We arrived back in Canada in the midst of the ice wine festival. We briefly debated heading out and joining in in the festivities but saner heads (read Paul's) prevailed. While we like ice wine we don't often drink it. I have 9 bottles of the stuff down in the cellar ( quite an investment when you consider a bottle retails for anywhere from $ 25 - $ 60!) and I have no control at wine festivals. None at all. I taste it. I like it. I buy it. Full stop!
Some of you out there might not know what ice wine is. Ice Wine is a rare gift from a magical (and bloody cold!!!!!) Canadian winter.
Picked at the coldest moment of a winter's night,
each frozen grape creates just one drop of Ice Wine.
One smooth rich, luxurious drop.
In Ontario, Ice Wine must be made from approved grape varieties; the
most popular are Vidal Blanc, Riesling and Cabernet Franc. Some small
lots include Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.
season starts with netting the grape vines in the autumn, to protect
the grapes from being devoured by birds. Grapes are left on the vine
until a sustained temperature of -8°C or lower is reached (sometime
between December and February). During the time between the end of the
growing season and harvest, the grapes dehydrate, concentrating the
juices and creating the characteristic complexities of Ice Wine.
growers and wineries carefully watch the weather, looking for an
optimum stretch of temperatures between -10°C and -12°C. This range will
produce very sweet juice in the range of 35°Bx to 39°Bx (degrees Brix, a
measurement of sugar). Typically, a period of at least six hours is
needed to harvest and press the grapes—usually during the night. Many
wineries harvest by hand.
While still frozen, the harvested grapes
are pressed, leaving most of the water behind as ice. Only a small
amount of concentrated juice is extracted. Juice yields for Ice Wine
grapes are much lower than for table wines—only 15% of the expected
yield for grapes harvested for table wines. The juice is very sweet and
can be difficult to ferment. High sugars can create a hostile
environment for the yeast, and fermentation stops early, leaving
relatively low alcohol and high sugar levels in the finished wine.
A few years ago Paul and I participated in an ice wine harvest with our friend Catherine. I blogged about it here, back in the early days of this blog. I can still remember the bone chilling cold, the bright moon at midnight, and the amazement of watching the thick juice trickle out as it was pressed from the frozen grapes.
All of the chatter about ice wine recently caused me to crave it. I decided to make a martini that I've made a few times yet never blogged about. I've have blogged about ice wine martinis before but that was a combination of vodka, Grand Marnier, and Ice Wine. There are times I want something that is more pure - this one fits the bill!
In addition to the local ice wine we decided that the martini had to be mixed with a local vodka! I used some of the whole wheat vodka from Ontario's own brilliant 66 Gilead Distillery. The result was brilliant!
Ice Wine Martini
1 oz Ice Wine 1 1/2 oz Premium Vodka
Frozen grape or twist of orange peel
Shake the Ice Wine and Vodka in a mixing glass with ice. Strain
into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with the frozen
grape or twist.
It's time for another edition of Sandi's blog 'event' - Travel Tuesdays. It's easy to play (I like THAT!) all you need to do is to post one of your travel pics (and who doesn't have a gazillion of those) and then pop on over to Sandi's blog to join her Linky.
Since it is getting close to Christmas I thought I'd post some festive shots from our recent weekend in Prince Edward County.
But first . . . some changes. TNChick (which I just realized now stands for Tennessee Chick) has given up hosting the hunt after 5 wonderful (and hard working years). There was a vote and the new host of the hunt is none other than my friend Sandi!
A few year ago I stayed at the Waring House Inn located at the edge of Picton for work. At the time I thought 'I bet Paul would really enjoy staying here,' but nothing happened. When the impromptu trip stars aligned I contacted them to see what the price would be. I was told that the rooms were $128 for Friday and $ 99 for Saturday - including breakfast - I immediately made the reservations!
Beautifully situated at the heart of one of Ontario's the county, the Waring House has stood sentinel at Warings Corners since about 1860. Meticulously restored and renovated, the inn offers seventeen charming antique-appointed guest rooms. An additional 32 more modern rooms were recently added. Amelia's Garden dining room and the cozy Barley Room serve exceptional regional cuisine (the Barley room also featured a wonderful folk duo on friday night). A hands-on, recreational Cookery School, elegant Banquet/Conference Hall and lovely park-like setting make the Waring House an all-season destination.
