Articles Tagged ‘Prince Edward County’

WINE: What the heck is natural wine?


This article was originally published in the Summer 2015 print edition of Ottawa Magazine.

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Illustration by Celia Krampien

 You’ve seen it on toothpaste, peanut butter, and ice cream. Now get ready to see it on wine labels and requested at esteemed wine bars. While the term natural wine has been used in France since the 1970s, Europe is always a decade or two ahead of North America. Savvy shoppers on this side of the pond will begin to notice natural on an increasing number of bottles, but trying to decipher exactly what differentiates natural from conventional wines isn’t easy.

That is because — unlike organic and biodynamic wines — natural wines do not have official certification. As such, some wineries that produce natural wines aren’t marketing their product as natural.

Having no single touchstone can create confusion. What is natural to you might not be considered nat-ural to the person who sold it to you or to the winemaker who crafted it. But there is a shared notion of what natural wines are all about. Put briefly, natural wines are unadulterated and therefore, some argue, expressive in a way that conventional wines are not.

The principles that guide natural winemaking include the use of naturally occurring yeasts (also called wild or indigenous yeasts) to ferment the grapes, avoidance of exposure to new oak barrels, and reduction (or even elimination) of added sulphur.

These principles contrast with conventional winemaking techniques that use industrial aromatic yeasts and new oak to impart qualities that have little to do with the vineyard or the grapes. Plus, conventional wines also might overdo the addition of sulphur in order to extend the shelf life of the wine.

“Few, if any, who get used to natural wines can go back to conventional. Drinkers will progress from c’est naturel, c’est bon
and start being more discerning,” 

~ Alice Feiring, New York-based wine critic and author of
Naked Wine: Letting Grapes Do What Comes Naturally

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WINE TOUR: 12 must-visit wineries for your summer road trip to Prince Edward County

The 2012-2013 edition of Ottawa Magazine’s Eating & Drinking Guide is a food lover’s bible for everything local, with 80+ pages of restaurant, wine, food shop, and kitchen store recommendations. Look for it on newsstands or order it here.

Sneak Peek: Ottawa Magazine wine writer David Lawrason provides the Eating & Drinking Guide with the 12 Prince Edward County wineries on his summer tour list. Order the Guide to read Lawrason’s top 60 wine recommendations for this season.



Norman Hardie is known for its great chardonnays and pinots.

In 2013, some of the pioneering wineries of Prince Edward County will be harvesting their 10th vintage. Growth in the past decade, in terms of both the number of wineries and the range and proficiency of their wines, is nothing short of astounding.

Located just three hours south of Ottawa, the area has become the national capital’s backyard wine region — lucky us! Plan to visit or revisit this season, with fair warning that a one-day jaunt just won’t cut it. Here is an opinionated look at the must-visit wineries and what makes them interesting:

Casa-Dea Estates Winery (Greer Road, Hillier)
Thanks to Niagara-trained winemaker Paul Battilana, this little red-roofed winery is now making very good well-priced, crisp, and solid County classics such as pinot noir, chardonnay, franc, and riesling, as well as a delightful pink gamay-based sparkler called Dea’s Rose. La Pergola Restaurant on-site offers an Italian lunch menu.

Closson Chase Vineyards (Closson Road, Hillier)
Very serious and seriously complex, rich, creamy, and expensive chardonnays from County and Niagara vineyards are the signature of iconoclastic winemaker Deborah Paskus. Pinot noir is also a County leader, with the Churchside 2010 a personal favourite. Small, classy tasting room and art gallery.

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WEEKENDER TO WINE COUNTRY: Suggestions for picture-perfect wineries in Prince Edward County

Time for a weekender to pretty Prince Edward County. Visit some picture-perfect wineries, taste-test their latest offerings, and revel in the burgeoning local wine scene 


This story appears in the Summer edition of Ottawa Magazine. Buy the magazine on newsstands or order your online edition.

Field of dreams: A view over the vineyards taken from the wooden barn that houses The Old Third vineyard. David Lawrason has put a visit to the rustic Prince Edward County winery on his summer to-do list. Photography by Leeanne Munn.

Local wine fans, rejoice! Now, more than ever before, distinctive (and increasingly good) wine is available directly from wineries situated right on the city’s doorstep. The wine region of Prince Edward County is just an ambitious day trip — or a comfy weekend jaunt — away. And every year, the County produces an ever greater range of reliable wines. You, too, can finally do as Europeans have been doing forever — head to the country to buy your wine personally and oh so locally.

