Land of Plenty
Driving throughout Niagara you pass orchards interspersed with vines. Being one of the country’s largest agricultural regions, road-side stands are a kaleidoscope of fruit and vegetables, the summer’s progression marked by strawberries, cherries, corn, peaches, apricots and plums before the autumn crop of squash and apples. This abundance is preserved in the jams and fruit pies you find at 13th Street Winery’s bakery and in the pear eau-de-vie and cherry gin of Dillon’s Distillery. In Niagara-on-the-Lake, the fruit is made into silk- smooth gelato at II Gelato di Carlotta while Oast House Brewers uses everything from peaches to roasted chestnuts in their beer.
Backhouse restaurant is the region’s most ambitious spot when it comes to local food. Chef Ryan Crawford and co-proprietor Beverley Hotchkiss searched the country for a spot to set up shop, returning to Niagara because it was the only place that could satisfy Crawford’s love of cooking, growing and wine. Their hyper-local ‘cool climate cuisine’ involves whole animal butchery and made-from-scratch cheese, butter and bread (prepared using a 17-year-old sourdough starter named Roxanne). Their farm is minutes away and in the winter they use pickles, preserves and a cold storage or, if they’re lucky, some carrots might grow. Winemakers make exclusive casks for their wine- on-tap programme and the wine menu focusses on what Ontario does well – giving its terroir a rightful place among the globe’s best.
Because of the Murray Canal, Prince Edward County is technically an island. Located almost halfway between Toronto and Montreal, it feels far apart from the urban grind, with the slow rhythms of country living and small town intimacies. The County is the newest wine appellation in Ontario, with vines only planted at the turn of the millennium. The varying topography creates a mesoclimate at each vineyard, allowing you to visit 20 different wineries and taste 20 different Chardonnays. But making wine here requires one to be a little stubborn and a little mad. Since the winters get so cold, and temperatures of-25°C can kill vines, they must ‘hill up’ the vines in autumn, burying them under earth and hoping they’ve survived when dug up by hand in spring.
We stopped first at Hinterland Wine Company where Jonas Newman and Vicki Samaras craft bubbles, and only bubbles, in a converted dairy barn. Why bubbles? Because that was what the land told them to do. The cool climate and well-draining limestone bedrock are perfect for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the two principal building blocks of Champagne. But unlike France’s Champagne, they’re unhampered by convention and experiment with various methods including ancestral and the traditional double fermentation, which produces their Champagne-like Blanc de Blancs.