As a kid, I can remember waiting in extremely giddy anticipation for our next family road trip to Prince Edward County. Each summer, we would pile into the station wagon and head to Sandbanks Provincial Park for a day at the beach.
It was and still is a tradition; for us and countless other families drawn to the seemingly endless sandy beaches and dunes.
As an adult, I have certainly developed a more diverse appreciation and a wanderlust’s fascination with this captivating region of South Eastern Ontario. There’s just something about The County that sparks up that same exuberant glee when I know I’m returning there once more.
For this particular adventure, Heidi created a solid itinerary that took us through The County’s thriving wine and craft beverage scene, as well as local farmers markets, dining venues – and an overnight stay at the famous Huff Estates Winery & Inn. The end result was an exciting and personally humbling experience that we won’t soon forget.
A Venerable Craft Lives on at Canadian Vinegar Cellars
We arrived in The County by way of the Quinte Skyway bridge (South of Deseronto, Ontario). As we crossed, it felt as though we were taking flight from everything behind us, as we took in the gorgeous sight of what lay before us. A fond, if temporary farewell to the hustle and bustle, and hello to two days in a winter paradise!
Our first destination was: Black Prince Winery which is also the home of Canadian Vinegar Cellars. We started our visit with a tour of the Barrel House with none other than the Master Cooper himself, Pete Bradford.
While there’s no barrel making demonstrations during the winter months, Pete was kind enough to show us around the Barrel House, and the variety of vinegars at different stages of the ageing process. Stepping into the storage house was like stepping through time, and into the golden age of manual craftsmanship.
Some of the barrels in the cooperage were close to a century old – and others were newer creations or works in progress. As I took in my surroundings, they told a story of not only Pete’s passion for making barrels but his relationship with the raw materials and a discipline born of our industrial heritage. It was a fascinating fusion of dedication, craftsmanship and art.
Sampling the Wares at Black Prince Winery
After our tour through the barrel house, we returned to the main building to visit Black Prince’s retail storefront. It was there that we met up with General Manager: Geoff Webb. Black Prince offers an impressive variety of award-winning and uniquely local wines and vinegars that encompass an intriguing range of flavour profiles. Heidi and I were honoured to each participate in a private tasting.
Heidi sampled several of the kinds of vinegar with Pete, while I joined Geoff for a sampling of Black Prince’s wines.
Heidi rather enjoyed the Canadian Cellars Peach Vinegar, a sweet, and natural wine-based vinegar aged in 100-year-old Oak Spanish Pipes. On the other end of the flavour spectrum, she also liked the “Holy Cow” vinegar, which is derived from pinot noir and barrel aged for 17 years. She described it as a “robust and sharp flavour that would make a great marinade for a roast beef or lamb.”
Over at an adjacent tasting bar, I tried a fascinating selection of wines. I could likely write an entire article, just about our visit with Black Prince Winery – but in the interest of time, I’ll touch on my two favourite wines.
My red wine of choice would have to be Solaras Cask Local Apera. This striking red is aged in 80-year-old Spanish Sherry Casks using 12-year-old Chardonnay from Black Prince’s library. It had sweet notes of dried fruit, and a mild nutty finish resulting in an entirely unique flavour experience.
For a white wine, I was intrigued, and delighted with the taste of Mary Jane’s Magical White Hemp Wine. This groovy vino employs a proprietary blend of the finest homegrown white grapes & Ontario hemp! Geoff told me that this hemp infused wine comes with the benefits of the plant’s rich omegas, vitamins and mineral content.
I’m also told that Mary Jane’s pairs quite splendidly with a bag of Doritos.
A Lovely Lunch at The Agrarian Bistro & Speakeasy
After our amazing visit and tasting with Black Prince Winery, we set course for Bloomfield, Ontario, and our next stop: The Agrarian Bistro! Situated on the main strip, the Agrarian is a cozy and intimate venue with a lot of charm. I loved the exposed brick walls, local artwork and the overall atmosphere in this cozy little spot. It was like taking a cool urban bistro and planting it amid the calm and chill pace of The County.
For lunch, Heidi selected the Agrarian Burger with cheddar and bacon. I noticed that the daily lunch specials included a Cubano Sandwich, and could not resist the prospect of trying their version of one of my all-time favourite sammies. It didn’t disappoint coming with an ample amount of smoked pork, melted gruyere, onion and thinly sliced pickles.
Each of our dishes came with an adorable bucket of crispy and delicious fries, and as a result, our lunch was an absolute triumph.
