Prince Edward County Notebook
Wine of the WeekHuff Estate 2006 Rosé ($14.95, 89 points, www.huffestates.ca)The belle of the ball at the Prince Edward County Terroir celebration this past Saturday. Winemaker Frédéric Picard blended 100% county cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon from Huff’s South Bay vineyards to create over 1,000 cases of a true rosé. (That is, not drawn off (saigné) from red wine.) It’s brilliant, soft pink with a piquant nose of red currant, strawberry and rhubarb compote. Zesty acidity bolts onto the palate and carries the sour red fruit flavours to very good length. As a sipping wine, it’s bracing and tart on the finish, but excellent with a fresh, leafy spring salad, tomatoes, and salmon.
The winemakers of Prince Edward County have been kept awake and busy in the last couple of weeks. Some nights they’ve been sleepless as night temperatures have dipped perilously close to the frost zone. By day, they’ve had to deal with the onset of event and tourist season, and some are still in the midst of bottling the 2006 vintage.
On May 11, there was the arrival of two Ontario government ministers, a local MPP, bureaucrats and a sound crew, all there to announce a licensing change for Ontario wineries that will allow them to sell wines by the glass (max 5 oz serving) so that tasting room patrons can then take along on winery and vineyard tours. Feelings are mixed about whether this is a good idea for crowd control, security and wine tourism, but overall it’s a drop-in-the-bucket issue. The real issues about lack of access to markets outside of the county were revealed in a barrage of questions by the wine makers. What about more county wines in LCBO stores, asked one. What about VQA stores, asked another. What about selling fruit and grape wines in farmers markets asked another? What about a level taxation playing field for apple cider and wines? Government Services Minister Gerry Phillips had no direct answers but several times re-phrased platitudes indicating that government really does care. At least the wine makers had the guts to stand up and press their points, and the messages were heard.
Then came the judging, on May 14, of the 2nd Annual Artevino Wine Awards in Belleville. This is a competition just for PEC wineries organized as one element of a fundraiser for the Quinte Arts Council. I helped organize a judging panel of Toronto, Ottawa, Kingston and county writers and educators for the event. The winemakers had to stress about which wines to enter and then fret about the results (which will be announced Thursday). They are collaborating on special large-format bottlings of 100% county white and red for the Artevino auction, tasting and dinner June 8 and 9. Most PEC wineries will be pouring at the Friday night tasting and auction with top medal winners being poured on Saturday night at a seven-course dinner (prepared by several Belleville chefs) at Capers Wine Bar & Brasserie. Toronto art and wine auctioneer Steven Ranger from Ritchies in Toronto will preside. For details visit www.quinteartscouncil.org.
Finally, over the holiday weekend, there was the annual Terroir event staged by the Prince Edward County Winegrowers Association at the Picton Fairgrounds “Crystal Palace.” On a bright and fresh spring day, I ran into plenty of Toronto folk among the 675 attendees who sipped, sampled and schmoozed, enjoying the relaxing, flowing ambiance.
I’m always looking for little bits of news at events like this. Like the fact that Norman Hardie is completely sold out of his 2005s already, and we’ll have to await a 2006 Melon de Bourgogne and 2006 Riesling later this summer. And Deborah Paskus of Closson’s Chase has put together her first barrel of 2005 chardonnay from county vines, and has also created two barrels of a Niagara-based 2005 Temkin-Paskus Chardonnay, a label not seen for several years. (I will review both after more thorough tasting soon). There was the release of an interesting Sandbanks 2006 Foch Reserve (not yet in stores), a hybrid not seen in the county before and which has been rendered into a quite interesting Rhone-like red by the gentle touch of winemaker Catherine Langlois. And there was the debut of 2006 Riesling and 2006 Chenin Blanc from By Chadsey’s Cairns, a pair of mouthwatering, limestone-driven whites (the riesling from eight-year-old vines) that are beginning to demonstrate the great tension and minerality for which the county expects to become famous. Picking up from last week’s post, the Chenin Blanc ($23, www.bychadseyscairns.com) is by far the best of very few examples ever made in Ontario.