Prince Edward County’s New Releases Kicked off at County in the City
The Ontario Wine Report
By Sara d’Amato, with notes from David Lawrason
Prince Edward County continues to make waves in the Ontario wine scene, and its burgeoning wine region is being brought to light by unique, innovative events which include everything from art festivals to marathons to cheese festivals. This year WineAlign even ran a sold-out bus tour to the Terroir festival in Picton in May (pictures posted on Facebook)
I got my in-depth look at new releases at this year’s 3rd annual “County in the City” event held in late April at one of Toronto’s most chic and bohemian of event spaces, the Berkeley Cathedral on Queen East. It drew hundreds of local trade and Torontonians to experience over 100 wines from Ontario’s fastest growing wine region.
To give you an idea of how fast that growth actually is, the LCBO has almost tripled its selections since 2008, having gone from 20 Prince Edward County products on the shelves to 78. Sales from that period have also increased an amazing 1000% from a mere $661,471 in 2008 to now over $7 million in net sales at the LCBO.
Despite the region becoming a growing tourist destination and the LCBO stocking more and more product from the area, I still hear, all to often, “yes, Prince Edward County, where exactly is that?” So, for those in the need to know, let me regale you with more than just the physical location.
“The County”, as it’s called, is Ontario’s most northern VQA appellation, and lies at a latitude of 44 degrees, well within the 30-50 band where grapes thrive. In fact, this is the same latitude of Bordeaux and within a mere stone’s throw of the 44-degree line lies Tuscany. For those of you who may find it hard to make it to the County without longitude to guide you, the region is situated just south of the town of Belleville toward the eastern end of Lake Ontario. It is located on a virtual island cut off from the mainland by a canal that connects the Bay of Quinte to Lake Ontario. It is about a 2.5-hour drive from Toronto, and about 3 from Ottawa.
The County is a sandy, beachy place with over 500 miles of shoreline (due to its many bays and inlets). And not only beach-goers benefit from this shoreline, but grapes do to – the lake provides a moderating effect on the climate, giving the region a long and cool growing season. The slow, long maturation of grapes is ideal for wine production, although that is not the only element of terroir that makes this place unique and appropriate for wine growing.
Most of the vineyards in the County were planted a mere 10 years ago or less. The quality they are producing at such a young age is indicative of a bright future. Pinot noir and chardonnay are making the biggest waves, and not surprisingly so given the conditions and the soil. The soils are very special here and quite different from those in Niagara. A bedrock of limestone topped by gravelly clay makes for excellent drainage in these mineral-rich soils. This drainage is key to wicking away moisture in the rainy spring, and forces the roots of the vines to dig deep to find ground water in the hot summer months. The faster and deeper those roots penetrate the ground; the more hardy the plants become and will hence produce better quality. Burgundy is home to both pinot noir and chardonnay and its soils are uncannily similar to those of the County.
If there was one thing I came away with from this year’s County in the City it is that these wines are becoming fierce competition in the Ontario premium wine drinking market. The leaps and bounds in quality are extraordinary. If you haven’t tasted wines from the County in even a few years, it’s time for another go.
Due to rather harsh winter conditions, it is not easy or inexpensive to make wine in the County, especially with young vines. It is labor intensive and premium price tags are more common than not. Boutique wineries producing high-quality juice are the niche of the region. The exploding wine community, with now just over 30 wineries, offers a great deal to explore.
Without further ado, I would like to share with you a selection of some of the many standouts among new releases at this year’s County in the City:
Casa Dea 2011 Riesling ($16.95) – Although many wineries in the County produce at least one wine made from Niagara fruit or wine partially sourced from Niagara fruit, Casa Dea produces only wines sourced 100% from their two estate vineyards in the County. A great indication of the quality of a wine is graceful maturation and this riesling is headed down this path. This dramatic wine is full of exquisite tension and a great deal of classic mineral feel and flavour – it is just beginning to exhibit an aged petrol character.
Lighthall 2012 Progression Sparkling Vidal ($20.00) – Vidal is a wonderfully hardy variety and is a grape that most Ontario producers can feel confident growing without fear of winter damage. Although most notably producing our sweet icewines and late harvests, this vidal is unusually dry and refreshing with creamy bubbles and a widely appealing palate. Having poured this for a multitude of test audiences now, you can be confident of its appeal and very happy about its price.
Rosehall Run 2011 Cuvée County Cabernet Franc ($24.95) – Rosehall Run wines have almost as much personality as their exuberant co-owners Dan and Lynn Sullivan. I have long been an admirer of the Cuvée County cabernet franc and the 2011 is no disappointment. A product of sustainable winemaking, the cabernet franc features delightful refreshment without sacrificing ripeness.
Huff Estates 2010 South Bay Vineyards Chardonnay Ontario ($29.95) – Huff Estates made the right decision in minimizing the oak influence on this lovely County chardonnay allowing the fruit, acidity and mineral to really surface. A chardonnay with world-class appeal but shows the timeless elegance that the region is so easily capable of producing now.
Keint-He 2012 Portage Chardonnay ($20.00) – Chardonnay is undoubtedly a strength of the County and this is fine example from a producer who prides itself on emulating Burgundian style pinot noir is an amazing find for $20. In case you’re wondering, as I was, as to the origin of the name Keint-He, it was the name of one of the four Seneca villages of the region. The Senecas were a native tribe of the Iroquois (one of five) whose name was francocized into Quinte of which the Bay of Quinte was named.
Norman Hardie 2012 County Unfiltered Pinot Noir ($35.00) – No wonder Norm Hardie is considered to be the pioneer of high quality pinot production in the County. This silky, brambly, expressive and complex pinot noir is one that had my adjective usage a-flowing. This is a wine that everyone can appreciate on one level or another.
David Lawrason’s White Wine Picks
Although pinot noir is the County’s calling card, many of the most interesting new releases so far this year are white wines, specifically pinot gris and chardonnay – both Burgundian cousins to pinot noir. I was impressed by several samples that seem to be showing more depth and complexity as vineyards mature. Check out full reviews on six of the most interesting by clicking the links below.
Ontario’s Emerging Wine Regions: The South Coast
In other news, John Szabo learns of quite possibly the first wine produced in Canada, and certainly the first in the proposed Viticultural Area called South Coast. If accepted, South Coast, an area centred around Norfolk County and the town of Port Dover on the shores of Lake Erie, would become Ontario’s fourth official wine region. He examines the region’s strengths and weaknesses, and muses on the similarities between merlot and Palm trees.
Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 30 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!