The first stop on our journey through Ontario wine country takes us to Sandbanks Estate Winery situated along the picturesque shores of Lake Ontario. Planted here is 7 acres of Baco Noir, Cabernet Franc, Riesling, Pinot noir, Vidal, Geisenheim and Marechal Foch. Sandbank’s vision is to produce quality, award winning wines at an approachable price. But of course these wines must pair perfectly with delicious food, and be perfect for celebrating life with family and friends. Sandbanks offers a tasting room and boutique, barrel room, large outdoor picnic area and tasting bars with a wine season packed full of lively events. If that isn’t enough, there are areas for yogi’s and meditators to get their zen on in soothing allocated areas of the vineyard. A summer day at Sandbanks is welcoming, relaxing, and just what is needed to unwind.
If Sandbanks turns out to be a preferred destination, consider joining their wine club for exclusive perks including the option to sample new wines before they hit the shelves in addition to sold out vintages that are no longer available to the public.
Of course the experience will be uniquely your own, so see for yourself if this first stop has the potential to be your own little slice of paradise, and if not, there are plenty more locations to check out along this tour.
Let’s head north on Loyalist parkway and through the town of Rosehall. We will be making a left onto Greer Road.
Coming up on your left you will see the sign for Casa-Dea Winery and Banquet Hall.
Casa-Dea Estates Winery is one of the largest and most established wineries in Prince Edward County. They have been growing with pride since the turn of the century and with over 65 acres of planted vines, it is one of the very few wineries that are capable of producing true Prince Edward County VQA wines. What is VQA you ask? When you see ‘VQA Ontario’ on a bottle, it means the wine is made from 100% Ontario-grown grapes, which have been approved through a strict quality-assurance program. The initials stands for Vintners Quality Alliance. The VQA system allows for sub-appellations, by which the grapes for wines are sourced from extremely specific geographical locations with different soil and climate. Now that we have that information under our belts, let’s see what kind of treats we can find at Casa-Dea.
Featuring Italian inspired dishes, their founder Domenic Di Pietrantonio grew up in the small village of Lettomanopello, located in the Abruzzi area of Italy. The name of the winery translates to ‘Home of the Goddess.’ The concept is quite simple, romance. You see, 'Casa' translates to home in Italian and Dea means 'Goddess'. Dea also happens to be the name of Domenic's wife of 59 years. The winery was named as a tribute to Domenic's wife. This story of romance is represented by the Goddess symbol on all of their products.
Casa-Dea is known for their ability to host a variety of events, from weddings, holiday and birthday celebrations as well as corporate events and meetings. Making it even more convenient, the staff is happy to coordinate transportation plans for you and your guests.
Just looking to enjoy some great wine and chill? Try their tour and tasting program featuring a wine country experience like no other. Have fun, engage your senses and explore the fascinating interplay of wine and wine culture.
Ok, head back the way we came and turn left on Loyalist Parkway. Keep on going until you get to our next winery, which is on Stapleton Road.
Here comes Hillier Creek Estates Winery. Turn left on Stapleton Road. As you arrive you may notice that familiar aroma of fresh dough, cheese and tomato sauce. Hillier has their own stone fired pizza oven, churning out delicious pies like Formaggi and Italiano Picante. Head on in and start sippin..’ Ok, not just yet, but perhaps we can at least keep your proverbial whistle wet as we think about pizza. Also, if you have a furry friend with you, take them along because pets are welcome!
Let’s talk about some of the other vineyards in the area as we head back out on the road we came on.
The town of Hillier boasts three wineries including Stanners Vineyard and Traynor Family Vineyard. If Pinot Noir is your favorite grape, Stanners has got you covered. The "terroir,” (or the soil), terrain and weather, is the ideal topography for their quest to produce a Pinot Noir that would be the rival of any in the world. At Traynor’s, the food enthusiast will find comfort here. Squid ink risotto and scallops in Galician sauce are just a few of the unique delectables offered.
As for their wines, they practice combining modern knowledge with ancient and forgotten techniques that include fermenting the grapes as whole clusters (including stems), or whole cluster pressing.
Now it’s time to say good-bye to Hillier, or shall we say au revoir- there is a good chance you’ll be seeing these places again.
Next up, Hinterland Wine Company, and for those sparkling wine enthusiasts, start smiling. This is one of the smaller size vineyards in the area, but it still packs a powerful punch when it comes to the bubbly. Did you know there are three methods to make sparkling wine? The charmat method, the traditional method and the ancestral method. Prosecco is the most common charmat method wine and champagne is the most common ‘method traditional’ wine. The ancestral method is a little rarer but the most common wine is Moscato d’asti from Italy. Hinterlands’ version of the ancestral method is based on the French region Bugey-Cerdon. In this discipline, which dates back to the early 16th century, the bubbles are achieved by capturing the carbon dioxide produced during the primary fermentation. Once the wine reaches around eight percent alcohol, the fermentation is stopped by lowering the temperature to zero degrees celsius. The wine is then filtered off its yeast and bottled immediately. The resulting sweetness is from the remaining juice as the wine did not complete its fermentation.