We stayed in the deluxe rooms - the newer ones. I have to say that I was shocked by how large the room was and how wonderfully appointed it was. A room like this in Toronto would likely go for upwards of $ 600 a night!
Our room featured a small sitting area and a fireplace.
The King bed was one of the most comfortable beds I had ever slept in . . . so comfortable that I`d like the same bed here at home!
The bathroom featured huge, soft cotton towels, amazing toiletries, a giant soaker tub. It was such a large space that it would have dwarfed our Master Bedroom ensuite at home!
Some of the other features we appreciated - the art throughout the Inn was all hand done by local artists - no `hotel art` here. The staff were friendly - on Saturday when we were in Picton a car stopped at the crosswalk and the drive waved wildly at us - it was the server from breakfast.
If you`re in the area this would be a great spot to lay your head!
We last visited Prince Edward County for Thanksgiving 2010. Through a happy twist of me being in the county for work on Thursday and Friday . . . mom having a birthday coming up . . . and a really incredible deal at a luxury hotel in the middle of the county we decided to have a weekend of fun!
About two hours from home, the county is a unique island community, a place of tranquility, creativity, hospitality and fun. Lots of fun. As you tour the rural routes you can see the United Empire Loyalist roots everywhere. Traditional agriculture is the backbone of the area although this has been enhanced by a growing wine industry. A growing and multifaceted arts community contributes to the unique ‘County’ culture.
The wine industry is here is quite young. 11 years ago there was 1 winery, today there are close to 30. When we tasted the wines during our 2005 visit they were not the sort of thing I was racing out to purchase. No, not at all. This weekend we bought 3cases - oh, how things have improved. The county is best known for its Pinot and its white wines.
With the incredibly warm December we are having the weather was gorgeous. You wouldn't know that winter was approaching - well, except for the fact that the county was decked out for Christmas and the complete lack of people. Generally there are crowds of tourists racing from one winery or artisan to the next. This weekend it must have seemed to the locals that they had their lovely county to themselves again!
This area is also an epicentre of the locavore food movement here in Ontario. There are all sorts of craft food producers in the county who strive to use the finest local ingredients they can get their hands (or knives) on. The restaurants and cafes in the area feature the best the area has to offer as well. You won't eat poorly here!
One of the new artisan producers we discovered was actually a distillery. 66 Gilead, located in the historic 1874 Cooper-Norton house, is using the best Ontario grains and herbs to create craft spirits.
Following the mashing of the grains, fermentation is allowed to occur in temperature controlled fermenters.
The spirits are then distilled using a handmade copper still. Copper is an important element in the production of spirits as it helps to eliminate unwanted flavour congeners which would detract from the quality of the final product.
The clear spirits are filtered and bottled on site.
We learned that dark spirits (rum anyone? whiskey, and scotch) are currently aging in oak barrels.
At 66 Gilead we bought two bottles of vodka including one of the special pine infused vodka. this stuff was brilliant - one sip and it was like being transported to a dense pine forest on a wintry day. I know that we'll be using this as the basis for many festive cocktail in the coming weeks.
One of our first stops last friday was at a winery I had heard a great deal about over the past year or so - Norman Hardie. Norman Hardie's pinot noirs are one of the few Ontario wines that get noticed by the international press, particularly Jancis Robinson. His chardonnays are winning acclaim as well.
South African born Norman Hardie is well known for his wine making in various wine countries and regions such as: New Zealand, Oregon, Burgundy, California, South Africa and of course Ontario. His stint as the Sommelier and Restaurant Manager of the Four Seasons Hotels served to increase his appreciation and deepen his already extensive knowledge in the world of wine and food.
The production at Norman Hardie uses a cold climate growing technique. This means that the main trunks are grown very low to the ground which allows the vines to be "shored up" with dirt and hay during the winter months thus protecting them from the harsh effects of the weather. The grapes also grow close to the ground not far (about 20 centimetres) from the main trunk.
I doubt that this would work for cabs but it makes for brilliant whites and pinots at the hands of a competent winemaker. The folks at Hardie are competent indeed.
