Monday, April 28, 2014

Half Moon Bay Winery

* This is my fifth and final post in a series about Prince Edward County Winemakers that Uncork Ontario and I will be doing during the lead up to Terroir: The County Wine Celebration on May 3rd. I’m so excited to introduce my readers to even more PEC wineries!

Photo from the Half Moon Bay website
Half Moon Bay Winery uses only County grapes to produce their Pinot Noir, Merlot, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Chardonnay. They use minimal intervention and no pesticides or fertilizers to create wines that truly express the terroir of the County. That's why it makes perfect sense that they will be one of the many wineries participating in this year's Terroir Festival on May 3rd in Picton. Leading up to the festival, I asked Owner and Winemaker, Brian Mitchell, some questions about owning a vineyard in PEC.

Why did you choose Prince Edward County for the winery?
I love this area. I have been visiting here for about 30 years. I love the environment and the people and the spirit of the place It's very much like the east coast, where I grew up, except with better restaurants. When I started investigating areas for growing grapes I checked many places in the Niagara area and the Okanagan. They are both easier growing areas, and the Okanagan has a lot more sunshine, but I found a waterfront farm on rough land in the County and fell in love. The cool climate and limestone base make for hard farming, but provide the wines with delicious minerality and solid acidity.

What sets you apart from other PEC wineries? Any unique elements?
Another great aspect of the County is that everyone works together in spite of our many differences. We are a small winery, producing less than 1000 cases a year. We don't use chemical pesticides and we only make wines from grapes that we grow. We focus on quality. This year we plan to make more use of our beautiful waterfront.
You are a smaller producer - do you plan to expand or stay at a boutique level?
This year we plan to expand our processing to improve efficiency and to build a more inviting tasting area, but we will not be expanding our vineyards or production. We will remain a boutique winery.

Why do you participate in Terroir? Anything special planned for this year?
Terroir is the fun wine event of the year for me. I get to meet a lot of new people who are interested in wine and I get to chat with many of the grape growers and wine makers that I will never get to see once the new season is in full swing. It really feels like a celebration. Terroir is scheduled a little earlier this year and most of my spring releases are not yet ready. So I'm not planning special. Just bringing a few great old wines to celebrate the new season. Cheers!

For more information on Half Moon Bay Winery:

To learn more about Terroir Festival visit:

Monday, April 14, 2014

Harwood Estates

* This is my fourth in a series about Prince Edward County Winemakers that Uncork Ontario and I will be doing during the lead up to Terroir: The County Wine Celebration on May 3rd. I’m so excited to introduce my readers to even more PEC wineries!

Growing up, mine was the family in the neighbourhood with a large coil of black tubing on our roof. My dad affixed it to the back side of the roof so the neighbours wouldn’t complain about how it looked, but it was still a strange site. However, we had the warmest pool in the neighbourhood and our electricity bill was never high.

If you had told me then that solar power was going to one day be enough to support a fully functioning winery, I may have looked at you little funny. But people like my dad were smart enough to know that sometimes the sun is a more than effective way to support your energy needs. Harwood Estates in Prince Edward County is the province’s first fully solar winery and, as co-owner John Rode can attest – it’s working out just fine for them.

Harwood, with its stable of award-winning wines, is competing on the national stage with limited use of fossil fuels. It’s a new level of environmental awareness – and one that they are hoping to improve on as they grow. This year, they are starting to collect their rainwater and will also be experimenting with collecting and storing water from their pond to use to water their vines during the dry season. It’s an impressive feat – especially for a winery that’s making almost 3000 cases, including their first LCBO product in the coming year.

“We have three big buildings – our barrel cellar, our winery building and another trailer and workshop – all running off a modest solar panel,” explains John. There is definitely a cost to running solar power, but it’s about 15% of what another winery will pay and Harwood never has to deal with blackouts – a fairly regular occurrence in the County.

“We’re able to live up to [our production levels] with the amount of energy that we have. And if we need more, we’ll just buy more solar panels,” he says.  It’s definitely impressive – especially given the surprising lack of government support for programs such as this.

Harwood, which opened in November 2009, has proven that regardless of their power source, their wines are some of the best in the County. They continually place at the top in wine competitions and have won great critical acclaim.

“In 2007, when we were getting ready to open in the County, I remember someone said to us, ‘just make good wine and people will find you,’” says John. “This is not the case. Even if you’re making Opus One, they will not just find you. The best way is to make a wine that is confirmed by the authorities to be a good wine.” He believes strongly that if your wine shows well at events, it will lead to the sort of awareness that simple word-of-mouth isn’t going to attain. And there is certainly validity in that thinking – as can be seen by the growth in PEC tourism based on the growing acclaim for and awareness of PEC wines.

