Prince Edward County is a unique place in so many ways. I am reminded of its farming history every time I walk around outside and re-examine the older buildings on my property. Along the creek, near the highway and close to the village road, there is the crumbling ruins of a blacksmith shop and a mill powered at one time by the water flowing in the creek. I also see remnants of the tomato canning factory that was once active here; blanching baskets and labels that read, “Taylor Made” Taylor, the family name of the cannery owners more than 60 years ago.
After a period of decline in the mid to late 20th century, Prince Edward County is today enjoying a renaissance. In 2007 the County was awarded VQA status, identifying the county as an officially designated wine growing region in Ontario. Murmurings of the potential greatness of the region for grape growing began in earnest probably a decade earlier than that.
Although the region is now producing interesting and unique wines from over 50 established wineries, grape and wine production here has a unique added degree of difficulty. This has to do with the severity of our winters. It is rare in the Niagara Escarpment Region for example for temperatures to drop below minus 24 degrees Celsius. The moderating effect of the lake and the escarpment itself are responsible for a creating a favourable microclimate.
This is not the case for Prince Edward where temperatures routinely drop to minus 24 and below. For vine growers in Prince Edward County this means that drastic measures must be taken each year to ensure there is a grape harvest. It is now standard practice to bury the fruit bearing canes under the soil in the fall and to raise them again in the spring. In most vineyards in Prince Edward ingenious device have been invented and attached to tractors to facilitate this arduous task. In the case of my own vineyard where all the work is done by hand, this becomes an annual activity that requires two men and 8 solid days of work in the fall to bury the vines and in spring to unearth them again.
It occurred to me last year when I was in the middle of this mind numbing activity with a willing friend or two how great it would be to organize a large group of people and invite them to come and spend a day on the farm and at the same time unearth all the vines in the vineyard in one fell swoop. So on Earth Day this year, 60 people arrived on the farm in the morning raring to go. After coffee and donuts and other treats beautifully prepared by Mary Wood of Midnight Snack Company, each participant was assigned a row of vines to tackle. Armed with spading forks and hand cultivators, we worked from the top of the vineyard to the bottom.
After about 4 hours of hard labour peppered with lively conversation and general merriment, the work was done! The vines are now up out of the ground to take in the sun and produce what one hopes will be a wonderful and generous harvest. Celebration followed with French fries and black currant agua fresca on the ridge. The service staff and cooks had themselves been busy all morning preparing food and setting the table to serve lunch to all of the willing vineyard workers. This activity also served as a dress rehearsal for our kitchen and service teams in readiness for our upcoming summer dinner series beginning on May 20th.
Once everyone was seated and acknowledgements were made, I introduced Geoff Heinricks, friend, winemaker and mentor for me on all matter vinous to “speak” to the wine. The wine was our own pinot noir from the 2014 vintage grown in that self same vineyard where everyone had just spent the last 4 hours. And now tasting the wine that had been produced right here in this same room where we were all now dining together. It was a fitting way to give thanks and to offer a tangible and delicious context to the day.
Cane Raiser Garner Quain captured this video footage: