Grape growers in regions like Orange, Canberra and Tasmania like to think they are on the cutting edge of cool-climate viticulture but the wineries of Ontario in Canada have to deal with some pretty extreme winter conditions.
Ontario wine country is located between 41 and 44 north, similar in latitude to Burgundy, and extreme fluctuations in daily temperatures provide conditions that locals say are critical to creating a balance between acidity and fruitiness.
Prince Edward County is Canada’s newest wine appellation, only recognised in 2007, producing minerally wines, boutique beers, crisp ciders and artisanal cheeses. It is located in Southern Ontario at the eastern end of Lake Ontario and has a population of just 25,000.
Despite that, “the County” has become a top culinary destination, sometimes called the gastronomic capital of the region given its many vineyards, organic farms and community of artists and chefs.
The number of wineries has soared from just one in 2001 to over 30 as a growing number of émigrés from the big smoke live out their dreams of rural idyll.
Winter temperatures, however, can sometimes exceed -30°C - enough to kill even healthy vines - which is why those in this part of the world have to be pruned back and buried during the winter months to protect delicate buds.
PEC, as its known to the locals, is a picture postcard-pretty region that is not only producing some impressive cold-climate wines, but is also becoming a popular wine tourism destination with several attractive cellar doors and restaurants alongside art galleries, antique stores and beautifully restored old barns.
It still trails behind the Okanagan in British Columbia and the Niagara-on-the-Lake district in southern Ontario both in terms of wine production and recognition, but is attracting attention nationally and internationally.
Other star wineries include high-tech Huff Estates, Closson Chase, Black Prince, Casa-Dea, Waupoos Estates (cellar door below), Keint-he and Rosehall Run, while Harwood Estate is one of Canada’s few solar-powered wineries.
Dining out options in the county range from the funky Buddha Dog (where the artisan sausages have been named Canada’s best hotdogs) to the casual East & Main Bistro, fine dining at the upmarket Bloomfield Carriage House.
At East & Main you can dine on dishes like wild smoked Atlantic salmon with colcannon, creamed corn sauce and bacon; or Waupoos cider-brined pork chop with apple pecan quinoa.
The Merrill Inn in Picton, the Claramount Inn and Spa, the Inn at Huff Estate and the new Drake Devonshire Inn on the shores of Lake Ontario, outside Wellington, are among the best places to stay.
But visitors need to time their trip well. Most of the cellar doors are only open May-November, when the weather is kind, and by appointment over the colder months. See www.tastetrail.ca.