We’ve been making our way out to Prince Edward County for almost a decade now, and it has been amazing to watch this corner of our beautiful province grow, with each passing year, into the incredible wine region that it is today. Every time we visit there are new experiences that “crop” up – from new wineries, to new restaurants and funky places to kick your feet up, to quirky shops and galleries – we can safely say that since our first trip back in 2009, Prince Edward County has really come into its own and developed some deep roots in the wine world!
According to Wine Country Ontario, “The County” is Ontario’s newest wine appellation and has been touted as one of Canada’s top tourist destinations. We certainly agree with that assessment, which is why we published our Sparkling Wine Weekend Guide to Prince Edward County last summer. Not only did it provide an in-depth look at all that sparkles in the area, it also highlighted some of our favourite places to shop, hit the hay, eat and let loose (County style). But there is SO much more than just spectacular sparkling wine popping up out in The County!
Luckily for us, the Wine Country Ontario 2018/19 Travel Guide came out just in time to inspire us to take a closer look at the diversity of Ontario’s newest viticultural area. With just one night to explore, we wanted to make sure that we had a quintessentially “County” experience, so we decided to make this trip a “Red, White and Sparkling” one (…hey, we don’t drink sparkling all the time ya’know 😜)! We #GotTheGuide and used it to map out an itinerary exploring the best of different styles of VQA wine in The County. From “Classic County” …with a twist! (from Norman Hardie & The Grange), to “Big Reds” (from Karlo Estates), to “Elegant & Aromatic Whites” (from Rosehall Run), and of course, “County Sparkling” (from Hinterland… and maybe a little extra from Rosehall Run). 🙊 You didn’t think we’d leave without checking in on the sparkling scene, did you? 😆
9:00 a.m. – Depart Toronto
We suggest leaving Toronto (or whatever your point of departure is) early in the day to make the most out of your time in The County and arrive ahead of lunch hour. If you’re coming from the big smoke, you’ll want to budget about 2.5 hours of driving time before you’ll see the highway blend into the landscape of rolling hills and gleaming shores of Lake Ontario. Ah, the fresh air!
As always, be sure to appoint a designated driver for your trip (or hire a driver when you arrive in The County).
12:00 p.m. – Norman Hardie Winery
We suggest kicking off your whirlwind weekend in The County at Norman Hardie Winery (1152 Greer Road, Wellington ON) with a tasting of Norm’s famous VQA wines… followed by his equally famous wood-fired thin crust pizza for lunch!
Norm Hardie is a legend and work horse in the Ontario wine industry. He’s worked for the best producers of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in Burgundy, Oregon, California, New Zealand and South Africa prior to putting down roots in The County. Aside from his many duties at the winery, he happens to be travel across the globe, sharing the story of not only his wines, but Ontario’s VQA wine industry as a whole.
So, it should come as no surprise that Norm’s wines are wonderful and that the winery is the ultimate test for his passion. Whether grown in the County or in Niagara, Norm’s wines tell the story of place. With vineyards planted in the area back in 2003, the winery’s portfolio now includes not only County staples of VQA Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but also other cool climate varietals that thrive in Ontario.
For this reason, we feel that Norman Hardie is a perfect example of the Classic County (…with a twist!) category. At Norm’s, you can sample County grown Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and try them next to Norm’s Niagara grown wines to truly appreciate the distinct minerality of the wines in this region. And, you can also try some of the other amazing things Norm’s been fermenting up, including some super interesting unsulphured wines. Oh, and nosh on the thin crust wood-fired pizza served on the patio overlooking the vineyards from May through to Thanksgiving weekend. Oh yeah, and we may have spotted some freshly shucked oysters by the tasting bar too! 🤤
2:00 p.m. – Rosehall Run Vineyards
Rosehall Run Vineyards (1243 Greer Road, Wellington ON) was featured in our Sparkling Wine Weekend Guide to Prince Edward County, as we love the diversity of VQA sparkling wines produced at this wonderful winery. From the fresh and approachable Pixie and Indigo to the rich and complex Stardust and Ceremony, the sparkling portfolio is spectacular (you could say the bubbles give the rest of the wines at a Rosehall a Run for their money… see what we did there! 😜). With that said, we’re going to shift focus from the sparkling wines here a little bit, and suggest that that you explore the delightful Elegant & Aromatic Whites when you visit this amazing winery.
From estate grown Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and Sauvignon Blanc – Rosehall showcases the wonderful ability of this region to produce elegant and aromatic white wines. Aside from the beautiful wines with racy acidity and that distinctive County minerality, what we love about Rosehall Run is that it offers an intimate and authentic experience for visitors, and is a perfect venue to experience all that the County has to offer. Owner and winemaker Dan Sullivan crafts elegant and approachable VQA wines (red, white, rosé and sparkling) that originate from meticulously tended vineyards.
