Wine & Cheese in PEC

As forecast, it was a wet and miserable day in Prince Edward County. We hurried out the door of Brown’s Manor at first light to get a walk in before the rain got heavy. Picton has three urban trails, and we did the longest, a five kilometer loop that takes you along part of the Millennium Trail, a repurposed railbed at the edge of town.

Then another lovely breakfast at the Manor. There are masses of beautifully crafted woodwork in this big historic house, but it picked up some very modern touches on the way to becoming a B&B. Some of my favorites have to do with the bathroom. Besides a fancy jet tub, there is a practical contemporary shower with a recessed light. A nice idea is the provision of a wall sconce with a low power light for nighttime use.

We fine-tuned our island briefing with Ross, and then took Sonnet and Dingbat for a spin around the island. Yes, Prince Edward County just qualifies as an island, rather than an isthmus, as the one land link has been cut by a canal.

Wet, windy, and cold.

Wet, windy, and cold.

Driving conditions were so-so, with gusty winds and roads covered in wet leaves. Hooray for Sonnet’s heated seats and steering wheel! The tourist season is mainly over, so lots of things are closed. The first prominent winery we went to was Devil’s Wishbone, and it was closed today.

Fifth Town Artisan Cheese Company was open, but they were mildly surprised to see us. They specialize in goat and sheep cheeses, and we tasted a water buffalo cheese as well. We bought a goat cheddar, a brie-style cheese and a goat cheese that reminded us of Manchego. We meant to buy a little of the lemon feta, too, for salads, but forgot.

The next winery we came to that was clearly open was Waupoos. I’m a fan of Gewurtztraminers, so I tried theirs, as well as one of their Chardonnays. I quite liked the Gewurtz, but not enough to load down our suitcase for. If we don’t want to pay WestJet for overweight bags, we can only take a couple of bottles home.

We made a pit-stop at Black River Cheese to buy some five-year-old Cheddar. From cows. Oops. We bought it from a person; the milk was from cows.

For lunch, we detoured to East & Main in Wellington. Caroline was in the mood for salad, and teamed it up with a veggie bunwich. They call it a burger, but try not to picture one of those vegan patty things. The soup of the day was mushroom, and that sounded nice for a cold fall day, so I had that and the day’s meat feature. This is on the menu as Savoury Pie, but today it was a slow-cooked beef brisket with a house barbecue sauce. It was terrific. Tender, melt-in-the-mouth meat, served on a crisped slab of polenta, with grilled veggies. Delicious. Thinking of you, Johnny!

We thought we’d try one or two more wineries before calling it a day. Rosehall Run was open, and we tasted the JCR Chardonnay, which is their heavier Chard. They make an unoaked one, too, but we like them big, and this one didn’t disappoint.  The Hungry Point Pinot Noir, was nice, with a little chokecherry dryness, and it’s reasonably priced.

We don’t do a lot of white-wine meals, so Caroline suggested we focus on reds. This backfired at Closson Chase. They had such a good year for reds that they committed to an LCBO order, and sold out. They were only tasting Chardonnays today. Their tasting fee was $7 for two samples, and although that would have been waived if we purchased, well, we’d just decided to stick to buying reds. We declined. Cool purple barn, though.

On impulse, we pulled in at Huff Estates, but it looked very upscale, with modern sculptures on the grounds and a tasting center that was all architecty. We reversed our impulse and pulled right back out again. Ever since our first trip to Napa Valley, ostentatious wineries are a turn-off for me; I have way more fun at the Mom & Pop garagistes. That’s right, there’s a word for wineries so small they fit in a single shed.

Which brings us to Black Prince. We went there to taste some of the Canadian Cellars artisan vinegars, and ended up buying two vinegars and two Cabernet Francs. We had great fun talking to Pete, who is a master cooper. He specializes in making barrels from oak sourced in Prince Edward County. It’s much more tightly grained than the French oak traditionally favored by winemakers, and imparts flavours to wine that are both different and more subtle. Long story short, we bought two bottles of a Cabernet Franc aged in typical oak, and one pricier bottle of a Cab Franc aged in the local oak.

Then we got into the vinegar tasting. That’s right, you’ll sip vinegar, and you’ll like it!

Like a wine tasting, you work from lightest to heaviest. We ended up purchasing a just-released apple-cranberry vinegar to use for some salad dressings (Pete wrote our names and the date on the bottle for us) and their Select #17 Pinot Noir vinegar.

Most fun we had all day!

Tonight, supper at Agrarian. Dinner Debriefing later.

