Picturesque scenery, local cuisine, and endless rows of vineyards: no, I'm not talking Bordeaux or Napa but of the Prince Edward County wine scene. A few hour drive from Toronto, this wine region (aka The County) lined along Lake Ontario has become a go-to weekend getaway in my neck of the woods.
The thing that surprises most non-locals is that Southern Ontario is book-ended by wine country – there's Niagara to the west and Prince Edward County to the east. As of now, The County still flies under the radar but that's quickly changing; the wine scene started there about 15 years ago and now has more than 30 wineries and a reputation that grows with each harvest. The area is spread out, a mix of small communities and rural farming, but there are wineries to swirl and sip, farmers markets to taste local produce (the sweet corn is famous), and white beaches to soak up sun. The town of Picton is probably best known — it's charming, lined with B&Bs, and centrally located — but my vote is for Wellington, which though further west but closer to the wine.
So, make like a local, take a few days next time you're in the region, and stop by some of these, my favorite finds:
Bubbly (and soon to come cider and beer) at Hinterland
Masters of all things bubbly, Hinterland has quickly became a favorite. You can’t go wrong with their vibrant pink Ancestral or more classic White Cap. Grab a glass and park at a picnic table in their backyard, and make sure to try their slushies if they're being served — they were, after all, the inspiration for these Frozen Peach Bellnis.
Check the Chardonnay at Closson Chasse
I’m more of a red wine drinker, but I won't refuse a good glass of Chardonnay. Grab a glass of white and relax in the garden overlooking the vineyards, and, I haven’t been, but word is they host a mean Sunday night supper club.
Pinot and Pizza at Norman Hardie
In my book, nothing beats the combo of wine and a wood-fired pizza, which is why Norman Hardie is a must visit. Put your name down for a table then mosey upstairs to the tasting room for some of the best Pinot Noir in the region or a glass of their County Chardonnay. If you’re lucky, you may even catch them on a day when they’re shucking oysters on the deck in which case you should prepare to make an afternoon of it.
Live music at By-Chadsey’s Cairns
Tucked off the main strip, this tasting room sits behind a barn on a landscape dotted with hay bales and wildflowers. The winery hosts live concerts in their barn, so be sure to check their calendar to see what's happening.
Make time for the Fortified Dessert Wine at Exultet
A small family-run operation nestled in the southern edge of the County, Exultet has a good Port but their Pinot Noir dessert wine is worth the drive alone.
Stop for sunset at County Cider Company
There are fruit orchards throughout the region, so it was only a matter of time before someone started making cider. With a fantastic selection and immense garden, County Cider is a great way to end the day – sipping on a pint of their seasonal cider, amidst the vineyards, overlooking the water.
Break from the wine at Barley Days Brewery
Or, after a full day of wine tasting, head to Barley Days Brewery and switch it up with a beer. They have several beers on tap or you can grab a mixed 6-pack to go and park yourself by the water to watch the sun set.
Stop by Wellington Farmer’s Market
Taking place in the church parking lot, this quaint farmers market brings together local artists and farmers selling everything from produce, to pickles, tarts and art. I'm partial to Vicki’s Veggies.
Stay At Drake Devonshire Inn
Why I adore the Drake Devonshire? Because it's a century-old Inn transformed into a modern boutique hotel and set on the edge of Lake Ontario. Each of the twelve rooms are uniquely decorated and that style extends to the public spaces – including a game room, two large dining rooms, and a showstopping fireplace. Even if you’re not staying here, swing by for a meal or at least to roast some homemade marshmallows over the fire.
Wonder at the Lake on the Mountain
Yes, this is a lake. On the top of a mountain. Set high above Picton Bay, the lake sits just off the main thoroughfare but, with no visible water source, this one of Ontario’s natural wonders and the perfect place for a picnic.
Check the view at Little Bluff Conservation Area
True, this is a bit hidden and a little tough to find, but, with high limestone and views of Prince Edward Bay, it's worth the search.
Walk the white sand at Sandbanks
This park is a gem, filled with sand dunes, walking trails, long stretches of beach, family friendly campsites, birding and boating. It's a pretty amazing way to spend a Sunday or to kick back after a day of wine touring.
Shelley is the voice and photographer behind the food and travel blog, Sevengrams. When not at her day job as an architect in Toronto, Shelley can be found cooking in her kitchen, strolling through the nearby market, or escaping on weekends with her boyfriend (aka the in-house taste tester). // All photos by Shelley Ludman