Prince Edward County
Day Tripping in P.E.C.
It is always interesting to watch an area slowly change over time. I’ve been visiting Prince Edward County for a number of years, primarily interested in its burgeoning wine scene, and have been amazed at not only the development there but also people’s fascination with the ‘County’. I say County with emphasis because despite there being many counties in Ontario, when people in central Ontario say I’m visiting the ‘county’ this weekend they mean P.E.C. (It’s a testament to some great marketing and an ‘against all odds’ quality wine industry).
So it was with great excitement when I ended up winning a week in P.E.C. at a charity auction. On a beautiful, warm Monday in June my wife and I headed down to our small cottage by Lake Ontario. We had no set plans for the week other than to explore areas in the county we had not yet visited… focusing more on food than wine.
Day One found us knocking on the Black River Cheese factory (I wish there was a better name than factory for cheese-making places in English - how about ‘Cheeserie’?). We spoke to General Manager Robin Ferguson who told us a little about the over hundred year’s history of this institution. Black River advertises itself as purveyors of ‘Fine artisan cheeses’. They don’t disappoint. Usually I am not drawn to flavoured cheddars but their maple cheddar was a real delight.
Day Two led us on a drive into the back roads in Hillier. Both of us love the smell of lavender so we followed our noses to Prince Edward County Lavender. Owner Rolande Ann showed us their main field and described many of their value-added (check vinegars) products. We left with a bag full from their gift shop.
Day Three took us even further in the back country when by chance we stumbled upon Honey Pie-Hives and Herbals. Owner Bay Woodyard was busy doing household chores when we arrived. We tasted the honey, which was full of wild flower influences, but the handmade candles caught our eye… and our wallet. We left as her two children were arriving home from school. (Bay recently told me that they are now selling mead!)
Day Four turned out to be the highlight of our whole week. Luckily my son and his partner were along for the ride having driven down to the ‘County’ the night before. I had just read a story in the Globe and Mail about a new cooperage in the area. We took a while finding our destination near the village of Bloomfield. In a barn well off the road stood The Carriage House Cooperage. Head cooper Pete met us as we tried to find the proper door into his barrel making facility. We had rarely met a person so committed and passionate about his trade. Originally the barrels were designed for the wine trade and made mostly from oak, of course. The original business plan changed a bit as things progressed when Pete found hesitation among wineries for buying his barrels. It was the old prejudice against homegrown crafts versus traditional sources. Wineries wanted French oak, sometimes American, but Canadian? Luckily Pete diversified into making vinegars and what a happy blessing that was. We left with four bottles of various compositions.
Day Five took me back to my lust for wine… fine wine, in particular. My first and primary target was Norman Hardy Winery. For some unknown reason I had not visited this outstanding winery in my previous visits to the region. Thankfully this oversight was remedied and I was soon tasting their premium Chardonnay – think Chablis but even more rounded than northern Burgundies of comparable value. A revelation! Plus we got a chance to talk to the man himself! Norman was busy in the small winery but took time to talk about his wines. He’s getting a handle on growing fine grapes in P.E.C.’s rather unforgiving climate. Don’t miss his Pinot Noir either!
Later that same day we made our way over to The County Cider Co. where we tasted an array of hard ciders. Owner Grant Howes, fresh from the financial world, introduced us to his orchards and regaled us with stories about the County. We sat on picnic benches overlooking Lake Ontario eating their delicious pizza cooked outside in a clay oven and sipping away on dry cider. A perfect end to our week of day tripping in P.E.C.
We’ll be back.