Can Con 2015

I had to cancel my plans to travel to Spokane for Sasquan this summer for reasons related to health and health insurance. I cautiously set my sights on Hal-Con for the fall. I’ve always wanted to see Halifax, and there would be lots to do: the Cabot Trail, the Maritime Museum, Halifax Harbour, Theodore Tugboat. However, by the time I felt ready to book, Saturday had sold out. This is probably because the costume ball falls on Halloween, an opportunity not to be missed by Cosplayers. For writing geeks like me, though, it meant I would only be able to attend the Friday and Sunday events, amounting to about half the total schedule. It’s likely that I would have missed some major panels and workshops. Maybe next year.

This year, Ottawa’s Can Con also falls at the end of October, so while I was thinking of Halifax, I was resigned to missing Ottawa. I loved Can Con last year. I pitched my novel to Dragon Moon and Bundoran, did a workshop with Jo Walton, and met a bunch of other writers. So I’m going.

We have enough Air Miles to fly to Ottawa from Winnipeg, and enough RBC Rewards to rent a car. The Sheraton has arranged a splendid room discount for convention guests, so it’s all starting to gel. We’ll start by driving out to Prince Edward County to see some wineries and sceneries. There are also cheese producers, and the whole county is a foodie paradise, with many fine chefs and restaurants. If we’re really lucky, there might still be some fall colours.

We’ll take Dingbat, our quirky but lovable Garmin GPS. He gets left and right mixed up sometimes, and there’s always some excuse: the museum expanded and was relocated across the road; the intersection was redesigned; the official address is on one street, but the parking lot entrance is on the side road. The lovable part is that if it wasn’t for Dingbat, Caroline would be navigating, and heated words might be uttered. I can utter all I want at Dingbat- he neither hears nor cares.

Once we’re back in Ottawa, we’ll return the car. The Sheraton is walking distance to Byward Market, the restaurants of  Elgin Street, and many other attractions. And enough coffee shops to get me a different dark roast every day. I’m starting to get excited.

Dinner Debriefing: Café Provence

Wow. This is not your average hotel dining room. Café Provence has a real chef, and he had to be talked into opening a dining room in a hotel. He seems to have understood the challenge, the menu has everything from comfort to creative.

Despite Caroline being fed up with lobster, she chose to start with seafood – the mussels. Our favourite place for mussels at home went underwater this spring, so she’s in withdrawal. They were good. I chose the spinach salad with balsamic and so on. The twist? That asiago cheese is cooked into a melted sheet and formed into a basket, like a taco salad, but way, way yummier. Once I’d had that, I knew I was in good hands. Caroline debated the pork tenderloin, but chose the pulled pork sliders, and loved them. I had the filet mignon with peppercorn brandy sauce. I’ve never had a better one, and I’ve had many. Best thing about it? Some real pepper heat, which is often overlooked.

Wine: wanted the Louis Martini Cabernet Sauvignon, because Sonoma. They don’t have it any more. Their replacement is a Seven Falls Merlot from the Columbia Valley. Deep and lush. Most fun thing on the wine list is the Brandenborg Pinot Noir from the Umpqua Valley in Oregon. Not suitable for this dinner, but a lovely wine from a great little winery.

Treated ourselves to dessert tonight, the pumpkin cheesecake with pecan brittle. Ooh.