We loved the unpretentiousness of his winery, which Hardie calls "simple modern barn architecture," and the feel of the tasting room and surrounding vineyards. Of course, the wines weren't bad. It was hear that mom tasted a pinot that rocked her world to the point that she insisted on buying it as the wine to serve with Thanksgiving dinner. High praise from her indeed.
Hardie is a pinot (the 'hreatbreak grape') freak, loves the Burgundian style, and is highly motivated to make wines that are as close to that style as he can make them. He believes the County is the perfect location outside of Burgundy to make nuanced, finessed pinots that show a special sense of place.
We were happy to tuck a case of these pinots into the back of the car and continue exploring the county. It is unbelievable to think that when we were last in the county in 2005 his first crop was being picked. Five short years later the winery is producing vintages that many wineries could never hope to put into a bottle.
There are few things in life that I enjoy as much as a hunk of fine cheese. In fact if I was ever told that I could only have one food to eat I'd pick cheese. If I had two I'd throw in wine - it's food . . . isn't it?
This is something I've developed as an adult - as a kid I was in bliss with kraft slices - 'twas all we ever could afford.
But now baby . . . I think nothing of popping into my favourite cheese monger (the Cheese Boutique, of course) and picking up $ 100 worth of cheese. I'll try it all.
Imagine my joy when I discovered that Prince Edward County was home to one of North America's up and coming cheese makers. Set in the middle of a field in the middle of nowhere, the Fifth Town Cheese Company draws food lovers from a wide area. It snared us in its web of cheesy goodness last friday.
The story of this cheese company is really a foodie fairy tale of sorts - Toronto publisher, bored with a high powered job in the publishing world chucks it all to open a dairy in Prince Edward County. She dreams big and opens what is arguably the greenest 'factory' in North America. Then she churns out some of the continents best cheeses - winning three awards from the prestigious American Cheese Society last summer.
PetraCooper, the former publisher turned cheese maven, has gotten international media attention for her green dairy. Fifth Town’s $2-million facility is the first dairy in North America to receive platinum-level certification, the highest available, from LEED. In other words, it’s probably the most eco-friendly dairy on the continent.
Fifth Town is powered, in part, by a windmill, as well as eight solar panels that feed energy onto the grid (Ontario Hydro pays $300 a month for the power generated). Most dairies age their cheese in above-ground, power-intensive fridges, but Fifth Town is equipped with man-made cement caves that remain cool naturally. Instead of shipping out the whey (a by-product of cheese making), Fifth Town uses a $75,000 bio-wetland system that transforms it into water. Of course, the packaging is biodegradable and/or recyclable, and supplies and livestock are sourced from eco-conscious farmers.
Sustainability and success don’t have to be mutually exclusive, it seems: Fifth Town had revenues of nearly $1 million by the end of 2009, and Cooper expects to be just $20,000 short of breaking even by the end of her second fiscal year.
After our quick visit to the dairy we had tasted about 15 types of Fifth Town Cheese and bought 10 to enjoy throughout the weekend. This was the busiest spot we visited on Friday . . . by far. It says something when a dairy is busier than some of the wonderful restaurants, wineries, cider producers, and art galleries we visited over the weekend.
There you have it. If you're in the county, join the party and pay a visit to Fifth Town. You will NOT regret it. I promise you.
Fifth Town Artisan Cheese 4309 County Road #8 Picton, ON K0K 2T0
Well, since you asked . . . in our family we always celebrate on the Sunday - leaving the Monday for recovering from a turkey overload.
I enjoyed coffee on the deck while mom and Paul slept in.
After breakfast we headed off to Picton, the largest community in Prince Edward County.
Just outside of the town is a conservation area that features a quirky collection of birdhouses. Birdhouse City was started 30 years ago by a local wood carver. Sadly many of his creations have not withstood the test of time but gradually some of them are being restored by local volunteers.
This one has been 'touched up' - nothing like a fresh coat of paint to make it look new again! Of course it was one of my favourites for the obvious reasons . . .
As I was heading back into the town I saw a sign for the millennium look out'. After a quick u-turn we made our way up Macaulay Mountain where we found the look out and a gorgeous view over the town.