And, let us remind you that three out of four sparklers produced here are white, so hey… try them in the line up to really appreciate the ability of Rosehall Run, and by extension the County, to produce expressive, elegant and aromatic white wines. (Seriously, don’t leave without trying the sparkling! 😜) Oh, and the new Pinot Noir which Jeff is pictured tasting above… amongst the vines that it came from! 😍
3:30 p.m. – Karlo Estates
It’s time to leave Greer Road behind!
Head west to Karlo Estates (561 Danforth Road, Wellington ON). As you’ll see in this year’s Wine Country Ontario 2018/19 Travel Guide, Karlo Estates has won Trip Advisor’s Award of Excellence since it’s inception. And on top of that, it was recognized twice as producing one of the “Top Ten Cutting Edge Wines in the World.” As we learned on a past trip out to the winery last November, Karlo is also the first vegan certified winery in North America! And, the cool factor doesn’t end there: the winery’s dry stone bridge has the longest span in North America. Nerd alert, we totally geeked out over it.
Legendary winemaker Derek Barnett, recognized as the National Capital Sommelier Guild’s “Wine Person of the Year”, calls Karlo home. Supported by a team of talented folks, including assistant winemaker Spencer Mayer, Karlo is home to some of the biggest (if not the biggest) reds in The County. In a wine region known for it’s difficult growing conditions, where most have focused on the lighter-bodied Pinot Noir, we have mad respect for the range of fuller-bodied bold reds coming out of this winery. Rooted in old world wine making traditions, Karlo achieves the almost unachievable with its red portfolio. From estate grown Malbec, to Marquette (a hybrid), to Nebbiolo, to the classic Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc, the estate grown reds here are in a league of their own!
Oh, and don’t leave without checking out Sherry’s loft gallery. As if she couldn’t get any cooler, she’s also a talented artist that specializes in realist art works. And give Little Bug (the Chief Cat of Operations) all the pets for us!! 💖
5:00 p.m. – Check-in at The Drake Devonshire
A destination unto it’s own, the Drake Devonshire (24 Wharf St, Wellington, ON) is a great place to kick back and enjoy the sights and sounds of the quaint village of Wellington. From it’s idyllic location on the shore of Lake Ontario, to the great people watching, to the architecture, to the art walk… it’s a great place to unwind after exploring wine country. And, if you’re not looking to unwind, not to worry – there’s lots to see and do here and in surrounding Wellington! While it is a cute bite-sized piece of The County, it’s probably one of the liveliest villages we’ve been to. From excellent dining, to a brewery, to a piano bar, to beachfront walks and a winery in walking distance, you’re not short for options here.
But back to the Drake. We love the city-meets-country vibe of the hotel. Art installations? Check. Neon? Check. Great views? Check. Whether you’re splurging for the stunning Owners’ Suite (with it’s beautiful vista) or enjoying the Creekside Balcony room (which is more in our budget), the Drake has your comforts figured out. We loved the balcony in our room, which gave us a unique perspective on the nearby creek and outdoor art works. And, the balcony is the perfect spot for a County chardonnay or late-night bubbly night cap. Not that we stay up late, or anything! 😜
Aside from a great place to crash, the Drake has a beautiful waterfront bar and seating area that just might be the perfect place to enjoy a hand crafted cocktail or glass of local wine. Whether it’s by the glass or bottle, the wine list is extensive and County wineries are featured heavily – though if you’re looking for champagne, they do also feature the best of the world. Sidebar: our favourites, Rosehall Run, partnered with the Drake for their red and white house wines. So, when you see Flophouse on the list, don’t fret. It’s not a flop, since the wine comes from Rosehall! And if you’re not in the mood to head out and explore Wellington, just stick around and and grab dinner at the onsite restaurant!
7:00 p.m. – Dinner/Drinks at The Courage
Dinner in Wellington should always be at The Courage 😍 (298 Wellington Main St, Wellington, ON). Easily the coolest and most delicious restaurant (oh, and run by the most wonderful people – Hi Nona & Tyler!), The Courage offers a menu that celebrates local and seasonal ingredients. Fun fact: we learned that a local couple, 10 minutes down the road, grows as much of their produce as possible! Dinner is served Wednesday to Saturday, 5:30 to close. They’re open for open for lunch and brunch too. Oh, and the best part? It’s a 2 minute walk from your digs at the Drake Devonshire.