Day 11: Touring the Yakima Valley

Our original plan for today was to do a short drive, just an hour and a half to Walla Walla, but when we got here it seemed like too much work to unpack everything and repack everything just to go such a short distance. Also, we would have had to visit whatever wineries we wanted to see in this area in the hour or so we had available yesterday afternoon. So we booked a second night here and cancelled our hotel in Walla Walla. That means we drive as far as Liberty Lake tomorrow, but even that is only four and a half hours, and we can still drop in at our favorite Walla Walla wineries on the way through.
So we got to sleep in today, or at least Caroline did. Figuring we’ll likely have the hotel’s complimentary breakfast tomorrow, we went out and had breakfast at the Barn this morning. Then we stocked up on picnic supplies and in the afternoon we went partway up the valley and stopped in at Silver Lake Winery. Their parking lot was empty, but one gaggle of other visitors did stop in briefly. We tasted a few of their wines and then had lunch on their deck overlooking the vineyard. It’s hot here today, above normal. Mid thirties in Celsius, low to mid nineties in Fahrenheit. We sat in the shade. After lunch we went back in to ask for recommendations for other wineries to visit, and met the winemaker, William Ammons.
After lunch, we looked for one or two of the nearby wineries he had suggested, but we decided to skip one, and the other wasn’t open today.
Bonair was open, we stopped in there. On summer weekends, they do tapas, and you can snack in the tasting room or make a meal of them on the patio.
Next stop, Tefft. As soon as we pulled in, I remembered it from our last visit, and I was pretty sure we didn’t like their wine. We didn’t like it this time, either.
Next stop Tucker Cellars. This one was fun. The tasting room was open, but deserted. We could have grabbed an armload of wine and run for it, I suppose, but instead, after looking in the office, we stuck our head into the actual winery, where the vats were, and called out, “anybody home?” Randy Tucker came out and told us all kinds of interesting stuff. His take on why Chardonnay has taken a turn for the lighter lately is that the heavily oaked wines make an impression at wine competitions and score well, but restaurants don’t like them because diners find they overpower the food. Personally, I like my wine have some guts. The recent fad for Pinot Gris would be great if I lived off rice cakes and plain popcorn, but at our house even the chicken dinners usually feature barbecue sauce, or cheese, or something. So I’m looking for light reds or very assertive whites. Anyway, we liked Randy’s Viognier and I thought his Rose Pinot was memorable, but I don’t know what food I’d serve with it. Salmon, he said, and I would go for a light Pinot with that, but not one as light as this. California rolls, maybe.
Low fuel light came on, so we started scoping out prices. They ranged all the way from $4.05 to $4.29 in the space of only a few miles. No price fixing here, apparently. Finally we settled on a Safeway gas bar where it was posted at $4.13. Unfortunately, my Safeway card saved me only three cents a gallon, not the five cents a liter I get in Canada.
We made it back to Prosser just in time to dart in to Coyote Canyon a few minutes before they closed at five. I was all tasted out, but Caroline liked their Viognier.
I notice that they pronounce Viognier ‘Veen yay’ here. I’m sure I googled it once and confirmed that it’s supposed to be ‘Vee own yay’. Uh huh. I just looked it up again. There are many ways to pronounce it, but ‘vee ohn yay’ is the generally preferred way. I have also heard ‘Vone yay’. My pronunciation of Merlot, though, has been wrong. Because it’s French, I thought it should be ‘Mare low’ but apparently ‘Mur low’ is okay and even ‘Mur lot’, but not Mare anything. I shall mend my ways.
The one fancy restaurant in Prosser that we remember from before seems to have vanished. We didn’t actually try to drive past where it used to be, but there’s certainly no mention of it in any of the hotel’s listings. There’s a Mexican place just down the street. It’s kind of bar-like, but what they lack in wine, they make up for in Daiquiris, apparently. There’s also a Chinese place with a name I like: The Golden Horse. (This area is known as the Horse Heaven Hills) However, Caroline points out that we can get good Chinese food at home, whereas our part of Canada is not known for its Mexican restaurants.

Day 9: Touring the Willamette Valley

No destination today. There are hundreds of wineries around here, and each one offers four or more Pinots, so we got kind of burned out on them yesterday. Today, we’re hunting the elusive Oregon Viognier. Wineries here have begun growing small amounts of this variety, but it’s been gaining in popularity faster than they can ramp up their production.
So today, because yesterday was a bit of a zoo, we picked three wineries that are off the beaten track that specify that they make Viognier. Our hope is that although it’s a Sunday, many people will be taking their moms somewhere else for Mother’s Day.
We did a little shopping before noon, then set off for Cristom. Rather than do a tasting on an empty stomach, we had our picnic on their portico, which was lovely. Sadly, they had already sold out of their Viognier.
Just one driveway over is Witness Tree, and they did have Viognier and we did do a tasting. Five dollars and refundable with purchase, which sat better with me than yesterday’s vineyards.
Lastly, we stopped in at Seven of Hearts, which is back near where we were yesterday, and the young lady that looked after us was mortified to tell us that they were down to their last two cases of Viognier, and they were no longer opening any for tasting. She gave a pretty convincing description of their last two releases, so we bought one without doing a tasting.
After that it was gas up and wash the car for tomorrow. We will be taking the Interstate to Prosser, WA, which is about a four hour drive, and we plan to start early so that we can visit some Yakima Valley wineries and still enjoy some time at the outdoor pool there. We’ve been lucky with the weather so far, after a couple of showers on the first two days, it’s been pretty much blue skies, and temperatures have risen steadily from ‘sweatshirts in the morning’ to ‘shorts and sandals all day’ conditions.

McMinnville to Walla Walla

We had a lot of trouble deciding on the plan for this leg. There’s a hotel, a winery, (Hogue Cellars), and a restaurant, (The Barn), that we like in Prosser, but it’s a bit of a detour. Likewise, there’s a hotel, a restaurant, (Cafe Melange), and a wine store that we like in Yakima, which is a bit of a detour the other way. We wrestled with the idea of staying in one and visiting the other, but we’re overstocked with Hogue, and the Cafe Melange is closed today, and in the end we decided just to grit our teeth and make the interstate run straight through to Walla Walla.

Not much traffic in Portland at 0930 on a Sunday morning, so we sailed through. It’s not a bad city as cities go, but there are some lanes that merge, some lanes that exit, and some places where you need to change lanes in a limited space, so it’s nice to do it when traffic is light and you can see what’s up ahead. Also, Dingbat earned his keep by calling out the turns in advance.