Their Frontenac Gris dessert wine and St. Laurent are two of their award winners and best sellers, as is their Windward White. This year, the Windward blend is changing, with Riesling replacing Vidal, and they are very excited about the results thus far. It is one that you will definitely want to try in their June release. Their fall release will feature a Meritage that they think is shaping up to be extraordinary – another must-try.

Harwood wines will be on display at Terroir on May 3rd in Picton. “If people have a good reason to come to the County, they will,” says John.“One or two wineries is not a good enough reason. If there are 40 good wineries and a very big percentage of them are winning awards, that’s a very good reason to come to the County. Terroir Festival makes it possible to hold up a sign that says ‘we’re making a lot of good wines here.’”

To learn more about Harwood Estates visit:

To learn more about Terroir Festival visit:

Del-Gatto Estates

* This is my third in a series about Prince Edward County Winemakers that Uncork Ontario and I will be doing during the lead up to Terroir: The County Wine Celebration on May 3rd. I’m so excited to introduce my readers to even more PEC wineries!

All photos provided by the winery
Listening to Pat Del-Gatto talk about his first two years as a winemaker in Prince Edward County, you can’t help but think the man and his family have a lot of moxie. Because, you see, the first two years they didn’t do much winemaking at all – both years they faced harsh winters and lost all the vines they had painstakingly planted and tended the season before. It was heartbreaking, but he wasn’t willing to give up.

“It was my lifelong dream to own a vineyard like my father, and I’m not a quitter, I’m in it for the long haul,” he says. “You can’t let the little obstacles get you down. We looked at it as a learning curve and we figured out how to deal with winter.”

For that, he and other PEC winemakers turned to Quebec, where burying the vines was a way of combating the colder winters. That technique, which is heavily employed in the County now, likely saved many winemakers this past winter – one of the worst in years. Pat is relieved to report that he checked his vines just recently and what he saw looked green and healthy – it looks as though they will have no damage to report.

Del-Gatto Estates doesn’t bury all their vines, though. The winery is one of a handful in Ontario to specialize in hybrids and those, which come from heartier stock, don’t need to be buried. So far it seems they too have survived this winter. That’s a good thing, as Del-Gatto uses one hundred percent County grapes in their wines.

Granted, that’s still possible with the low yields they produce (they are averaging between 500-750 cases a year). Pat concedes that if they continue to grow, they may one day need to source grapes from outside the region.

For now, however, Del-Gatto is happy to be a small, boutique winery specializing in unique local wines. And these really are special – unlike most Ontario producers, Del-Gatto creates wine from grapes like St. Croix and Frontenac Gris. In fact, the only vinifera they produce is Pinotage – and they are first to plant this grape in Ontario.

How did Pat Del-Gatto end up growing Pinotage? He fell in love with it during a visit to California where he stumbled upon a festival showcasing the South African grape. It became his favourite and he was eager to try his hand at growing it. That it grows at all in Ontario is impressive – the first bottling is due in 2016.

A family vineyard, where you can often find three generations of Del-Gatto’s tending the vines, Pat is thrilled to have his father, who had a vineyard in his native Italy, on board to help provide advice and support. “He’s forgotten more than I’ll ever know. It’s nice to have that presence there.”

For more information on Del-Gatto Estates:

For more information on Terroir:

Monday, April 7, 2014

OWS PEC Wine and Chocolate Tasting

It used to be that wine and chocolate tastings were a regular occurrence on this blog, but it's been a while since I've indulged in two of the greatest pleasures in life. The Ontario Wine Society Prince Edward County Chapter’s pre-Valentine’s Day wine and chocolate pairing event was an opportunity to rectify that.

The event, which saw about 50 OWS members and guests come together for a Saturday afternoon tasting was well run and featured enough Prince Edward County wine to make it more than worth the ticket price. Brix Chocolate, which is chocolate tailor-made to pair with wine, was a sponsor and provided all of the chocolate. If you haven’t had the chance to try Brix, it’s an excellent option for your next tasting party. Chocolate can be a tricky pairing with wine, so Brix provides you with the appropriate wine for each of its chocolate products right on the label.

