Choosing Prince Edward County (PEC) is always easy: there is wine, beer, farm-to-table dining, and beautiful open vistas stretching as far as the eye can see. And best of all, it’s only a few short hours out of the city. The region is not as densely populated by vineyards as one would find in Niagara but this open landscape offers a different view of the province. It is a more subtle, youthful community of makers determined to make their mark in the world.
The county spans 800km of shorelines with two beautiful beaches and a handful of quaint small towns. The towns are slowly gentrifying and opening doors to boutique shops and restaurants, while holding on to historic spots and antique family markets. Our short adventure was an overnight stay with a loosely planned itinerary and sadly, pretty poor weather. But “the wind cannot stop us from enjoying this mini-vacation” I kept telling myself clutching onto a wool scarf while letting the heels sink into the send: “This is nice”.
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There are 20 wineries across Prince Edward County, some are clustered together, others a bit more remote. The moderated temperatures of the region are sponsored by nothing other than Lake Ontario. But unlike the sister region South of the city, PEC has a unique flavor advantage created by the calcareous limestone and clay deposits in the soil. This composition fosters the growth of colder-climate European grapes.
The first stop entering the county is Redtail Vineyards. It is a lovely property with a shaded outdoor tasting area and a few tables out in the field. The wines are produced using traditional methods with minimal intervention creating what the winemakers call a “true representation of vintage and terroir”. After tasting a flight of 4 wines we both agreed on taking home a bottle of Fumé Gris and some Pinot Noir.
Having booked a sit-down tasting at 3:30 pm there was still some time to kill so we dropped by the Grange of Prince Edward Vineyards. At the time they only offered pre-packaged tasting flights (3 small sample bottles and a signature glass). Up next was Hinterland Wine Company whose cozy indoor tasting room I wouldn’t mind making a regular spot. At Hinterland the guests are invited to choose one of 3 tasting options, one of which features sparkling and other nontraditional wines. Both flights were a delightful surprise with Les Etoiles bubbly and L’Imparfait Négociant Famille Pinot being particularly fascinating. The latter is a collaboration between the winery and Chef David MacMillan of Joe Beef, Montreal. This was a limited release and may be no longer available.
For the sit-down tasting, we joined the Closson Chase team at their off-site location for a small group experience. This curated one-hour tasting takes place in a spacious room, heated by a small fireplace. The tasting was guided by a knowledgeable and entertaining sommelier. He walked us through 4 wine and food pairings peppered with wine education. Sitting across two other couples in a classroom-like environment, making jokes, and discussing each other’s faults in following the teacher’s instructions was quite fun.
One of the new discoveries for me and a must-visit for the next trip is Karlo Estates. A humble 200+-year-old barn that houses an artisanal winery, proudly making natural wine with minimal intervention. What made this spot distinctly special is its tasting room. The tasting room is accessed through the wine shop. It is a cozy space, decorated with red-themed Victorian furniture, with a dimly lit low ceiling. The room feels like a swanky speakeasy one could spend many hours in, discussing literature and the current state of affairs (see a brief walkthrough reel here).
PEC is well known for its breweries, many of which are very new, popping up throughout the county like spring flowers with vast outdoor hangout areas and long lists of beers. Many of these spots are not open early in the week, which is when we were visiting. But even with the little time that we had left, we found some really fun spots to cozy up in.
Parsons Brewing Co., located in Picton, is a beautiful family-owned property wrapping around a newly built multi-level barn, serving up sustainable craft beers. A short drive away is Prince Eddy’s Brewing Co., recommended to us by the Cannery Row shop team. This is a surf-inspired style brewery producing ultimate summer beers. On cold days, the only tasting room is a balcony above the taproom. This room is cheerfully wallpapered with tropical plant motifs and equipped with ping pong and foosball tables. From here the guests get a full view of the production process as it happens. Another well-established local favorite is Midtown Brewing Company. Located in the heart of Wellington this is also a popular lunch and dinner spot.
The stay: Drake Devonshire
One of the main reasons we went on this adventure was my longing desire to return to the Drake Devonshire*. This time of the year they were participating in Countylicious. The event is a county-wide foodie event that allows diners to relish in some of the best farm-to-table chef’s menus as set courses.
The hotel is the sister property of the Drake which has been a staple in Toronto for many years. This is a century-old Devonshire Inn recently revamped by ERA architects and interior designer John Tong of +tongtong inc. This group also designed Her Majesty’s Pleasure and Annex Residences, among many other notable city spots. The property is sitting directly on the lake, evoking an easy-to-tap-into sense of peace.
The hotel* has a modern yet cozy feel, drawing on the shades of wood, beach, and water with a bold mix of graffiti and choice pieces like a long, tub-shaped century couch in the common room. Naturally, there is a lot of modern art placed across the hotel and outdoors – the Drake Hotel has always been a supporter of the local art community. Rooms are tastefully decorated with notes of playful humor sprinkled in unexpected places like the flea market found old paintings. The bathrooms are a simple balance of black and white, spacious and inviting, complemented by oversized bathrobes.
With the weather dipping into cold temperatures, all guests are invited to roast marshmallows by the fire pit in the Motor Inn hotel extension across the street or simply enjoy a cookie and a bottle of complimentary local wine in the room as a nightcap.
After indulging in a 3-course Countylicious meal we chose to spend the rest of the evening in my favorite part of the hotel: the exposed glass box games room. Here the guests can play ping pong, foosball, or Four In A Row with a cocktail one may have carried out of the bar.
To facilitate social distancing the restaurant has been extended into the entertainment room which also looks out on the lake. At night the view is almost absent – the darkness of the county sets in well with minimal light pollution and the vastness of the lake – but in the morning the lake offers a great view to ponder over at breakfast.
In the gear bag: Fujifilm X-T100 with an XF50mmF2 R WR lens.. To see the trip on Instagram see the “PEC” highlight on my Instagram profile.