Written by by Alicia Miller. Originally published in Decanter Magazine.
A couple of decades ago, tourists came to Prince Edward County for the thrill of the great outdoors. Golden beaches. Glassy lakes. Rolling fields studded with photogenic dilapidated barns and mom-and-pop farm shops. Those things are still here, and people still come for them, but they’re no longer the main draw. Most weekenders who make the drive about 2.5 hours east from buzzy Toronto in summertime are keen to experience just one thing: Ontario’s most exciting new wine scene.
Practically an island, Prince Edward dangles by a thin strip of land from southern Ontario – it’s almost entirely surrounded by the gently lapping surf of Lake Ontario and dotted with other bodies of water. Because of its unusual climate, it has long produced excellent orchard fruit – and, as local winemakers have established in recent years, it is also capable of producing quality grapes.
But viticulture here is not simple. The icy, snowy winters can easily kill vines, so the plants must be protected so they can survive. In autumn, the vines are either ‘hilled up’ with earth or covered with a layer of protective fabric. In spring, when the thaw comes, they must be carefully uncovered again, as can be seen in Traynor Vineyards’ blog ‘A year in the vineyard’. Costs are high and yields are low.
But the effort is worth it: Prince Edward County’s wine scene is immensely exciting. While there is slowly a regional style being established – lean Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs are particularly promising – there aren’t yet any fixed rules among the region’s three dozen or so producers. You’ll find some winemakers working with niche hybrid varieties such as Marechal Foch and Baco Noir. Redtail Vineyards produces pét-nats, carbonic maceration field blends and low-intervention Rieslings, and has even joined forces with local breweries. In comparison to the glossy, more conventional wineries in the long-established Niagara Peninsula region to the south of Toronto or the Okanagan Valley in Canada’s western province of British Columbia, Prince Edward County still feels edgy and pleasingly unpolished.
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