, but found it easy to mark in my little score pad which ones I liked and which ones I didn’t. I wasn’t rating them on degrees of “oak” or “hints of raspberry” or anything like that. Just a simple yes/no. Alas, no one told me to do the white first, or else I could  overpower my taste buds. So I started with red, then went to rose. I loved the Lighthall Rose. Alas, it is rather more expensive than what I am used to paying at the warehouse winery.

I talked to several vineyard guys about how big their vineyards were. I’ve been several times to Napa and Sonoma, always on other-people’s-money (OPM is by far the best way to go anywhere) where they are huge. But in the Loire Valley I cycled to a number of wine tastings and loaded my saddle bags with great stuff from tiny wineries with vineyards of barely a few hectares (that trip was on my own money, but I assure you as a consequence it was cheap). 

 In Prince Edward, I discovered vineyards range from 18 acres to 65 acres (as determined by my small sample size), with 20,000 grape vines to 100,000. And some plant roses at the end of each row. Supposedly this is an indicator plant for aphids. One vintner at the show assured me they were red roses so they knew they were red grapes, and white roses for white wine. Did I look that tipsey gullible?

Closson Chase winery in PEC. This image says a lot about changes in our society. Church: communion wine, threats of eternal terror, dropping attendance; winery: repurposing of a heritage building, happy wine, terroir. [photo taken from a PEC map, ergo the crease up the middle].
Some make/age their wine in oak barrels, some in all stainless steel. There was a bubbly wine maker, who generates the bubbles before bottling, and now is doing some in méthode champagne (in bottle). Over cheese and candied walnuts, I talked to a few of the oh-so-serious people wandering around earnestly rating the wines. Personally, by that time I was oh-so-happy to sit down and rest (my palate) a bit.

None of the vintners is big enough to get listed at the LCBO. So they sell at the gate, or through trade shows such as the one Wednesday night. It was possible to give orders directly to the event promoter, Savvy Company, who then picks up the bottles from the various wineries and delivers the case(s) to you. Mix and match.

Between sips of wine, the vintners larded me up with the geological and geographical trivia of the county, which constitutes the “terroir” or particular soil conditions that influence the grape taste. And I was very surprised to learn from one vintner that a rose could be made mostly of mineral water with a dash of red wine.

Who knows, it generated enough curiosity in me that I may just manage to get down to the county sometime this summer.  On the May 26 Victoria Day weekend there is a Terroir Wine Festival as well. An oenophilic delight.

I did happen to know that there is a large-ish cheese company in PEC — the Black River Cheese Company, but only because I know the manager there who used to promote Swiss Cheeses here in Canada. Apparently there are a lot more makers. Not everyone and their sister retires to make wines, lots of other people become artisan cheese makers. It is good to know what early retiring civil servants do with their pension time. So there is a Great Canadian Cheese festival in Picton on June 1-3. And yes, they have Tutored Tastings, with cheese sommeliers.

But before that, twenty-eight wineries from Niagara-on-the-Lake are coming to the NAC on May 30th for another tasting event; again the promoter is Savvy Company. And if that isn’t enough, they are offering a wine-focussed tour of Australia with your own sommelier as guide, for a mere $15,000 pp. The wife and I are looking for a sponsor! Volunteers anyone?

Meanwhile, down in my basement, in the far corner, beyond the kitty litter tray, there might be warehouse Valpolicella that is ready …

One thought on “Getting out a bit more

  1. My mother’s family is from the county, and a lot of great aunts and 2nd Cousins still live there. Used to go for a few weeks in the summer during my youth 25 or so years ago, the big draw being the Sandbanks and a rural, slower paced life on my Great Grandmothers farm in Milford. Slower, even, than my hometown of Gananoque (which is not exactly bustling to begin with!)

    My wife and I went back last year for a vacation and the area has changed immensely. Picton is literally buzzing in the summer. Its the new Muskokas for the not so rich of TO. My wife, of course loves it, but I lament the loss of the quiet, simpler life. Although, its nice to see the farmland still used as such (even if the crop has changed), and the many artists new to the area, much of the area has become very “frou-frou”. Its the “yuppification” of cottage country. Interesting to see that it doesn’t only affect downtown urban neighbourhoods!

    With that said, its a beautiful place, fully worth the visit, and so close to Ottawa. I always recommend cutting through Kingston and taking Highway 33 to the Glenora Ferry. Assuming you aren’t waiting for the ferry for long (the lineups can get long) it shaves a good 30-40 mins off the 401 route and its a much more pleasant route

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