MY GREAT COUNTY TOUR – PART 2
My second County tour starts in the busy hamlet of Bloomfield, and goes east. You’ll find suggestions for sleeping & eating in Bloomfield at the end, but for now brace yourself for a marathon tour of twelve wineries. And a Distillery! More than enough fun to fill two days.
Head east out of Bloomfield along Hwy#33 (the County’s main drag), and just after the light in Wellington, branch off on to Consecon Street, and follow signs for KARLO ESTATES. Which you’ll find in an old barn set behind handsome stone walls. I love the saloon feeling, the invitation to party – and there have been some. Lots of passion and quirkiness in Richard Karlo’s project and you’re sure to enjoy his innovative white Port-style wine called Van Alstine ($29 500ml). Named after an early settler.
Ask for directions to Hubbs Creek Road where you’ll find KEINT-HE just short of Lake Ontario. This winery has excellent vineyard sites but is in transition from small to larger scale so it will be a few vintages before we see how it shakes down. For now I like the lemony ‘Hillier Blanc’ 11 Chardonnay ($28), and the ‘Voyageur’ 11 Rosé ($15) which drinks like a light Pinot, because it is. A rare ‘value’ in County wine, that I could drink a ton of. The Botrytis Pinot Noir white ($25 375ml) tastes like Sauternes – major delicious.
CHADSEY’S CAIRNS is almost next door – you just need to skirt around a graveyard, a few sheep, and a guy peddling pulled pork on a bun. Cute tasting bar experience in an old apple house, where you can sample a big range of wines all with lovely vibrant flavours and personality. Such as the super refreshing/zingy 12 Muscat ($26, wish it was $15!), and the equally lively 11 ‘3-Point Hitch’ Gamay/St.Laurent ($23). There’s a sparkling St. Laurent coming out in the Fall that should turn a few heads. Check out the annual Barn Dance and list of concerts. And of course the ‘winery for sale’ sign behind the bar. You could do another next-door visit to SANDBANKS WINERY – the County’s most commercial operation, but most of the wines are Ontario blends – except for the gutsy Baco Noir.
We’re now headed for Hillier, but making a detour on Greer Road to a terrific trio of wineries. ROSEHALL RUN was founded by one of the County’s pioneers, Dan Sullivan, who hasn’t put a foot wrong since day one. He’s not afraid to offer light-bodied reds such as ZD Red ($15) and Defiant Pinot ($18) – both at LCBOs. Must-gets at the winery are the wild-as-the-wind 11 ‘County’ Cabernet Franc ($21) and blockbuster 10 ‘JCR’ Estate Chardonnay ($30). County stars for sure. Also gotta love Pixie ($20), a lighthearted sparkling Rosé for patio sipping. The CASA DEA property has seen several owners but is now finding its feet thanks to winemaker Paul Battilana. Check out his excellent Prosecco-style 12 Sparkling Rosé ($19), and the rustic 09 Cabernet Franc Reserve ($25). A perfect partner for Fall dinners. Get your daily exercise with a game of bocce on the winery’s two huge courts.
NORMAN HARDIE is the unofficial captain and promoter of Team County wines. He’s the heartbeat, the soul man – hosting hundreds of winemaker-dinners and charming all sectors of the media. You’ll find his wines at all the best restaurants. Sure his prices are high but as the song goes ‘if you want it come and get it’. But Norm has an earthy side too, such as offering pizza (weekends) on the winery’s limestone patio – the bedrock that gives his wines vitality. But not just any pizza – the best, from the handsomest pizza oven in the country. Class act all the way. Don’t leave without County 10 Pinot ($35).
In the hamlet of Hillier, turn right on to Station Road and right again into the lane way of STANNERS. This small, newcomer winery is producing decent Pinot and Chard from young vines, and the 10 Cabernet Franc ($29) is a charmer. Time to backtrack a little as we make the turn for home, but it’s still a long way off. Take Danforth Road which links up with Closson Road and at Benway you’ll see a big silver barn and a sign announcing HINTERLAND.This is the County’s sparkling wine headquarters. Home to an excellent everyday one called Whitecap ($22), a dry red from Cabernet Franc called Lacus ($22) and a dead ringer for Champagne called Les Etoiles ($39). Ex Scaramouche Restaurant worker, Jonas (and his fab wife Vicky) are a not only a fast learners in the sparkling business but know how to run a friendly, transparent tasting bar. Best to visit on weekends to be sure of catching him. Continuing on Clossen road – which is one of the prettiest wine strips, you’ll come to THE GRANGE, or at least a sign for it. The winery is in a restored huge barn at the end of a tree-lined driveway, tucked behind a pond. Photo op! The monster tasting room is the full size of the barn, and there’s a shaded patio by the pond. I’ve touted Dry Riesling and Gamay from here and now there’s a delicious off-dry, low alcohol Riesling for sipping. Check out the picnic shop – you can take the food to anywhere in the property, with wine of course. Also you might be tempted to sign up for a morning working in the vineyards followed by some cellar work.
CLOSSON-CHASE is at the intersection of roads by those names, and again we’re visiting a barn. Smaller, and more arty than the previous stop. A pretty garden invites lingering over a glass of primo Chardonnay or Pinot. The latter can be too ‘barnyard’ for some but the 11 South Clos Chardonnay ($29) is one hell of a delicious drink. After a few twists and turns on the road you’ll arrive at yet another barn-turned-winery, THE OLD THIRD. Elegance is the theme here – in atmosphere and wine. Simplicity too – there’s ‘just’ Pinot ($35). Lean and very French. As it was intended. At the very end of Closson Road we come to a barn under repair, but NO, it’s not going to be a winery, or so they say! You just never know.
Just in case you think that County wineries are all owned by barn-loving hippies, we are going to finish our tour in the modern splendor of concrete, steel and glass. HUFF ESTATE has been likened to a small airport – flags fluttering, and a heli-pad. You’ll find excellent 11 Chardonnay ($30), 12 Pinot Gris ($20) and an Ontario blend Riesling ($25). But the star is the ‘Cuvee Peter F. Huff ’ 07 SPARKLING ($39). Ask for a chilled bottle and flutes, and we’re headed over to the OENO GALLERY for a combination of top notch art with top notch bubbly. But save some wine for the third act at this venue – a stroll through the huge flower and sculpture garden. Yes, it’s all legal, and the perfect way to celebrate your County tour. Before leaving, check out (drop off your glasses) the spiffy Inn also on site. No, we’re not done yet, remember I promised a distillery! 66 GILEAD is just down the road and a must visit. A restored, handsome French Mansard roof house is the perfect setting for the Gilead’s characterful vodka, gin and rum – all offered at a reasonable $35. The Rye Vodka is a dead ringer for good grappa. If you’re still standing, head out back and meet Pete, the County Cooper. An amazing maker of new barrels, and furniture from recycled barrels. And Balsamic Vinegar too! Bloomfield, our starting – and finishing point, is just down the road.