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TWO FOODIE ROAD TRIPS: Seed to Sausage Grand Opening (May 19) & The Great Canadian Cheese Festival (June 1-3)

A selection of Seed to Sausage salumi served at the launch of the Great Canadian Cheese Festival

Cured meats, as we all know, are making a comeback. And while I have enjoyed many of the new porky products appearing in deli counters and on charcuterie boards around town, I do find it can get a little confusing. The terminology alone is tough to tackle: is charcuterie the same as salumi? Is salumi the same as salame? What’s the difference between copa and capicola? Smoked, cured, cooked, dried, aged, nitrates, and nitrites — there is so much to know.

Luckily we have an expert, educator, and true Salumist among us! Ottawa-raised Michael McKenzie of Seed to Sausage has emerged from his military career as the region’s Pied Piper of Pork (and lamb and beef). It seems whatever he makes at his salumeria in Sharbot Lake, 130 km west of Ottawa, a trail of chefs and foodies follow behind holding baskets of crostini and jars of artisanal mustard.

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EAT LOCAL; COOK LOCAL: Previewing a pretty book of recipes from Prince Edward County

The Art of Herbs Cookbook

Tasty, beautiful, local. Last fall, Cynthia Peters, food writer and owner of From the Farm Cooking School in Prince Edward County, teamed up with artist Susan Wallis to create a visual feast of a recipe book themed around chives, basil, lemon balm, coriander, and tarragon. Each of the 22 recipes is paired with a richly textured encaustic herbal painting. Local chefs, farmers, and winemakers provide the opening remarks for the sections, further personalizing this homegrown homage to the bounty of the County. In honour of this early spring herb, we have reproduced Peters’ spicy shrimp and chive recipe.

The Art of Herbs Cookbook is available at The Red Apron and Collected Works Bookstore. For more information on the book, visit

Garlic Shrimp with Chives  (Serves 4)
16 uncooked jumbo shrimp
1 lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil

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TASTING NOTES: Ontario’s top chardonnays take Manhattan

By David Lawrason

In an office tower above Times Square this past spring, a wide-ranging selection of Canadian chardonnays was poured for the assembled wine press and pundits of New York City. It was all part of a promotional expedition by Canadian vintners called Seriously Cool, the follow-up to a similar exercise in 2010 at the London Wine Fair, where our wines were a hit with surprised Brits who were barely aware that Ontario made chardonnay, let alone top-notch wines that resemble white burgundy.

Ontario’s generally coolish climate and the limestone-based soils that rim Lake Ontario in Niagara and Prince Edward County echo the terroir of France’s great chardonnay region. Local observers have been aware of this for over 20 years, and now, as Ontario’s vineyards mature and winemakers gain more experience, the quality and body of good work is exploding. In January, 100 Canadian chardonnays (including a handful from B.C.) were poured blind for Ontario pundits in a screening exercise to decide which would go to New York.

Fifty-four wines earned a ticket, almost half of them from Ontario’s 2008 vintage — a cool year that sewed in the acidity to complement the minerality that is a signature in Ontario. Almost 65 percent of the 2008s made it through. From the riper, softer 2007 wines, nine of 17 got the thumbs-up, while the 2009s mustered only seven passes out of 24 entries, perhaps because many showed some youthful awkwardness. Several older “library” vintages and a pair of sparkling chardonnays are also making the trip.

There was no requirement that the wines be currently available to consumers in Ontario, but I have selected some of the most exciting New York-bound wines that are available at Vintages or by ordering from the wineries. The average price of the wines is about $35, which may sound outrageous, but please consider that this is also the average price of lower-end white burgundy, and the quality is generally on par. It may be shocking to think that Ontario can be, and should be, playing in this sandbox, but Mother Nature has dealt us the wherewithal.

Closson Chase 2008 Chardonnay
$34.95 • Prince Edward County • 91 points
Winemaker Deborah Paskus is an Ontario chardonnay specialist making County and Niagara versions. Three of her wines are bound for New York. This is a full-on, rich yet vibrant chardonnay with full extraction and layers of flavour driven by low-yield fruit and long aging in new French oak barrels. Look for toasty peat smoke, caramel, and peach pie aromas. Length is excellent. Very impressive.