A Distillery Tour and Tasting at Kinsip House of Fine Spirits
Located at 66 Gilead Road in Bloomfield, Ontario is a Second Empire style farmhouse and impressive property that was once the sight of the regions most prosperous barley and hops farm, during the storied Barley Days era of The County. Today, it is the home of Kinsip House of Fine Spirits.
During our visit, we were treated to a private tour of the distillery by Kinsip’s President and Head of Distilling: Jeremiah Soucie. He described the process of distilling and showed us their immense distilling unit that towered above. This was my first-ever visit to a distillery, and I was impressed with the sheer magnitude of it all.
After the tour and seeing how their spirits are made, I was certainly ready for a drink. We then made our way back to the farmhouse and Kinsip’s ornate tasting bar. I sampled their 100% Canadian Rye, which was very smooth and far superior to any off the shelf rye I’ve ever tasted. I also rather enjoyed the Duck Island Rum, which was made with Barbados Molasses. Like the rye, this rum was incredibly smooth and so flavourful that to mix it with cola would be a crime.
Before leaving, I couldn’t resist purchasing a bottle of small-batch Maple Whisky, and some of Kinsip’s delicious whisky barrel aged maple syrup to sweeten up our next pancake breakfast or bowl of ice cream at home.
Dinner and Drinks at Midtown Brewing Company
For dinner, we made our way South, to Wellington for a much-anticipated visit to Midtown Brewing Company. I loved the industrial feel of the decor and sitting amid the fermentation tanks. I am also a big fan of Midtown’s social-style seating arrangement. The dining area consisted of several long tables that were perfect for large groups and promoting interaction between guests.
I sampled a flight of local craft beers including Midtown’s signature Extra Special Bitter (ESB), Prince Eddy’s Fresh Coast IPA and a rather nice House Ale by Mackinnon Brothers.
For dinner, I had best Fried Chicken Sandwich I have ever eaten. It consisted of local chicken from Prinzen Farms, lovingly marinated in buttermilk and hand battered using Midtown’s in-house recipe. It was also topped with a zesty jalapeno red cabbage coleslaw, buttermilk ranch sauce, all on a fresh brioche bun.
As this beast of a chicken burger arrived at our table, the gentleman seated next to us took notice. “What is that?” he exclaimed with astonishment.
“This is the mother of all chicken sandwiches sir,” I replied.
One look was all this guy needed because we were soon exchanging a knowing nod of mutual satisfaction as he bit into his very own chicken burger with great relish.
Heidi was feeling rather adventurous, so she went with the succulent MBC Burger with bacon & cheese. It also came topped with crisp homemade ‘slaw and a delicious garlic aioli. The beef was also locally sourced (13 Km away in fact) from Walt’s Sugar Shack.
A Relaxing Evening at Huff Estates Winery & Inn
After an eventful day, we checked into our lodgings at Huff Estates Winery & Inn. Our room for the night was the Balloon Suite, one of Huff’s premiere options that comes complete with lavish modern furnishings, a double-sided fireplace and a king-sized bed that you could likely land a helicopter on. There was also a spacious 4-piece bathroom that sported a luxurious whirlpool tub and separate walk-in shower.
We were content to spend the remainder of the night relaxing in the comforts of our suite. We also enjoyed a small spread of local charcuterie goodies that we had procured earlier from the fine folks at Shroedter’s Farm Market & Cafe.
As the night progressed, that massive King Sized bed was looking better, and better, as we were pretty exhausted. By nine thirty I was pouring myself some of that legendary Maple Whisky I purchased from Kinsip, for a stiff nightcap before officially calling it a day.
A Spellbinding Start to Day 2
We awoke just before the dawn, and Heidi was eager to capture some photos of The County’s fabled sunrise. As the first light of day crept over the horizon, it brought with it an amazing and firey display, chasing away the night in a beautiful spectacle of violet and azure radiance.
Shortly thereafter, we went back inside for a delicious buffet breakfast in Huff’s beautiful dining room. Heidi and I shared a delectable Belgian waffle with fresh berries and whipped cream, as well as coffee, and juice. Also worth mentioning are the adorable, and tasty mini breakfast wraps. The tiny little burritos are packed with flavour and only served to enhance the most important meal of the day.
An Inspiring Collection of Fine Art at Oeno Gallery
With a hearty breakfast out of the way, we headed over to Oeno Gallery which is located on-site at Huff Estates. This mesmerizing gallery has a wondrous collection of fine art ranging from abstract canvas paintings, intriguing sculptures, and some timeless masterpieces by none other than the Group of Seven.
