Some moments, special in their second, create lifetimes.
Every year, I along with my wonderful and very dear friends from Ottawa (and a few from the “Greater Ottawa Area” which, for the purposes of this blog, now includes Toronto) descend 3 hours south into The County. It’s a place our group affectionately calls PEC (sounds like ‘peck’) — and which others call Prince Edward County. I hazard to write about this beautiful part of the province because, if others read about it, well, perhaps our monopoly on what feels like a secret will vanish … and the whole place will become a whole lot less special. But for now, it is our place, our peck on the cheek. It is our jutty of land into Lake Ontario into which we escape each year for a weekend, a place we go to leave where we live, when we disconnect from our lives in Ottawa to connect with those we see too little because of otherwise busy lives. It is a County that brings together a city and friendship. What’s not to love?
In this place, there is a permanence to the memories that will cling to us like the blasted stump in the old farmland of Chadsey’s Cairns Winery that clings to life.
Yes, what’s not to love? To start with, there is the fertile county itself, lush, rolling, verdant, and surrounded with water. It’s the sort of thing that must have made Europeans burn their boats and say “We’re staying.” It’s a place where I swear a squirrel could run hundreds of miles without ever having to touch the ground. It’s a place filled with trees … and trees, in the spring, filled with blossoms.
While PEC is a region that has been farmed and settled in some form or another for hundreds of years, the natural beauty of the place is all around, not the least of which is the collision of Lake Ontario with Sandbanks Provincial Park, so named because of the vast accumulations of sand that run inland to produce sand dunes and hills. I know this doesn’t look Saharan, but don’t let those tenacious trees fool you — the sand is vast. For those not coming for the wine and food, this is a family-friendly and camping mecca for those that want to hike or play in the water. Personally, on a cool spring day, I liked it for its solitude and as a place to reflect and quietly dangle our feet.Nestled along the shores of one of the Great Lakes, PEC is part of a microclimate that gets the benefit of the “lake effect” such that this huge body of water provides a temperate influence on the area around it — “warmer” in the winter and often cooler in the summer. This and the minerality of the soil, replete with limestone and lots of other history shed by the inland lakes (read: prehistoric shells) make it a great grape growing region … at least for more hardy varietals.
… or they can be fully budding.
Yes, the wine is a huge attraction. Most of my friends and I are foodies and exploring the grape in the full splendor of its terroir is pure fun. It’s a world we love. Mmm, and it’s a weekend replete with wine tastings, like this one at Lacey Estates, one of the newer winemakers we explored this year. Or the cool experience of visiting the newest in 2014, Broke Stone Winery, which provided a flight of their pinot noirs for the past 3 years: 3 glasses of pinot from the same grapes and vines from the same earth; 3 glasses that tasted like three different wineries. Yes, “education” is high on objectives for this wine taster.
And yes, our party is well equipped with those who volunteer to be designated-drivers and chauffeur the wine tasters around. There always seems to be someone nursing too much wine the night before who is willing to drive and keep an eye on the dogs.
Or, as you’ve seen reviewed in my recent post (Frontenac Gris Rosé), there is the highlight every year of hitting Karlo Estates. The beautiful craftsmanship of the open-beam building itself is well worth a visit. The eight or so bottles of wine I bought didn’t hurt either. Definitely looking forward to creating a very specific slaw salad to go with their “Lake on the Mountain” Riesling next.
Last year we had a real treat — it was one of the “moments” that became an experience for a lifetime. After visiting Karlo Estates, we almost quite literally walked (or would have if we didn’t have cars full of wine) across the road up to a new winery that quite literally opened to the public a few short minutes before we arrived: Hubbs Creek Vineyard. There is still a media clipping which has a picture of the gang all smiling around one of the wine makers, Joseph Calvieri. What made this experience so special is how he memorably poured us a glass of a pinot noir reserve right from the cask. This wine still, a year later, hasn’t been bottled, so we’ve tasted it in process. Joseph is a man who is clearly passionate and in love with what he’s now doing … and not only does it show up in the wine he’s creating, he’s only too happy to share that passion with anyone who shows an interest. He is a great teacher — and he loves his new Holland tractor.
And what would wine be without great food? So many of the wines in PEC love to be paired with food — and there is a lot of great food in the region to be had, from artisan cheeses and bakeries to the restaurants and patios in some of the wineries. One of our traditional favourites is the thin crust pizza from Norman Hardie’s beautiful estate …
We’re consistently enthralled with the pizza. Made simple with to-die-for local ingredients (no more than three per pizza), it is the sort of stuff you wish you had an extra cow’s stomach to pack in …. A year of stress seems to pull away from us as we all dive in and pull away those slices of pizza. Even Ben is love with the place …
And, after a long day of winery hopping, shopping (yes, there is great shopping in Picton), and eating, we will return to our accommodation with our various discoveries, throw a spread of nibblies on the picnic tables, break open some wine, and pull out the bocce ball for the kind of trash-talking competition that only good friends can get away with and still do it again the next day. (Pictures not included to protect the innocent).
Dinner soon arrives, some get decked out, but everyone is cool and relaxed … and we traipse to our favourite restaurant, the East and Main Bistro where our table of twelve are wined and dined and made to feel very very special. And one of our party is always there to celebrate his birthday — it’s great to be a part of that milestone. The last couple of years we’ve had the pleasure of being served by “Jeremy,” a transplanted Aussie, who is a truly consummate and extremely professional server: he loves what he does and knows what he does and he becomes one of the gang each night making for an incredible experience.
While he’s seen us now for a few years, this year, Jeremy took to memorizing the names of everyone at the table the first night — knowing he’d see us again. While Jeremy himself is a memorable part of the experience, so was the rack of lamb on night one and, then, night two: oh-my-god the ostrich grilled to perfect with a phenomenal sauce and paired with a ripasso from PEC. Yes, a ripasso from PEC. Still think I’m kidding? This was a truly phenomenal wine from Casa-Dea Estates. It was a mind-blowing wine and, if I could have, I would have gone to the winery the next day to buy it — but they were long sold out of this very special wine which they make only in those years where the conditions are just right. Now that’s attention to craft!
And, finally, no evening in PEC would be complete with sauntering back to our accommodation and sitting around a bonfire that gets prepared for us each year by the owners of the property. This is the source of my “Fire Watchers” series last year.
But truly, what unites our party of friends is the promise of laughter and the freedom to embrace the moment, be silly … to eat, write, and shoot memories … of great food, wine, and friendship that grows and extends each year.