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TASTING NOTES: Autumn in a glass! Discover Ontario ciders

Illustration: Margaret Chelkowska

Taking their cue from a robust Quebec industry, Ontario producers are now elevating the status of the apple and making gorgeous ciders. Close your eyes, take a sip, and prepare to be transported straight into the orchard on a crisp fall day

By David Lawrason

The McIntosh apple was discovered by United Empire Loyalist John McIntosh when he spied a few wild apple-tree seedlings while he was clearing land near Morrisburg, in the St. Lawrence Valley south of Ottawa. The year was 1811. He transplanted the seedlings to his garden, but only one tree survived, producing its now famous Mac apple until 1908. The tree tipped over in 1910 after almost 100 years of service (as we all would). This bite of history is now more appropriate than ever, given that production of apple cider is on the rise along the St. Lawrence corridor.

In Ontario hard cider (apple cider with alcohol) is a small industry struggling for consumer and regulatory recognition — still very much in the shadow of beer as a beverage of casual contentment. Few apple-only producers are active in Ontario, among over 30 producers of other types of fruit wines, and only two are listed at the LCBO. (A Prince Edward County neighbour is now dabbling in cider, as well, without commercial production yet.) However, the situation is much more robust in Quebec, where — perhaps inspired by the apple-based calvados industry in Normandy — there are more than 40 producers of hard cider, many also making gorgeous ice cider from frozen apples. Two Quebec companies in particular — Domaine Pinnacle and La Face Cachée de la Pomme — are putting Quebec ice cider on the world map, with exports to Europe and Asia.

When you explore ciders, you will find many styles — from sparkling to bone-dry and from oak-aged to those flavoured with other fruits and spices. And let’s not forget the super-sweet dessert styles. But no matter how rendered, the core apple aromas (pun intended) must be pure and easily identifiable. And it’s even better if they transport you right into the orchard on a fall day. Some of these offerings are available at the LCBO. For others, you might want to take an autumn drive to the wineries or contact them directly to inquire about purchasing and shipping.

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Wine Picks: Say Cheese

The great Eastern Ontario wine-and-cheese road trip

By David Lawrason

Illustration: Li Hewitt

PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY IS ON A ROLL, having launched a stunning 17 new labels or wineries this past year to boost its total to 31. At the same time, eastern Ontario is undergoing a renaissance of cheese making, with at least four new artisanal sheep, goat, and cow’s milk producers joining the large existing community of cheddar specialists. And so the stage is set for an exciting new kind of weekend culinary excursion. On a meandering road trip from Ottawa to Picton, you could visit half a dozen cheese factories, then buy wines to match when you arrive in the County. I recently gathered over a dozen cheeses and County wines for a fascinating mix and match exploration, and I present my favourite pairings as a guide for your eastern Ontario wine and cheese excursion — and resulting party. For those who never seem able to get out of town, I have also listed Ontario-grown likely wine alternatives more easily available at the LCBO. As well, many of the cheeses can be found at speciality shops in Ottawa, including Farm Boy.

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Wine Picks: Chill Out

Ontario’s Nifty 2008 Whites

By David Lawrason

Illustration: Emily Chen

ONTARIO’S WHITE WINES ARE GAINING STATURE with every passing season. They have an energy and a fragrance that taps into the sap-stirring feelings we northerners experience every spring. This was never truer than with the 2008 vintage now on the shelves. Reset your body clock to the summer of 2008 — the warm and wet one (2009 was cold and wet). All that humidity, including the tail end of a hurricane or two in September, meant that grape growers had to be extra vigilant to remove leaves so that wind and warmth could fan away mildew and stoke more ripeness in the berries. The sunless conditions delayed ripening, although Niagara and Prince Edward County did breathe a sigh of relief with a warmer, drier October. In the end, 2008 turned out to be a challenge for the later-ripening reds but delivered nifty whites with all kinds of zesty acidity. I actually found many of them too tart when they were first released last spring/summer, but now, after a winter in the bottle, they are settling down and filling out. Here is a fine selection, either on the shelves of the LCBO or from the wineries. And in very much the same spirit, if not from the 2008 vintage, we include two new Prince Edward County sparkling wines —  another style as buoyant as a spring day —  showing magnificent promise for Ottawa’s backyard wine region.

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