Oeno is a unique gallery, endowed both inside and out with a diverse range of creative exhibits that are sure to enthrall anyone with an appreciation for artistic expression. Each collection represents a robust roster of talented artists spanning several mediums. Throughout the year, guests can also enjoy a variety of exhibitions.
Heidi and I had an unforgettable time exploring the indoor and outdoor exhibits and were entirely taken with the inspirational and vibrant assortment of creations on display at Oeno Gallery.
A Private Tour & Wine Tasting at Huff Estates
A short walk from the gallery brought us to Huff Estates Winery for a tasting and private tour of the facility! This impressive building was designed with the express purpose of producing premium high-quality wines. The winery is built into a hill, utilizing an ingenious gravity fed system for making Huff’s renowned selection of wines.
Our tour guide was Mr. Brian Hanna, the resident Sommelier at Huff Estates. Before embarking on the tour, I was offered a sample of sparkling rosé to enjoy as Brian showed us the enormous crushing tanks and shiny fermentation vats.
One key component of the tour was a geography lesson that detailed Prince Edward County’s unique climate and soil content which results in The County’s unparalleled and unique wine varieties. Huff Estate’s grows the majority of their grapes at an offsite location along the Southernmost region of Prince Edward County that benefits from a unique microclimate that is resistant to spontaneous frosts, and offers ideal growing conditions.
It was then that Brian noticed that my glass of rosé was edging close to empty, so we made our way back to the tasting bar. I’m a huge fan of red wine, so Brian selected the 2015 South Bay Merlot – which had a very nice floral bouquet with a flavour that seemed to cary notes of dark berries.
Brian also recommended Huff Estates’ 2016 Pinot Noir Reserve – which I really liked. The pinot noir presented a fruity aroma, and taste profile that would likely pair well with spicy Creole dishes, or a perky stir-fry combining both sweet and heat.
To refer to Huff Estates Winery as a “really nice winery” is an understatement, and wouldn’t truly do it justice. It’s more like a destination or retreat in and of itself. A place where you can go to shut-off the stresses of one’s everyday routine – and explore an inspiring, and comfortable creative haven. Whether it’s a solo trip or a strategic getaway with someone special – the amazing wine, and delicious food are but an added bonus.
If I had the funding, I could see myself renting out a suite for a few weeks while grinding out a short-novel at this gorgeous slice countryside amid the fervent paradise that is Prince Edward County. Alas, we had to take our leave – and finish up our epic adventure with one last stop before heading home.
Campbell’s Orchards Farm Market
I am a huge fan of the local food movement and supporting neighbouring farmers, venues and businesses whenever possible. Prince Edward County is a spectacular place where the local food scene is absolutely booming! One of The County’s most famous farm markets is Campbell’s Orchard – and we were super excited to stop in and see what’s in store.
This roadside market is a brilliant throwback to a less complicated era in shopping. There is a certain welcoming charm to this store that feels more organic and real than the monolithic and sterile feeling supermarkets of the big city. When we walked into the store, we were met with the adorable scene of Sophie the golden retriever – who was napping in her bed by the fire.
The store is filled with local goodies ranging from take and bake frozen pies, preserves, baked goods, cheeses, meats and everything in between. Also available is a staggering variety of amazing apple related finery, including The County’s very own Apple Falls Cider which is made using apples grown right there at Campbell’s orchard.
After picking up a bottle of Apple Falls’ Beekeeper cider to bring home, we took a short walk around the grounds joined by Sophie the dog, who was a most excellent guide if I do say so myself. We could have easily spent a week further exploring The County, but it was time to head home and get to work on this story.
Visit The County!
When you find yourself in Prince Edward County, the gnarlier aspects of urban life simply vanish and become less important. The noise, hustle, and seeming disconnect of the concrete jungle is cast well into the rearview, and replaced with the rolling rural countryside, and glorious quiet that you can just feel.
There is also an elegant reconnection at work here, that reminds you of what’s really important in life. Creativity, community and an enduring culture that reminds us to appreciate the simpler things. A place where you can’t help but just slow down, and bask in that County vibe.
Well, that brings us to the end of this adventure. I hope that we’ve inspired you to #VisitTheCounty!
As always, feel free to hit up the handy Google Map below for the locations we visited to help plan your own experience! Do you have a favourite place to visit in Prince Edward County? Let us know in the comments!
Until next time, thanks for reading.