Return to the County

We spent Saturday and Sunday in Prince Edward County. I kept telling people I hadn’t been there in two years. I was wrong — it’s been three years. No wonder it felt like such a different place.

We left Saturday morning, arriving in Hillier around lunchtime. I reckoned our first stop should be wood oven pizza at Norm Hardie’s, but that plan blew up when the line of cars extended so far down the driveway we knew we wouldn’t get a table. We didn’t even stop, just did a U-turn and came up with a plan B.

Since we were right there we tootled down the road to Rosehall Run. I’ve had both good and bad experiences with that winery, so I wasn’t sure which we’d get. Turns out it was the latter. The tasting room was slammed. It was tough to get someone to pour for us, and when they did they handed us plastic patio glasses. You know, the ones with the thumb groove. We mentioned that to a few other wineries, who reacted with horror. We didn’t like much of what we tried, but did leave with a 2014 JCR Pinot Noir.

I figured we might as well start the journey down Closson Road, and we started at Hinterland. I warned Lindsay that there are often one or more woohoo-y bachelorette parties at Hinterland; sure enough, one was occupying half the tasting bar when we got there. The other half was subsumed by picture-taking tourists. This was not the county I remembered. This was not the peaceful experience I’d described to Lindsay over the summer. We contemplated leaving, but then managed to squeak into one corner so Lindsay could try the sparkling. She already knew she liked the Whitecap; she bought a 2013 Blanc de Blancs to take away. Suddenly, the tasting room emptied (after the bride forcibly extracted her future bridesmaid Caitlin/Caitlyn/Catelyn/Kaitlyn/Katelyn from the bar so they could continue their reign of terror) and the County was peaceful again.

We decided to eat lunch at the County Road brewery/restaurant next door, which wasn’t even there in 2014, but was now packed to the gills. We shared tomatoes with sourdough and local mozzarella, and beer bratwurst with pickles, and Lindsay tried a few beer samples. While there we met up with our friend Duarte, who lives in the County now, bought some beer, and followed him to our next winery: The Grange of Prince Edward.

I’d been to The Grange before and hadn’t been impressed, but either their wine has improved or my palette has, because a few months ago we shared a bottle of their Estate Cab Franc and loved it. Duarte gave us the grand tour and we tasted through their wines; we eventually left with three bottles of the 2013 Estate Cabernet Franc, two of the 2012 Brut Rosé, a 2013 Estate Chardonnay, and a magnum (!) of the 2014 Pinot Noir / Gamay. The tasting room was mad — we were definitely getting the stinkeye from others who weren’t receiving the same personal attention, and there were no fewer than three bachelorette parties present — but it was a wonderful stop.

We drove down Closson with the intention of stopping at Closson Chase, but the swarm of cars out front warned us off. Instead we drove a little further to the peace and quiet (and delicious Pinot) of The Old Third. We chatted, reveled in the beautiful (and calm!) barn, and bought a bottle of their 2015 vintage. We were finally finding our County groove.

Our last winery of the day was one I’d never heard of until a few weeks ago (hot tip from Laura at Chez Nous Wine Bar) called Domaine Darius. The grounds look like a hobbit’s garden, while the tasting room, a small underground cave, does nothing to dissuade you from that comparison. But the wine? The wine was fantastic. So unexpected, and so different (for the most part) from what I’d expect in the County. We tasted all three they had on offer (2016 Gewurztraminer, 2016 Chardonnay, and 2015 Cuvée red blend), and bought two bottles of each.

Our plan was to head to our AirBnb in Wellington, but we’d been told about one last must-visit: Parsons Brewing, just north of Picton. We took the back roads and found a much bigger operation than I’d expected: a restaurant with a huge outdoor space, families milling about, a bottle shop, and a small bar where we parked ourselves. Lindsay tried a flight, but my favourite was definitely the Grandpa Miguel’s coffee stout. I ended up buying a bottle of that and the Rinda Rinda to take home with us.

Finally, we opted to retreat to our AirBnb, which sat right on Lake Ontario. We had an hour or so to relax, and spent most of it on the back deck. I was done driving for the day, thankfully.

Dinner that night was at Wellington stalwart East & Main. We split the salad and beef carpaccio. I had the pork chop; Lindsay had the pickerel special. We had all this with an outstanding Closson Chase 2014 KJ Watson Pinot Noir. Creme brulee and bread pudding and coffees to finish it off, and we were finished. On the way home we were robbed by a cab driver from Cronkie’s Cab Company, who charged us $25 for driving us 900 metres. So much for the county vibe.

Determined to have a good time anyway, we went back to driving ourselves the next day. First up: Norman Hardie, attempt #2. We arrived just a few minutes after 11, having skipped breakfast to make sure we were good and hungry. We each got a pizza (which meant we had far too much, and took a whole one with us in the car) and baked in the sun, because the kid who seated us didn’t understand that by ‘cover’ I meant ‘shade’ and sat us where there was decidedly neither. Only after we hurriedly finished, already sunburned, did we see the breezeway with shade. Anyway. We went to the nice, cool tasting room and bought two bottles: the 2015 Cabernet Franc and 2015 Cabernet Franc Sans Soufre.

From there we fumbled around the back roads a bit before landing at Trail Estate. The last time I was there they’d just opened; now they’re a bit of a fancy operations, having also landed Hardie’s former assistant winemaker as their own. We liked everything they poured, and took both a 2016 Wild Ferment Riesling and a 2015 Cabernet Franc.

Our last winery of the trip was Closson Chase, now happily uncrowded. We picked a few samples and sat ourselves the beautiful (shaded) backyard, enjoying the wine (we bought a 2014 South Clos Chardonnay and a 2014 Churchside Pinot Noir), playing with a dog named Bella, and taking in the beautiful view. It was a perfect note on which to end our County visit.

On the way out of town we stopped for some dirty roadside ice cream (which is to say, the best ice cream) and made it back to Toronto without much hassle. All that was left to do was unpack everything and tuck away the age-worthy bottles for another day.


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