While the traditional method is the most labor intensive of the three, the charmat method is the least. Here, the base wine is put through a secondary fermentation in a sealed stainless steel charmat tank. The resulting bubbles from the fermentation remain in the wine and once it is ready for bottling it is filtered under pressure into another charmat tank and then bottled in a special pressurized bottle line. Here endeth the lesson of the charmat method.
Most wineries have special clubs you can join, but the one at Hinterland is no ordinary wine club. For example, there are no monthly shipments. They may release one vintage per year, two per year or none at all depending on availability, and hold back approximately 5% of their traditional method sparkling wines for extended aging. When ready for disgorgement, these rare and remarkable RD vintages, meaning ‘recently disgorged,’ are made available to members.
Reservations may fill up fast, so if you are with a group of between 7-20 people, try securing a time in the morning to have a tasting in their gazebo. Hinterland also hosts seasonal farmers’ markets so you can pick up a good food pairing. Curbside pickup is also available if you are in a hurry or prefer to indulge off the premises. If you are staying to enjoy your bubby, be sure to say hi to the family’s pups which can be seen sniffing around the grounds and flirting with visitors.
Let’s say au revoir to Hinterland and head towards Sugarbush Winery. When you get to the end of Closson Road, make sure to turn right. Then look for the cute little farmhouse on your left. That would beThe Brighthouse, a guesthouse slash B&B perched in a grove of walnut trees on 100 acres. The motto there- “A place to stay, play, wed, work, sip, shop, swim and laze for days.” Sounds complex, but don’t overthink it.. Something for everyone.
As we drive, we will be passing more wineries in this lush region of Ontario. Each location offers its own unique experience offering something for everyone. While we are not featuring these destinations, feel free to indulge yourself at your convenience.
Turn left onto Wilson and Sugarbush Vineyards and Winery will be coming up on the left. They specialize in small lot, artisanal wines from their estate grown grapes with the goal of producing small quantities of hand-crafted, premium-quality wines sourced entirely on the vineyard. The total production varies year-to-year, but they tend to produce between 2000 - 2500 cases as the vineyard has reached its prime. The wines are only available at their retail store, and a select number of restaurants,
What separates Sugarbush from some of its neighbors are the maple trees that make up close to seven acres of the property. There is a 2km trail that is open for hiking during the months of March and April. Test your maple syrup knowledge with on-trail trivia questions. Hiking the trail is free, but visitors are encouraged to make food or cash donations for the Wellington Food Bank. Make sure to wear appropriate footwear for the trail as it can be muddy.
Since we are in Canada and have yet to touch on the sticky sweet syrup, let us share some knowledge. Each year as winter recedes, the changing climate brings warmer days and frosty nights, causing sap in sugar maple trees to flow up from the roots, and maple harvesting to kick into high gear. In 2011 Ontario maple syrup producers made about 4 million liters of maple syrup, valued at over $53 million and is an important part of the rural and provincial economy. Maple syrup and maple sugar have a long history in Ontario. Over time those traditions have shifted from being a source of income for small farms to a market focused on maple syrup and specialty products such as maple butter, soft candies and taffy.
Syrup is just the start. This versatile flavor is used in so much more, from beer and wine to tea and coffee. It’s infused in spreads, jams, butter, donuts and bacon… hello, maple bacon donut! The Ontario Maple Syrup Producers Association began in 1966 to represent maple syrup producers across the province.
Experiencing sugar shock yet? Alright let’s depart Sugarbush and make our way to our next destination for more delights. Just follow your navigation!
Please turn right, and Terracello Winery will be ahead on your left. Known for their Tuscan style, the vineyard here comprises five acres planted of both Vitis Vinifera (known as the common grape) and French hybrids. TerraCello’s vines have been imported from France and Germany, producing a truly authentic grape. The process is also aided by the location of the Vineyard which is on the third highest plateau in Prince Edward County. All TerraCello’s vines have been hand planted by close friends and family who volunteer their time every few years to bask in the sun and enjoy being together all the while indulging in good food and drink. TerraCello is replete with an indoor wood fireplace, lounge, tasting areas, barrel room, and yes, a second pizza oven from Italy located on their patio. This can accommodate a private event or a casual afternoon visit. The patio is modeled in a classic rustic style. There is also a firepit and bocce ball area for those looking to get a little sporty out there. Owner Anthony Auciello is sometimes seen shaking hands and greeting guests when he finds the time to break away from his beloved pizza ovens. It’s all about the love. Amore.
Continuing into the town of Huff’s Corner we will find Taste of Country, an 1830’s cobblestone home turned country store and bakery.
Next up, some nostalgia!
On your left is the Mustang Drive-In. Owners Dawn & Drew set the goal to build The Mustang PEC into a premier destination for local and visiting nostalgia hunters looking for a time they maybe didn’t even know, and making new memories with people they do know. The ‘New Nostalgia” is a concept they believe in and pride themselves on sharing with visitors. The Mustang has been operating as a drive-In movie theater since the 1950’s, still doing double features under the stars. Live music events are a new addition to their format and schedule.
