MY GREAT COUNTY WINE TOUR – PART 1
The town of Picton is our starting point where you could do breakfast traditional-style at the Harbour View Restaurant, or latte-style it at Miss Lily’s Café (in the not-to-be-missed Books and Company). Head out of town on HWY #33 towards the Glenora Ferry, veering off inches short of the boat to a place called Lake on the Mountain. The old stone Inn on the right will tempt you with its Provence-looking, shaded patio – serves full meals (or drinks at the bar), while the new Brasserie on the left is small bites and pastries. Big view of Picton Bay here. But don’t linger too long as you have almost a dozen more stops.
Devil’s Wishbone Winery is five minutes away on the right – attractive hill-side setting and major renovations to a barn. Vines are still young and refreshingly tart Riesling ($22) is showing best at this stage. Swing right on Bongards Xroads and look for the Waupoos County Cider Company on left. I suggest a quick tasting at the bar followed by a leisurely pint of your cider preference on the patio. Wood-fired pizza and other foods are available to complement one of the best lake views in the County. Soak it up!
On leaving, instruct your DD driver to turn left, immediately followed by a right – and to go slowly because you’re on The County’s hollyhock strip. Simply sensational in late July. The County’s original winery, Waupoos, is by the lake on your left and you could visit but I find the wines to be commercially nice (except the decent Auxerrois and Gamay). Instead grab some blueberries, tweet the hollyhocks and move on. Coming up on your left is the Waupoos Marina, home to the Blue Moose Café and cheese shop (Quebec). All very rustic and casual. Back on the main drag you’ll immediately encounter more drink temptation in the form of the Duke of Marysburg Pub. Poor on curb appeal, but cute and cozy inside. Maybe an afternoon glass of County Rosé! If owner Vas is in the mood, you could be in for a little blues. (Word from the tour guide – you still have three winery stops ahead, so if it’s past 3:00pm, you’re running late).
Staying on Hwy#8 follow signs for Black River Cheese, and just before getting there turn left on Morrison Point Road and look for Vicki’s Veggies – the world’s most romantic organic farm stand. Vicki is an amazing combination of farmer, promoter and artist. She sells at TO markets and to top restaurants. Visit on Labor Day weekend and taste over 125 heirloom tomatoes. Skip the cheese shop and follow Hwy#13 in the direction of South Bay, but don’t go there – instead swing right on to Hwy#10 and look for Long Dog, Exultet & Lighthall Winery signs. You’re in for some treats so get your Visa ready.
Long Dog Winery was super hot in the early County days partly because they dared to set high prices, and you needed a good GPS to find the place. And get back to town! Backwoods is putting it mildly. But owner’s James and Victoria have put in their time and are now sitting on an inventory of amazingly good, mature, and priced-to-sell wines – some of the best Chard and Pinot to be had from anywhere in Canada.
The 08 ‘Bella’ Chardonnay ($18) has the rare, hard to find and expensive flavours of mature Chablis – the Chardonnay of Burgundy. Meadows-of-hay and other savoury, ‘country’ flavours and feelings as opposed to customary Chard glam and richness. Perhaps not for everyone, but you should certainly try it once. Could be the perfect drink to have with an old friend, or anyone who enjoys a long chat (and bottle) before dinner. And the slightly earthy quality gives it the food friendliness of Burgundy whites. The 09 ‘Bella’ Chardonnay is more in the style of a big, rich Burgundy. Another great value that should drink well for at least a couple of years.
Long Dog’s 09 ‘Otto’ Pinot ($24) has seductive spicy fragrances and flavours, along with earthy, Italian feelings. Certainly different in the Ontario Pinot picture. More closely resembling a Nebbiolo wine out of Piedmont – which is not a bad thing. You cannot buy Nebbiolo at this price. So often, Ontario reds take on an Italian bent – who knows why, but it reinforces my recommendation of looking to European wines for Ontario’s identity. Which would make us unique on the North American continent. Otto is best with a light chilling. The Top Dog 09 Pinot ($30) is more serious, with the ‘barnyard’ character much loved by fans of red Burgundy. Perhaps a year away from peak, but a must-have if you’re a fan. You must visit Long Dog for a true Ontario wine adventure.
Exultet is a tiny operation located a few minutes away in the former Royal Road cheese factory so there is a nice rural ambiance. And owners Gerry and Mia Spinosa could not be more hospitable – and proud of every detail in their charming retail space. Exultet holds the distinction of winning ‘top Chardonnay’ award for three years running, and no wonder, as it’s a bombshell of exotic flavours and spicy/sweetness. Goes by the ‘Blessed’ name ($40). The 09 Pinot Noir ($40) is also lush and seductive. I prefer the more refreshing, down-to-earth 10 Pinot ‘Cru X’ ($29). The 12 ‘Mysterious’ ($30) might appeal if looking for a novel dinner party wine – a white made from Pinot Noir. While I understand the high pricing on the acclaimed Chardonnay, I find Exultet’s other wine prices to be a bit steep – such as $25 for a Light White, and a Rosé.
Final stop of the day is minutes away at Lighthall, a typical low budget local winery – dead flat terrain, bumpy gravel driveway leading to several non-descript sheds and a litter of machines and parts. But, as owner Glen would say ‘it’s about the wine’. And you’ll find good stuff here. Such as the excellent Prosecco-style Sparkling ($20), and the 11 Pinot Noir ($25) which is a dead ringer for Cru Beaujolais. Big on tart freshness, and bright flavours and feelings. With a little earthiness to add a traditional wine character. Just a great drink in the light red category, and a great example of the zingy freshness that comes from County minerality. I think this style of Pinot could be an Ontario trademark – an alternative to all the spicy/smooth editions from oak casks. Before leaving be sure to check out the fortified Late Harvest Vidal called Muté ($35). A delicious and innovative take on dessert wine.
P.S. If there were more hours in the day I’d be also directing you down to meet Margie and Brian at Half Moon Bay Winery. A lovely lake-side/old barn setting producing very decent Pinot Gris and Riesling. And a Merlot from young vines that feels like a Valpolicella – lightly chill, of course.