The Best County Wine Tips for 2020
There’s plenty of change in the world these days, but this we know for sure: County wine is here for you. The winegrowers are working harder than ever to grow, produce and serve wines that delight both curious sippers and hard-core oenophiles.
We want you to make the most of your County wine time. Read on for pro-tips on winery visits, finding County wine at local restos, practising your at-home tasting skills and more. There are enough ideas below to fill a weekend, so book your accommodations early and start planning!
County Wineries Year Round
Summer at County wineries can be electric. Wineries are [physically-distantly] full of folks eager to taste the latest releases and find their new favourite bottle. Girl gangs and bromances take selfies in front of the vines. Serious sippers find a quiet corner to swirl and taste.
As the summer turns to fall, and fall to winter, the winery vibes relax into an intimate experience. Chances are, the person serving you in the tasting room is also the winemaker, vineyard manager or owner. The quieter months offer a unique opportunity to chat with your pourer and hear the stories behind the wine.
In late September or October you can see the vineyard in action. Some wineries invite the public to participate in harvesting parties, picking grapes and watching the crush. Join in Wassail events in November and December to celebrate the end of the growing season and putting the vines to bed for the winter.
January and February offer dramatic views of snow-covered vineyards. Vinterfest offers special events at the wineries on the Family Day weekend. Try snowshoeing through the estates at Sugarbush Vineyards, find an outdoor fire pit, or shake your booty at the annual snow pants dance party at Karlo Estates.
Early springtime is a sweet time to visit; many wineries take part in Maple in the County each March, including Sugarbush Vineyards, Waupoos Estates Winery and Three Dog Winery who each have sugar bushes on site. Visit in April or May to hear heroic tales of protecting the Springtime buds from the last frosts of the season.
Regardless of when you visit, you’ll have the very best experience at County wineries if you remember these tips:
- To start, check the Prince Edward County Winegrowers’ Association website for a map and up to date listings;
- Then call ahead or send a DM to check opening hours and whether reservations are necessary;
- Plan for 3-4 wineries in a day, with stops for snacks and lunch;
- Bring your own refillable water bottle to stay hydrated and rinse your palate;
- Designate your driver – whether it’s a member of your party or one of The County’s tour operators;
- And finally, heed the COVID-19 travel tips and pay close attention to signs and instructions at each winery.
And remember: a tasting is nice, but a bottle is better. There’s no better way to thank a winemaker for their year-round efforts than to walk away with a bottle or two in your bag.
From gourmet hot dog carts to farm-to-table restaurants, County wineries have a variety of food offerings to keep you fuelled.
For a sit-down lunch or dinner, check out the gazebo restaurant at Waupoos Estates Winery. This Feast On certified resto features estate grown produce, proteins from their farm, and of course their estate grown wines. La Pergola restaurant at Casa Dea offers Italian cuisine at their restaurant and patio overlooking their vines.
Wood fired pizza and wine are a match made in heaven. Stop in at Norman Hardie Winery for their popular wood-fired, thin crust pizza. Hillier Creek Estates serves their ‘za on the prettiest creek side patio. Three Dog Winery in Sophiasburgh offers wood fired pizza on weekends, including gluten-free options. For authentic Italian ingredients and a traditional dough recipe, visit Tony at TerraCello. Next door neighbours Huff Estates offer wood fired pizza and wine by the glass at their contemporary tasting room. Closer to Picton, head to Black Prince Winery and sample one of six gourmet pizzas on their pergola covered patio.
Craving something different? Head to The Grange of Prince Edward for gourmet hot dogs served by Old Salt Cocktails, or visit the hand-made pasta bar at The Old Third Vineyard. Enjoy a pretty drive to Cressy and visit Cape Vineyards who offer a farm market and traditional English pastys from the County Pasty Co. Vegans and vegetarians can get their fill at Karlo Estates Winery, who serve plant-based picnic boxes.
Just need a snack? In that case, make a perfect wine and cheese pairing at Lighthall Vineyards. Artisanal gouda, manchego, cheddar, brie and more are made onsite by the winemaker.
The County’s wineries shake up their food offerings regularly and host pop-ups, food trucks, culinary events and more. You’ll want to check in with your favourites and plan your perfect wine and food combo.