We were able to try four different types of Brix chocolate with three wine samples each. Some of them, like Brix Medium Dark and Grange of Prince Edward 2010 Gamay were huge successes and some, like Brix Milk Chocolate and Sandbanks Estate Winery's Love were an acquired taste, but the event gave guests the opportunity to really experiment and to see what best suited their palates while also trying out wines from Prince Edward County that were new to many. It should be noted that Love on its own is a wine I very much enjoy, I simply wasn't a fan of this pairing. At the end of the event you could also purchase chocolate to take home for your own tasting experiments.

The OWS PEC is one of many Ontario Wine Societies hosting fun wine events across the province. Their next event is their 2nd Annual County Character Tasting at Studio House in Wellington on April 12th. Tickets are only $15 for members and $20 for guests and can be purchased here:

Be sure to check out: for am OWS chapter near you.

For more information on Brix Chocolate:

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Grange of Prince Edward

* This is the second in a series about Prince Edward County Winemakers that Uncork Ontario and I will be doing during the lead up to Terroir: The County Wine Celebration on May 3rd. I’m so excited to introduce my readers to even more PEC wineries!

Photo from The Grange website
When Maggie Belcastro was growing up, she didn’t think much about inheriting the family business. She had watched her mother, Caroline Granger, develop the family farm into one of Prince Edward County’s first wineries, The Grange of Prince Edward, but she saw her work in the winery and vineyards primarily as a way to spend time with her mom. When it came time to go to university, she opted for a general arts degree, nothing to do with winemaking.

Flash forward a few years and Maggie started to notice a theme in the papers she was turning in – many of them revolved around farming, agriculture and winemaking. It struck her that perhaps her heart really did belong to the family business and caused her to re-think her plans for the future.

Maggie during harvest.
Now, Maggie is content to be working alongside her mother and taking on more responsibility at The Grange, while studying to be a sommelier. Having started working in the vineyards at age 13, she already has an advantage on many of her peers – she definitely knows the heart and soul of the wine business.

At The Grange it’s about more than just growing grapes. The farm on which the winery was founded is an essential part of their business plan. “My mom wanted to make the family farm something special, make it last,” Maggie explains. “Family farms have been falling apart over the last 50 years, so to find something that really thrives in this region was exciting to her.”

Now, the farm is lush with grape vines and the family is able to show off that beauty, as well as to showcase the product of many other local farmers. They have a picnic program that allows those who visit to purchase a basket full of local farm-to-table lunch items and take them out to the fields to enjoy. It seems to me a brilliant way to enjoy the beauty of PEC.

“We wanted people to spend more time on the farm, not just in the tasting room,” Maggie says of the idea. “People were coming up to the bar, doing their tasting, buying a bottle and leaving. They really weren’t experiencing the farm. I thought about what I love about the farm, what made me feel connected to it. It was packing a picnic and finding a special place to have it. So why couldn’t we do that for people and encourage them to take the time to enjoy the place they’re in?”

Visitors can also, of course, enjoy The Grange wines. I had the pleasure of doing a vertical Riesling tasting there this past summer and it was fascinating to see just how the wines changed from season to season.
Maggie agrees that the terroir and the winemaking really influence how the wines develop. “It’s 100 per cent estate-grown fruit, it’s all about this farm,” she says. “We’re learning the winemaking to work with the land. This place is the most important element of this project, to try and reflect it in the winemaking. We’re focusing on fresh, fruit-driven styles that are from the farm.”

Right now, Maggie is very enthusiastic about the Gamay, a grape that isn’t as associated with the region. “I love our Gamay,” she says, “I think we can treat it differently here. We can elevate it. It has great energy, it’s casual, it’s fruity, it’s fresh. People don’t think about Gamay enough, it’s such an underdog in the wine world.”

She is also excited about the winery’s Riesling, which I can attest is very good. The sparkling Riesling in particular was a treat for me. “It’s cool and relaxed and we’d like to do something fun with it in the future,” Maggie agrees. “We do it with the crown caps so that people see it as cool and easy and realize that sparkling doesn’t have to be fussy.”

Maggie thinks that sort of experimental, less corporate, less driven to be mass-market style is a part of what makes PEC wine so unique. It’s those qualities that will be on showcase at the Terroir festival on May 3rd in Picton. The Grange will be one of many PEC winemakers showcasing their products there. “It’s at a great time for us,” says Maggie of the spring season. “We’re wrapping up winemaking, so a lot of the wineries have new products to showcase, but for us it’s a really important time of year because it’s when we’re starting to build a new vintage. It’s an exciting time with great energy.”

Learn more about Terroir here:

Learn more about The Grange of Prince Edward here:

And to read more of the posts in this series, visit Uncork Ontario.