Exploring the recreational and wine region between Toronto and Ottawa
People talk about Prince Edward County as the “hipster little sister” of Niagara-on-the-Lake, another relaxing, wine-soaked Ontario destination within easy reach of Toronto. Located about a two hours’ drive east of Toronto (or three hours west of Ottawa, or four from Montreal), Prince Edward County – or “the County” as locals and admirers often call it – is a lush, green peninsula of recreational bliss. It’s more than a cute old town to spend a day in, it’s an up-and-coming food and wine lover’s paradise, boasting about a thousand square kilometres of small towns, villages and hamlets like Picton, Bloomfield and Wellington. There are some 40 wineries one can visit here, as well as farms, antique shops, beaches, and places to go boating.
Prince Edward County’s emergence as a food and drink destination seems natural, given the community’s history as a farming region that flourished in the 19th century. It helps that the people of The County are each other’s biggest fans: Spend a day in PEC and you’ll quickly catch on to the cheery, everyone-knows-everyone vibe (the population here is just above 25,000). And the region sends those positive vibes outwards to the wider world, too: In every gift shop here, it seems, there’s a T-shirt for sale emblazoned with the slogan: “The County vs. Nobody.”
“We’re not in a competition,” says Rebecca Lamb, who works on destination development for Prince Edward County. “Lake Erie North Shore is coming up as a wine-destination area [too], and that’s great. The more the merrier. The stronger we can be in Southern Ontario to foster tourism for people who are interested in wine and food. … We’re [just] happy to be a part of that.”
Most tourists come to The County to taste the wine, courtesy of an industry that hardly existed here prior to this century (the Prince Edward County appellation only came into existence in 2007). What makes the vineyards in PEC so unique is the terroir: fractured limestone within clay loam soil, which some believe gives grape varietals like chardonnay and pinot noir a distinct minerality.
Billy recently explored this tranquil slice of Ontario with an eye to recommending activities for the perfect County day. Here’s how you could proceed.
Breakfast: Local pastries
Start the day off with a coffee and sweet treat at Pink Lunch Pail, a quirky bake shop where everything is made from scratch by Le Cordon Bleu graduate and pastry chef Rebecca Brown. Brown uses local produce and organic everything for each one of her pastries. There are vanilla-bean-glazed cinnamon rolls, whisky-and-cherry doughnuts and a killer lemon-curd pie topped with whatever berry is in season.
184 Main St., Picton, 613-503-0333
Mid-morning: The beach
Prince Edward County is surrounded by water and there’s a number of beaches to spend time on, depending on your mood. Sandbanks is by far the most popular, with its white sand and shallow waters, and the Sandbanks sand dunes are always a big hit with the hikers. Visitors averse to crowds would probably prefer North Beach Environmental Park, which is a less-populated alternative to Sandbanks. But if you’re only looking to bask in the sun for a couple of hours, check out the quaint Wellington Rotary Beach. There’s also golf, biking and wakeboarding if physical activity is more your thing.
Lunch: Dogs and pizza
Head over to the dog-friendly Three Dog Winery run by John and Sacha Squair, who lovingly named their property after their three late rescue dogs Angus, Sienna and Chevy (who are all buried at the vineyard). With six kilometres of trails on the vineyard, you can take a stroll along the grapes and then come back up to the winery to relax on the red Muskoka chairs. John cooks up gooey pizzas in a wood stove, using just-picked PEC tomatoes and artisanal sausages that pair with the Dog House Red.
1920 Fish Lake Rd., Picton, 613-403-4323
Afternoon: The wine tour proper
Begin your tour at the world’s first-ever vegan-certified winery, where wine tastings are held under the rafters in the loft of an old red barn. The late founder and winemaker Richard Karlo started his eponymous winery in 2005 and was a fierce advocate for the PEC wine community. His widow Sherry now carries the torch as owner and vintner. Wines of note? The Three Witches (a blend of chardonnay, riesling and auxerrois) as well as the 2010 Van Alstine red.
561 Danforth Rd,Wellington, 613-399-3000
Karlo Estates Winery
Trail Estate Winery
One of the newer, small-batch wineries in The County, Trail Estate showcases the work of winemaker Mackenzie Brisbois, who started her career atNorman Hardie. The first vintage débuted in 2013. There’s entrepreneurial spirit at Trail, and Brisbois loves her job because she’s able to get creative – she just bottled a skin-contact series using Niagara riesling where the grapes are fermented in their skin for a longer time compared to what’s customary in modern white winemaking. This gives the reisling an aromatic flavour that’s broad on the palate.
416 Benway Rd., Hillier, 647-233-8599
Snack time: Guapos Cantina
A light and satisfying mid-tour snack can be found at Guapos Cantina, the taco station at Traynor Family Vineyards. Food aficionado and ex-Drake staffer Lance Calvert makes a refreshing corn salad with butter, lime, cotilla cheese and caramelized onions, which pairs well with their chorizo taco and cassava fries. The 25-seater patio is the ideal setting for tacos and Traynor wines.
1774 Danforth Rd, Hillier, 1-877-403-4224
Owner Brian Rogers is focused on making wine that showcases the terroir of Prince Edward County. Intent on having the personality of local grapes shine, he’s applied the Burgundy model of viticulture to the vineyards with high-density planting. Vines are planted with one metre between each row, similar to Burgundy and Bordeaux, as opposed to eight metres between each row, as it’s done at other high-production vineyards. At Keint-he, the vineyard upkeep is done by hand, and though the yield is small, the quality is superior. The Keint-he’s 2012 Queenston Road Pinot Noir is described as having a raspberry aroma with notes of cedar, chocolate and cola.
49 Hubbs Creek Rd., Wellington, 613-399-5308
Dinner: East & Main Bistro
Cap the day off at this community spot, where you won’t expect to see too many out-of-towners. You can tell from the uber-relaxed atmosphere that it’s locals who come for the French bistro-inspired food like chicken supreme and 28-day-aged striploin and frites. Proprietors Kimberly Humby and David O’Connor have a motto when it comes to the food: make as much as you can in house (even that dollop of grainy mustard on your charcuterie platter is made in the kitchen). The rest is sourced within The County. The high-top, wooden harvest table smack dab in the middle of the restaurant is perfect for groups of eight or more.
270 Main Street, Wellington, 613-399-5420