We left downtown Toronto just past 9am on a Sunday and hit wine country by 11. It may only be 2 hrs away, but it was a whole new world.
Having never been before I was surprised with how rural it was. With more farms than vines, I couldn’t help but wonder if this is what Niagara looked like 30 years ago. We were ready to stop for food and plan out the day but any regular wine taster knows the best tips come from those behind the tasting bar, so when we spotted a sign for Huff Estates we knew a quick stop was in order.
STOP #1 Huff Estates
An Impressive estate to pull into, it boasts a gallery and accommodation on site. The first thing we tasted was Cuvée Janine, a stand out amongst all we tasted that day. We were told it smelt like watermelon and I still remember that wine so clearly thanks to that one description. We were served by Tim, a sommelier from South Africa who shared stories of his background and gave us the inside scoop on the county.
It was his last words of advice which would set the tone for the day. He stressed to take our time, to really get to know the people and “don’t be in a rush”.
And with that, we left to start our day.
STOP #2 Closson Chase
We almost missed the cut off to this winery (word to the wise; keep your eyes peeled for road signs, there’s not much signage in the county).
When we got out of the car, we were taken aback by the “eerie” silence. I say eerie in the best possible way, but it was a silence and calm which was a welcome surprise compared to that of Niagara.
We sat out back and ordered two flights of wine. The sun was strong but the crispness of fall was all around and the only real sound was that of bird bangers in the distance. This was the P.E.C experience I was waiting for.
(Tasting a flight of 2012 PEC pinot vs. 2015 Niagara pinot)
STOP #3 The Grange
We actually thought we’d entered a private property when we drove in (in fact, I’m pretty sure we did), but once passed the house we spotted the winery and knew we were in the right place. This winery had been on my list and the setting was beautiful. I was a bit let down by the wines simply because there was a limited selection to taste, but the atmosphere made it worth the stop. We had yet another great convo with the staff behind the bar; a Vancouverite who’d made his way east to see what wine in Ontario was all about.
STOP #4 Hinterland
If it was the people behind the bar that were becoming the theme of this trip, Hinterland was no exception. We spoke to a lovely girl named Rachel, a self-proclaimed “ex-raver” who lived in Panama, now turned wine lover. She spoke to the wines with authentic passion. I loved when she explained how the Blanc de Blancs was like a magnifying glass to their terroir. Speak to me in metaphor and you speak to my heart.
We had such a great experience here that time flew by and we didn’t make it to the brewery! But we left with bottles in hand and I can’t wait to open up my Blanc de Blancs, and remember this experience.
STOP #5 Lunch at Drake on Devonshire.
Niagara needs a place like this.
Modern, hip, cool, and right on the water, it doesn’t get much better. The food was also top notch, which has made this an absolute must stop in my books. We could’ve stayed here all afternoon, cozied up with a cup of coffee, lake breeze in the air and the sound of waves crashing onto shore, but we had a mission to attend to!
Stop #6 Rosehall Run
Not going to lie, the only reason I came here was because my Mom’s name is Pixie and they make a wine named Pixie. However we came, we tasted, we had more quality conversations and I left with a bottle of some of the best Pinot Noir, I tasted all day.
Also worth noting, all their wine is estate-grown which is often not the case in P.E.C. The majority of wineries make wine with grapes grown in Niagara.
STOP# 7 Norman Hardie
I first came across Norm Hardie while he was teaching a class at Brock University. I was quickly intrigued by this man and his vibe. Fast forward many years and the rumors started pouring in that this was THE place to do harvest, so much so that kids slept on the cellar floor just for the opportunity to work alongside him. I asked about this, and I can confirm, it’s no rumor. The winery isn’t so much a winery but a way of life, it’s as if passion oozes from everyone you encounter on this property.
We pulled up to a very busy pizza patio (ah ha! So this is where all the people were). This pizza patio sits pretty much smack-dab in the middle of their crush pad, I’ve never seen space so efficiently used as I did here. We walked upstairs to the tasting gallery where we had the pleasure of being served by Chris. Again, it was the people who made the experience. We even found out one of the girls behind the bar hadn’t slept because she was up all night working harvest!
This place was brimming with energy. Walking into Norman Hardie, was like getting a glimpse into the next generation of Canadian wine and allows you to see what can happen when you get the right people in the room.
(Harvest in full eswing outside Norman Hardie)
And as the clock ticked past 6pm it was time to hit the road.
P.E.C is a breath of fresh air in an industry that is sometimes too stuffy. It’s full of heart and soul, and people who genuinely care about what they do. I’m thankful we met Tim at the start of our day, for he helped me remember that wine will always come back to the people and their stories. This is what it’s all about and there’s no better example of this than here in Prince Edward County.