Prince Edward County is an up-and-coming wine region, and we certainly had our choice of vineyards to visit. On the recommendation of a number of people, we decided to check out Norman Hardie Winery, and arrived late in the afternoon. We were immediately greeted with a glass of wine, a wood-fired pizza, and a sunny spot to enjoy both—not a bad first impression at all.
Norman Hardie showed us around the vineyard and winery himself. His background is extremely diverse, having studied wine in Burgundy and worked extensively in the restaurant industry as a sommelier and restaurant manager.
He eventually transitioned from wine-lover to wine-maker by working at a number of old and new-world wineries and vineyards; he’s worked all over the world including Burgundy, South Africa, New Zealand, California, and Oregon, all the while searching for a patch of limestone and clay soil on which to start his own vineyard. He found just that in Prince Edward County in 2001, and planted his first grapes. Pinot Noir, Reisling, Chardonnay, Cab Franc, Melon de Bourgogne, and Pinot Gris are among the grape varietals currently growing, and we were particularly fond of the Chardonnay and the Niagara Pinot Noir (he has some vineyards in the Niagara region as well).
Norman compares his soil composition to that found in Burgundy, however the -25 winters experienced in Canada make growing grapes a very different game. Even though the winery’s location near Lake Ontario tempers some of the risk of debilitating frost, the grapevine canes still need to be buried every fall in order to keep them alive through the potentially harsh Ontario winters. The canes are the older parts of the plant that are able to produce and support ‘shoots’. From a sturdy cane the shoots produce leaves and grape clusters.
After the harvest in the fall, the vines are pruned extensively, and the soil from the rows is displaced and thrown over the canes. By burying the canes before the winter comes, the vines’ fruiting potential for the following season is maintained. It’s an incredible amount of work, but it means the excellent soil can be cultivated to grow quality grapes in this particular micro-climate.
The vineyard crew is comprised of about twenty-two people during the summer, and about five throughout the winter. They are an extremely hard-working community of folks, many of whom live on the grounds during the growing and harvest seasons. Their work is rewarded every night with a proper home-cooked meal in the evening. We were fortunate enough to be invited to the day’s final meal, and after our pizza snack, we enjoyed a dinner of roast beef, potatoes, and corn, all sourced from the County and prepared in the wood-fired oven.
Our time at Norman Hardie winery was idyllic. We ate pizza, drank wine, played cards, and watched the sun go down as the stars came out. Ah, the perfect day.