Prince Edward County
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Regional Report: Prince Edward County 2020

October 30, 2020

I want to thank my readers for taking the time to review this special report on Prince Edward County – Ontario’s fastest growing wine region. This is your mini-inside track on how this region is progressing. As part of my journey in creating this report, I’ve walked the vineyards, talked to the producers and tasted the wines to provide you with unique advice and quality insights. Enjoy. – Carmelo Giardina

Prince Edward County – or the County as it is more commonly referred to now – is situated about 175 kilometres east of Toronto, south of Belleville toward the eastern end of Lake Ontario. This peninsula locale encompasses the County, Amherst Island and a narrow strip of land to the north. At a latitude of 44°N, this is Ontario’s most northern VQA appellation of origin – officially identified in 2007.


Introduction

My visit to the County, just this past September, was a three day whirlwind excursion, making every effort to visit as many wineries and eateries as I could manage. By the end of my trip, I had a much better feel for an area that I had not visited since 2017. Three years can make a world of difference in the wine industry.

What still stands out from that 2017 visit is learning from various producers why the County is highly praised and viewed by many as being quite similar to parts of Burgundy. It is here that you’ll find some of the finest examples of cool climate chardonnay and pinot noir made in the new world. And that’s no laughing statement. Additional Vitis Vinifera varietals (such as pinot gris, riesling and cabernet franc) and certain hybrid varietals (baco noir, marquette, vidal) lend more of a supporting role to an area that finds it challenging to farm many types (merlot, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, for instance) that require a more lengthy growing season.

Overall, I do believe that the County is making very good wine – as you will notice in the breakdown of my scores below. However, for the most part, this is still very much a two-horse town, with chardonnay and pinot noir setting the pace for attention and acclaim. But winemakers are clearly demonstrating their resilience and ambition to prove that additional varietals and styles can and should be part of the same conversation as excellent chardonnay and pinot.

I have no doubt that this winemaking community will continue to pursue and navigate the region’s unique terroir capabilities in order to produce exciting wines that resonate with consumers. As it stands, the County is still playing a game of catch me if you can with its sister region the Niagara Peninsula. But the quality gap is indeed shortening. Winemakers are taking more chances, and already some of those chances are cashing in big.


Prince Edward County

Appellation Overview

Prince Edward County sits along the north shore of Lake Ontario on a foundation of porous limestone that gives its grapes a distinctive minerality and vibrant acidity. Most vineyards are located in areas that receive maximum benefit from lake breezes. Prevailing westerly breezes travel steadily across Lake Ontario and the Bay of Quinte to help moderate temperatures. They are especially beneficial during the warm summer months, keeping average temperatures around 22°C, with pleasant cooling during the hotter days and keeping cool nights at bay.

The County’s topography is irregular, with hills creating various exposures for the vines, and valleys digging into the broad, flat Trenton limestone base. The loose gravely soils provide good structure, ample drainage, shale and minerals for healthy development of vines and fruit with character.


Vintage Overviews

2017: An exceptional vintage for chardonnay and pinot noir – two of Prince Edward County’s championed varietals. The weather patterns of the vintage affected the growing cycle, with slowed development at the beginning of the season, but then caught up very quickly in the late summer and fall. Producers enjoyed a full crop and their wide range of grape varieties and styles are now showing well.

2018: Above average heat paired with a dry summer allowed for a good level of ripeness and concentration to develop. Harvest was early and speedy. This was welcomed given the challenges posed by the mid-harvest rain and the desire to avoid the risk of disease pressures resulting from humid conditions. Overall a positive vintage that’s been showing well in many of the wines tasted on site.

2019: Weather conditions were generally cooler and wetter than normal. The growing season was slightly delayed, but the season ended well thanks to a sunny fall. Outlook is very good for wines from the 2019 vintage. A full range of exceptional white and rosé wines defined by crispness, acid and fruit are steadily making their way into market. And early reports suggest that 2019 may be a standout vintage for pinot noir.


Prince Edward County

A Mini Report

Within this wine report, which accounts for about 25 percent of the total scope of the region, I have included descriptions of the wineries that I visited along with detailed tasting notes for most of the wines that I sampled during my visit. You’ll also find price points and my quality-to-price-ratio score, measured on a scale out of 100 points.

Scores range from moderately – and even barely recommended – to very highly recommended. Roughly 85 percent of the wines I sampled fall into this range. A total of 66 wines are therefore included in this report.