Never been to a drive-in theater before? Here are a few tidbits you may not have known. Audiences don’t simply roll their windows down to listen but instead hear the film by tuning their car radios to a set frequency. If you are concerned about draining your car battery, consider bringing a portable radio with you. If that is not your style, let your car idle before turning the engine off (before the show). This will allow for recharging of the battery. You’ll also want to have blankets with you to stay warm on cooler evenings. You are permitted to sit outside on a lawn chair but only in front of, or behind your vehicle, so as not to encroach on other audience members' space.
The Mustang has a snack bar which includes that famous Canadian treat, poutine. If you’re feeling adventurous, try this special snack of french fries with homemade gravy or chili..
Unfortunately the Mustang Drive Inn does not permit outside food and drink, so you’ll have to cork that bottle or bottles you may have wanted to open during your flick. Check out their website for a full schedule of movies and live music at the venue.
Continue down route one and our next stop will be The Waring House in the town of Warings Corner.
We will be approaching the intersection of route one and thirty-three, and you will notice a more abundant amount of shops and retail as we get closer to the larger town of Picton. For the moment, let’s check out The Waring House coming up on your left, just after your first right turn out of the roundabout. You should be able to see it through the trees, but you are also more than welcome to see it up close by taking the second right turn out of the roundabout.
Anyway, known for their country-inn hospitality, The Waring House is furnished and decorated to reflect its 19th century origins. Featuring two restaurants, The Barley Room is widely known as ‘The County's’ gathering place, with charming stone walls, fireplace, and an old English style bar featuring live music every Wednesday through Sunday. Amelia’s Garden Dining room is the other restaurant and they are proud to source locally in Prince Edward County. Their garden, and the surrounding family farms, help ensure that during the growing season, the produce on each guests’ plate was grown nearby and harvested that morning for a super fresh dining experience. Among the more popular and unique items is the Apple & Aged Cheddar Soup. This isn’t your run of the mill broccoli-cheddar soup. This delight is complemented with coriander scented cream, cider, the finest local aged Canadian cheddar cheese, and topped with a glazed puffed pastry prepared with local maple syrup. How many can actually say they’ve tried that before?!
The Waring House is also a destination for weddings and meetings, as well as a culinary school for those looking to sharpen and brush up their kitchen etiquette. The class is a hands-on style with participant numbers limited to enhance the experience.
Hang on. Do you like cider? Well, now is the time to sample some Canadian cider, for those who enjoy this sweet treat or prefer it to the wine’s we’ve tried or thought about so far. To our right on route thirty-three is Crimson Cider Company, and it is dedicated to providing a premium craft cider experience to its consumers, through both its signature cider flavors and its unique handcrafted seasonal offerings. These include hot mulled cider in the cooler months and cider slushies in the warmer weather during the summer! Who has actually tried a cider slushie? Exactly.. Let’s give it a whirl. Just be careful not to drink too fast- brain freeze.. ahhh! But it just might be worth it.
Please turn left on Route 32 for a beautiful drive through some farmland.
Now THIS is a beautiful drive. I won’t be saying much because I really want you to enjoy the scenery. There are lots of craft shops and farmers markets along this stretch of the road so feel free to stop in if anything calls to you.
There are also a few AirBnB’s if you are considering a little vacation out here in wine country.
We are heading toward our last destination and I promise, you are gonna love it. Just continue following your navigation.
Are you ready to relax on the beach? Good. Because we are nearing the end of the tour and that’s where I’m dropping you off. You can keep driving south on Route 12 to get to Sandbanks Dune Beach, or head east on 18 to find Sandbanks Provincial Park Sandbanks River Country Campground and Outlet Beach, or drive farther south and find Lakeshore Beach and Richardson’s Campground. There are just so many options!
By the way, did you know that these sandy dunes are the world’s largest baymouth barrier dune formation? Known as one of Ontario’s natural wonders, the dunes were originally formed by glaciers and were later grazing land for cattle of early inhabitants and settlers. Now, there are walking trails that allow visitors to experience the dunes and wetland habitats of the park.
So what can people do here? Good question. There’s canoeing, fishing, hiking, swimming, bird watching, camping and so much more. Anglers love to catch large and small mouth bass in both the east and west lake. Hikers can’t get enough of the 6 hiking trails that are anywhere from 1km to 3.5 km long and ranging from easy to moderate.
Bird watchers “flock” to the area during the spring and fall migration seasons, and you can even go to the Visitor Centre to get a checklist so you can mark off every bird you see.
And speaking of the Visitor Centre, the park staff there offer tons of educational, yet fun, interactive programs for adults and kids alike.
When you get tired of the beautiful sandy beaches, you can just head back north for more wine! I can’t think of a better plan.
And with that, I will turn you loose to do whatever you want. This has been so much fun! Thanks for coming along on this tour of the wineries in Prince Edward County. Also, don’t forget to give Cheryl Carrier a call at 613-242-9139. Have a fantastic day!