New World Flavour – Ontario, Canada

Loyal to the Past

ontario-wine-3Prince Edward County was first settled by Loyalists seeking refuge after the American Revolution. Cutting across the island, the Loyalist Parkway passes iconic red barns and runs through the three mam tov/ns of Wellington, Bloomfield and Picton. They’re lined with artisan shops and stately homes from the booming ‘barley days’ when the region grew rich from shipping the grain to American brewers. To see a lovingly renovated Second Empire home check out 66 Gilead Distillery.

Another architectural highlight is the Drake Devonshire Inn, which occupies a restored 1800s iron foundry. With their eye for art and design, the Drake hosts exhibitions, artists-in-residence and festivals.

A meal here is worth the splurge and afterwards you can lounge on the beach in a Muskoka chair as the sun sets. Not to be outdone, Angéline’s in Bloomfield has a variety of rustic – meets-modern rooms including a reconstructed 1860s log cabin.

Writing New Lore

Burgundy, which is what the County is most often compared to, has been making wine for 1,500 years, give or take. Through trial and error they figured out what works best. This is tradition. But the new world provides an escape from these expectations and, for winemakers, the unknown land allows them to forge new methods. This is what led Frédéric Picard to the area and what has kept him at Huff Estates Winery for 15 years. Transplanted from France, he enjoys the challenges and freedom of this still illusive land. “I can do things differently here, otherwise I’d have stayed in Burgundy.” Picard’s experimentation created a distinct traditional sparkling wine, which has the lightest of bubbles and is slightly oxidised, like leaving an apple a little too long on the counter to ripen. It was a memorable wine, one I still think of, and we enjoyed a glass of it with locally-made charcuterie on the patio.
On the main road into Picton you’ll find Canadian Vinegar Cellars at Black Prince Winery, where Pete Bradford is a man enamoured with wood. He’s one of Canada’s only master coopers and though he still builds and repairs barrels – in his shop he was experimenting with 500-year-old Douglas-fir for a fermenting barrel – his new passion is vinegar. He obsesses over every aspect of the process. Using a 1964 mother brought in from Italy, he’s ageing a ten-year-old balsamic – maybe the only such one in Canada – in 115-year-old Oloroso sherry barrels, which he saved from the junkyard. Believing there was still life in them, he spent 100 hours restoring each one, even using the old technique of slipping cattail leaves between staves to plug leaks. ‘Instead of telling a barrel when it’s ready, it tells you when it’s ready’’ontario-wine-5

There’s something of the monk in Glenn Symons. He works mostly alone at Lighthall Vineyards, secluded on a nowhere road, perfecting his wine and cheese A home vintner for 25 years, he bought the vineyard in 2008., attracted by the soil’s potential and its unwritten story He has rigorous standards and won’t sell a wine that disappoints him. Cases of an unsatisfactory rose have been in storage; waiting to be distilled to fortify a late harvest Vidal he produces. We chatted in his small production kitchen while he scooped fresh sheep milk curds into moulds. I asked him if there was a wine or cheese that he wanted to make that he hadn’t yet attempted. No, he said. He knows what he wants. Like others in the County, he has a self-confidence that comes from having found his place in the world. The job then, vintage after vintage, is listening to this place and singing it to others. That’s what wine can do.

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