When we got back into Picton I parked the car and we wandered around enjoying the shops and galleries. Because we knew we'd have a HUGE dinner later in the day we decided on a light lunch. I had heard aboutBuddha Dog, a hot dog spot that has a cult-like following amongst Toronto foodies. Guess where we ended up?
This spot rocked - everything is make with fresh products with no preservatives . . the hot dogs . . .the buns . . . the HUGE selection of toppings . . . the cheese. You get the picture. Better yet, almost everything was local. We all loved Buddha Dog!
After a quick stop in Copper Kettle for some of their famous chocolate bark we headed back to Bloomfield.
I suggested that a return visit to Slickers might be in order. Paul and Mom perked up at the suggestion.
Forget Ben & Jerry's, Hagen Daz and most of the "artisan" ice cream varieties- Slickers blows them out of the water hands down. Slickers is famous for making their ice cream in small batches using fresh ingredients the - I've tried their Campfire Cream - burnt marshmallow with Kahlua and their chocolate banana. Because it was Thanksgiving I decided to go with their Pumpkin Pie flavour. WOW
So much for not eating much. SIGH
Mom had seen a sign for a glass blowing demonstration so we headed hunted the studio out. We enjoyed watching the artist create his works - glass blowing is such a fascinating thing to watch! Of course we did more than watch and after we loaded the car with our purchases we headed back to the cottage.
Paul worked hard in the kitchen preparing the stuffing and making the turkey. We all chipped in and set the table.
I could get used to eating with this gorgeous view every day!
Believe it or not but I have NO photos of the food. None at all.
We had orchard martinis with Fith Town and Black River cheeses.
Paul's turkey was a HUGE hit - impressive given that he had never cooked a turkey before. The gravy was made with pureed roasted pears and pear cider and really rocked my world. We weren't sure about the stuffing recipe - chopped apples? Really? Butof course it rocked.
Mom had made her famous cranberry sauce. I contributed whipped mashed potatoes with buttermilk and chives, Amy's amazing squash and goat cheese gratin, and some of the corn we froze last month. We finished off with pumpkin pie that mom had made and brought with her. Sadly the cottage had NO mixer or whisk so she was forced to whip the cream the old fashioned way - shaking the hell out of it in a jar!
Desperate measures kids, desparate measures.
It worked and the pie was a hit (especially since it was made with ginger, cinnamon, and mace we picked up at the Spice House in Chicago this summer).
Mom went into a post turkey coma while Paul and I cleaned up.
Yesterday was another picture perfect day in the county. Blue skies . . . mild temperatures . . . good food . . . better wines . . . laughter . . .
It started with a beautiful sunrise (which I enjoyed by myself as everyone else was sleeping).
The cat next door was up on the roof . . .
. . . . watching the Canada Geese fly overhead in their distinctive V pattern.
After breakfast we headed out to Ameliasburgh. Mom wanted to visit the loyalist museum. Unfortunately it was closed. She was determined to wander about it anyway so she 'broke in' and walked about . . . until she found the worker slaughtering the chickens in 'Ye Old Chicken Coop' at which time she decided that she had seen more than enough.
Our next stop was Bloomfield where we wandered about and shopped.
We had to cut our shopping short (because 'someone' puttered around) or we would miss our lunch reservations back in Wellington. Lunch was at what many consider to be the best restaurant in the county - East and Main. For a tiny restaurant in a small village far from the main highway this place was hopping!
The food was great! If you're ever in ths area be sure to make reservations here.
After lunch we visited three wineries - the Grange, Closson Chase, and Huff Estates. Soon we had another case and a half of wine in the back of the car. We laughing told mom that we might have to leave her behind.
We also found the lavender farm - I bet that this field would look and smell incredible in July!
Back at the cottage mom arranged her 'Thanksgiving table arrangement' consisting of leaves, weeds, and flowers that she had gathered along the road.
We grilled some steaks for dinner, knocked back two bottles of wine (if this keeps up we may have room in the car to bring mom home after all), and watched the sun set over the lake.
We left the snow behind and headed to California for a long weekend of fun. We shoppedm toured wineries, tasted olive oil, met up with good friends, and ate some wonderful food. I can't wait for slow bowl 2009.