After Portland, we took a break at a rest stop, and Caroline wondered out loud if Columbia Crest would be anywhere near our route. It’s a longish side-trip from Prosser, so I wouldn’t have thought so, but Dingbat calculated that if we made a route change we could swing by there and only lose ten minutes or so. Turns out he had in mind to get off the interstate and follow the old Columbia River Highway, and this would take us within five miles of the winery. So we enthusiastically embraced this plan for multiple reasons: Columbia Crest has a nice tasting room and a great picnic patio, I’d had enough of interstate driving, and the alternate route would be one we hadn’t traveled before. Pat on the head for Dingbat. We’re letting him speak with an American accent today; maybe it cheered him up. It certainly improved the way he pronounces Washington.

Cleverly arrived at CC at 1230, and the place was quiet. Tasted some of their most affordable wines and some of their reserves and then made some purchases, including a sweatshirt which I promptly put on to sit out on their flagstone patio, because although it’s sheltered from most of the wind, it was still a coolish 17C or so.

Columbia Crest (click on the picture to enlarge)
The patio is just past the stone gateposts.
Had a very nice lunch of potato salad and ham sandwiches on multi-grain. Feeling much refreshed, we headed back to the Columbia River Highway, which actually crosses from the Washington side to the Oregon side before re-entering Washington without recrossing the river. Are you supposed to flash your lights once if by land, twice if by water? Little joke to show I remember some American history. From the state line it’s just a few minutes more to Frenchtown, home of Ecole 41, and then Walla Walla. We’ve got all day tomorrow to visit wineries, so we’ll drop in on Ecole 41, Cougar Crest and Three Rivers for sure; maybe we’ll try to figure out how to get our hands on an Abeja – they do tastings by appointment only, and we can never find any in the stores.

Both of our favourite Walla Walla restaurants are open tonight and tomorrow, so we’ll taxi out for a late dinner at Creektown Cafe tonight, and walk over to TJ Macharone for an earlier meal tomorrow. Stay tuned for details, including dessert. Sorry, Sue, there was no mention of dessert last night because we didn’t have any. I didn’t have any indigestion last night, either. Strange coincidence, or is it because I finally remembered to buy some Pepcid? It would be great if it works without even opening the bottle!

Day in McMinnville

Another cold and rainy day, so we weren’t too keen to leap into action this morning. Goofed off and did laundry until noon, then stirred ourselves enough to pick up a few things at a supermarket and have lunch at the Wildwood Cafe. This funky local favourite is decorated with old metal signs from the fifties and sixties, and the ceiling is hung with hundreds of egg-beaters and potato mashers of every vintage. Best cheese and broccoli soup I’ve ever had, but the sandwiches were kind of bland.

Out into wine country to hunt for some of the Pinot Noir that Oregon is famous for. Started with Panther Creek actually, who have a tasting room right downtown. Their loveable dog is not on duty on weekends, but we did buy a couple of bottles of wine. Then out into the Dundee Hills area, since we did not cover it well before. Went to Erath first, but found most of their stuff to be what we call ‘Turkey Pinots’: perfect for roast turkey and cranberry sauce, but too light for barbecued chicken, or pork, let alone any kind of red meat. I love these paler, fruity wines, but we don’t have the right kind of food very often, so we don’t need more. Next stop Argyle, but the tasting room was very crowded, and the most likely wine was out of our price range, so we slipped away without even talking to anyone. Tried to go to Domain Serene, which was recommended by the Erath folks as a good place for heavier, earthier Pinots, plus they also have an interesting Viognier, but they were closed for a private function. Drove a little further while we were looking for a place to turn around, and found ourselves at Winter’s Hill. They were having a tasting in the winery itself, hosted by the actual winemaker herself. Despite her best efforts to make those famous light Pinots, we liked her cheapest stuff the best – it had the most guts. After that, well, we just can’t taste dozens of wines and still enjoy it. We headed back. The sun came out a little, but the temperature never made it over 14C today.

Dundee Hills vineyards
Out to dinner at Golden Valley Alehouse. Had a nice dinner there a year ago, on a weeknight, but tonight it was crowded and a party of forty had tied up the kitchen. They were catching up by the time we ordered, but were probably hurrying. The seafood chowder was very nice, and my New York with peppercorn crust and Marsala sauce was pretty good. Caroline’s ranch Angus burger was a bit plain. Our first choice of wine was the Mystic Merlot, but they were out. Plan B was Belle Vallee Cabernet from Rogue Valley, in the south of Oregon. Never had a wine with ‘notes of tar and lilac’ before, but they weren’t kidding. It went well with my hot and crusty peppercorn steak, but this one is SO not a deck sipper, so we didn’t bring back the heel of the bottle to finish in our room.

Tomorrow, we drive to Walla Walla, the last of our wine area destinations. After that, it’s pretty much the trek home.