Top Notch County Wine Lists
You’ll be hard pressed to find a County restaurant without local wine on the list. Some restos have gone a step further offering excellent County wine programs – either exclusively local lists, or a big County focus with knowledgeable servers who can recommend the right pairing.
Staying near Wellington? If so, you could make a reservation at East and Main Bistro, a County mainstay. They focus on local wines to pair with a luxury comfort food. Also in the village, The Drake Devonshire offers a wine by the glass menu that is stacked with County classics with house wine on tap from Rosehall Run. Around the corner on Main Street, La Condesa matches their authentic Mexican menu with an all-County wine list.
If you find yourself in Picton, you have plenty of options. The Merrill House in Picton, for example, has an extensive cellar of wines with dozens of County bottles and wine by the glass. The in-house Wine Director Astrid Young is well versed in local wines and offers tasting experiences as well. Another Picton haunt, The County Canteen, offers an exclusively County wine list alongside their extensive Ontario craft beer offerings and elevated pub fare. Also in Picton, Stella’s Eatery has a County-forward wine list and passionate staff who know how to recommend the perfect bottle.
County wine abounds outside the main towns, too. The Milford in – you guessed it – Milford, offers a tight but thoughtful County wine list to pair with its comfort food menu. Also off the beaten path at Lake on the Mountain, you can savour an epic view, County wines, and carefully curated charcuterie at The Miller House.
County Wine + County Take Out
2020 is the year of takeout, and you can easily elevate your take out experience with a bottle of County wine. To that end, we asked a few local restaurateurs what they would recommend with their star take-out dishes.
Chef Guerin Sykes from The Marans suggests pairing Closson Chase‘s Vineyard 2018 Pinot Noir with his popular Mapo tofu with braised Walt’s Sugar Shack pork. “The touch of spice on the nose of the Pinot Noir brings out the warm cinnamon and Schezwan peppercorn aromas wafting from the plate,” says Sykes. “The extra-dry, light flavour of the wine compliments the pork in this dish by cutting through its richness.”
Laura Borutski of the Bloomfield Public House Market has got the perfect match for their classic take out dish. Try Judy’s Original Fried Chicken plus Lightall Vineyard‘s The Fence sparkling rose. “This go-to County wine is one of our best sellers,” she says. “We like it because it cuts through the richness and pairs beautifully with the spices in the chicken. It finishes crisp, dry and refreshing.” Grab the chicken from the patio restaurant and the wine from the on-site Market.
Chef Samantha Valdivia of La Condesa pairs two of her popular take out dishes with Rosehall Run‘s Unoaked Chardonnay: the Mushroom Taco with poblanos, queso fresco and pumpkin seeds, and the Ceviche Tostada with lime-cured seafood, cilantro, tomato and guac. “The Unoaked Chardonnay is the perfect pairing for our ceviche and our mushroom taco,” she says. “The refreshing citrus with the floral Chardonnay makes it a perfect match!”
There are endless possibilities when it comes to pairing County wine and County takeout. Many restaurants can sell wine by the bottle with takeout, providing one stop shopping at its best!
At Home Winery Experience
Play sommelier at home and craft a County tasting experience in the comfort of your own space. If your overnight digs don’t come with quality wine glasses, treat yourself to some new stemware at Zest Kitchen Shop or Susan’s Kitchen Drawer at Cooke’s Fine Foods. Once you have your drinking vessels arranged, have some water on hand to cleanse your palate, some classic wine snacks like chocolate, cheese and nuts, and pens and paper for taking notes.
Whether you pick up your County bottles at the LCBO or direct from County wineries, you’ll want to have a theme in mind. Maybe you’ll taste a few crisp whites and explore The County’s cool climate Chardonnay. Indulge in a flight of estate grown Pinot Noir to really taste The County terroir. Maybe bubbles are in order (The County offers many styles of sparkling wine). You could try a white, rose and red from the same vineyard. You could do the tastings “blind” by concealing the labels, for added layer of fun.
Now pour, swirl, sniff and sip. Don’t worry about doing it right, all that matters is that you enjoy the experience and have fun. Compare tasting notes – what do you see, smell and taste? There are no wrong answers. There are plenty of tips online for at-home tastings, so do a quick Google and set yourself up to explore!
Questions, corrections or comments? Email the author.