A Tale of Two Fall Fairs
It was a glorious Thanksgiving weekend to be in southern Ontario, particularly in the countryside celebrating local bounty. The province’s wine growers were certainly giving thanks for three hot, dry days that pushed sugar levels in later ripening grape varieties, and helped dry out the soggy vineyards for picking.
I spent most of the weekend at not one, but two, fall fairs in central Ontario that were not quite an apples to apples comparison. More like aunt Molly’s apple pie, versus the Acoustic Cafe’s butterscotch apple liquor with hot cider served with a caramel-dipped apple slice.
On Saturday, I was at the Taste! in Picton’s Crystal Palace, a celebration of the local wines, chefs and products in Prince Edward County, the burgeoning wine region and culinary destination 100 minutes drive east of Toronto. On Sunday, I was at the Norwood Fall Fair, in the town of the same name on Highway 7 east of Peterborough, also about 100 minutes northeast of Toronto. The two towns are also about 100 kms apart as the migrating Canada geese fly at this time of year.
Culturally the distance is even wider—in some respects directly because of what wine can do to a place.
Taste was established in 2002 as Taste of the County. This year it drew about 2,000 people, many being wine and food enthusiasts from Toronto, Kingston, Quinte and Ottawa, all of whom paid $12.50 admission and then purchased tickets to further sample individual wines (an Ontario regulation for public events serving alcohol). Visitors under 19 years of age were not permitted, and the festival turned away babes in arms whose parents hadn’t read the rules.
The Norwood Fall Fair, on the other hand, is one of the oldest fall fairs in the province—established in 1868, one year after Confederation. It’s a place for farming families to cut loose at the midway and enter livestock in the show ring. It drew about 4,000 people on Sunday who paid $8 per head. No extra tickets required for alcohol because no alcohol was being served.
At Taste!, Toronto-based chef Jamie Kennedy, who owns vineyards in the County, personally served his famous French fries to crowds who lined up for about 15 minutes. At the Norwood Fair several concessions served pretty darn good fries as well, for which I lined up, for, well, gosh, about 15 minutes too, while the seven volunteers behind the counter tried to figure out who was supposed to be doing what.
At Taste!, the main non-gastronomic attraction was a bocce ball court set up by wine scribe Billy Munnelly, a pastime you might find at the fall fairs in any European village. In Norwood, it was tractor lawn mower races, or—if that was too intense—an event wherein horse teams had to drag unbelievably heavy concrete slabs approximately ten metres.
Taste! served wines, beers and ciders matched to sample portion dishes created by the burgeoning community of chefs in the County. I was one of three media judges who volunteered to spend morethan three hours blind-tasting the combinations. A personal favourite was short ribs rubbed with pepperberry and finished with a maple syrup and vinegar reduction, paired with a fragrant, almost elegant, Sandbanks 2005 Baco Noir. Runner up was the Waring House emu burger served with Waupoos Estates Winery 2005 Baco Noir. Conclusion: Prince Edward County baco noir is awesome with strongly flavoured meat and game dishes.
At the Norwood Fair, folks drank pop, juice and water; leaving the wine lovers (me) solely to their imagination. While the goats were being paraded out in the show ring I was thinking chevre and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. While having a gander at the price winning geese I was thinking foie gras and Sauternes. The sheep pen? Cabernet sauvignon, of course. And while watching the Western-style horse show, malbec from Argentina.
You can take a wine guy out of wine country, but not for long.