Certain lifestyle limitations we are all faced with right now have had a huge impact on our capacity to travel, which for many people, including myself, is a way to escape, recharge, and reinvigorate the soul. Having gone to Luxembourg in October during the lowest of the pandemic curve certainly helped me scratch an itch (even if I spent most of the time working indoors) but now the mind has been opened to the possibilities of seeing beyond my neighborhood corners and into the wilderness of the world. This world may be limited by the Canadian borders but there is still plenty to see even just here in Ontario.
This pursuit of seeing something new transpired a short trip to Prince Edward County (PEC), which proved to be an excellent escape from the everyday blue-screen reality that has taken a toll on my posture, to say the least.
Choosing PEC is always easy: there is wine, beer, farm-to-table dining, beautiful open vistas stretching as far as the eye can see, and 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 on the province, a more subtle, youthful community of makers determined to make their mark in the world.
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The county spans 800km of shorelines with two beautiful beaches and a handful of quaint small towns, 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 on to a wool scarf while letting the heels sink into the send: “This is nice”.
Note: COVID-19 rules and restrictions change frequently, make sure to check regulations before traveling. Each location and establishment deals with the operations differently so planning ahead is very important.
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 which fosters the growth of colder climate European grapes.
The first stop entering the county is Redtail Vineyards, 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, where at this time they only offer prepackaged tasting flights (3 small sample bottles and a signature glass) and Hinterland Wine Company who’s 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 another nontraditional wines. Both flights were a delightful surprise with Les Etoiles bubbly and L’Imparfait Négociant Famille Pinotbeing particularly fascinating, the latter is a collaboration between the winery and Chef David MacMillan of Joe Beef, Montreal.
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 who 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, I couldn’t help but wonder how different this would have been in the normal times, but all things considered, this experience felt blissfully close to wine tasting normality.
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 their tasting room: accessed through the wineshop this is a cozy room, decorated with red-themed Victorian furniture, with a dimly lit low ceiling. The space 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 the cold days, the only tasting room is a balcony above the taproom, 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 who was also participating in Countylicious: 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 event is on from October 30th to November 22nd).
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, who also designed Her Majesty’s Pleasure and Annex Residences, among many other notable city spots. The property is sitting directly on the lake, evoking a certain sense of peace while allowing guests to have what they coined as “good clean fun” across various common spaces in the building.
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 have always been supporters 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 the 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.