We certainly worked up an appetite after a full afternoon of tasting, and after grabbing the perfect table by the window looking out on Wellington Main Street, we immediately ordered Indonesian Squid (in an XO sauce, with Asian pear, crispy rice and green onion) and the Gyoza Dumplings (filled with radish, sweet potato, house kimchi, onion and beet). Both were outta this world! And since neither of us have been known to turn down gnocchi and fried chicken, we both opted for the County Chicken (with gnocchi, turnips, fermented tomato and black vinegar caramel) for our mains. All while wetting our whistles with some County sparkling from The Courage’s killer wine list – Lighthall’s “Progression”, Hinterland’s “Borealis” and Rosehall Run’s “Pixie” are all solid choices. Oh yeah… and we may or may not have had the Banana Sticky Toffee Pudding for dessert. 🙈
You might be so charmed that you end up staying for a nightcap, and we can’t blame ya, it’s #GoodVibesOnly at The Courage, and only 250 paces back to your cozy bed at The Drake! 😉
10:30 a.m. – Brunch at The Courage
Y’know that age-old saying “Why mess with success”?! Well, that applies here. We had such a fantastic dinner at The Courage, that we just had to go back to see what their brunch game was like. And, unsurprisingly, they knocked it out of the park! From the epic Eggs Benny (with pork belly and homemade hollandaise) to the Southern Hangover Cure (popcorn chicken, creamy grits, bourbon sauce, chillies and lime), brunch at The Courage is #NextLevel.
And you’re gonna need to fuel up! You didn’t think we’d let you leave The County without some more bubbly, did ya?! 🤔 You have two more stops to make on your way back home!
12:30 p.m. – Hinterland Wine Co.
A trip to The County would not be complete without a stop in at Hinterland Wine Co. (1258 Closson Rd, Hillier, ON), Ontario’s premiere Sparkling focused winery… hey, even though this weekend is all about diversity, we are the Sparkling Winos afterall! 😜
Founded by Jonas Newman and Vicki Samaras, we love Hinterland’s pioneering spirit, dedication, willingness to experiment, and downright amazing attitude. Oh, right… and the VQA sparkling wines of course! From Ancestral to Charmat to Traditional Method, Hinterland covers the full spectrum of sparkling winemaking, and it’s such a treat to taste all of these different styles of County sparkling side-by-side.
The winery offers tastings and tours, and groups of 6 or more are encouraged. Oh, and if you’re pressed for time or just want a chilled bottled to take home, they’ve got you covered with a pretty awesome selection of their chilled sparkling wines (and ciders!) in a Hinterland branded fridge. 😎 (Shameless plug: Check out our Sparkling Spotlight on Hinterland Wine Co. for a super in-depth look at all of their awesomeness!).
2:00 p.m. – The Grange Winery
Alright, it’s just about time to head back home – but first you’ve gotta wrap the weekend up with a big juicy cherry on top of an epic County cake! How? With a stop at The Grange Winery (990 Closson Rd, Hillier) of course! We’re wrapping it up the same we we started… celebrating Classic County (…with a twist!).
Conveniently located just up the road from Hinterland, The Grange is a beautiful boutique winery offering all the charms of the The County, with a tasting room housed in a historic barn. You really can’t get any more “County” than that!
The wines produced here are made from 100% estate grown grapes and the winemaking team is lead by a mother-daughter duo of Caroline and Maggie Granger. The Grange offers a full spectrum of beautiful terroir-driven cool climate VQA wines. From crisp aromatic whites like their “Select” Riesling and Pinot Gris, to classic County Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, to the deliciously spicy medium-bodied Cabernet Franc, and of course, our favourite: Sparkling! We love the 2011 Brut and the 2012 Brut Rosé. Both of which express the terroir of The County, and have a classic County “je ne sais quoi”. We love ’em so much!
After your tasting… wouldn’t it be perfect if you could have a quick snack before heading home? Well, luckily The Grange offers picnics in the vineyard on the weekends in May and daily from June through August. There’s nothing better than a basket featuring locally made treats (local cheese and charcuterie, summer pickles, wood fired bread) and a perfect spot overlooking the vines… except maybe a glass of Brut Rosé to go with it, of course! 😜
4:00 p.m. – Time to Head Home
Alas, your “Red, White and Sparkling” journey though The County has come to and end, and it’s time to head home. Sad face! But the good news is… you’ll be back, as there is so much more to explore in this wonderful wine region. So be sure to consult your Wine Country Ontario 2018/19 Travel Guide, and get to planning your next adventure! And while you’re at it, hey, why not share some of your photos from your epic County weekend on Instagram and Twitter? Be sure to hashtag them with #GotTheGuide – we’d love to see ’em! 😍
🚨 Contest Alert 🚨
Wanna WIN your own Ontario wine country getaway?! All you have to do is check out this post on @WineCountryOnt‘s Instagram, and like and comment which #VQA winery you want to visit this summer with the hashtag #GotTheGuide for your chance to win a getaway worth up to $1000! 🙌 Contest closes June 30th, 2018… so act quick!