By Sarah Jaquay
Ohioans love to recreate along Lake Erie’s shores in summertime. For as long as I can remember, public officials have suggested ferry service across the lake, but it hasn’t happened. Last fall, my husband and I decided to seize the steering wheel and drive around the Lake to explore Erie’s North Shore. We were especially charmed by Norfolk County, which bills itself as “Ontario’s Garden.”
What grows along Ontario’s south coast has changed drastically since it was known as Canada’s tobacco belt. Farmers now cultivate grapes (vinifera and hybrids), potatoes, peanuts, hops and lots of produce. Ontario’s South Coast Wine Trail boasts diverse wineries and craft breweries. Visitors may easily linger a week sampling; enjoying the beaches at Port Dover, Long Point Provincial Park and Turkey Point; or hiking, biking and kayaking. There’s even a “glamping” destination for those who love nature but don’t do primitive.
We made Long Point Eco-Adventures our base camp. Perched on an escarpment,
this mini-village offers sweeping vistas of Lake Erie and is remote enough to make stargazing at Long Point Observatory an after-dusk delight. Visitors can stay in luxury wilderness suites with heat, electricity, flush toilets and adjoining outdoor showers, and continue stargazing as they cleanse off the day’s dirt.
After a hearty breakfast we started meandering. The first stop was Burning Kiln Winery across from the entrance to Eco-Adventures. The tasting room was a former tobacco barn that’s been expanded to evoke its heritage. Winemaker Lydia Tomek says the grapes are hand-harvested, then dried in kilns before fermentation. This appassimento method is typically used for Valpolicella wines. General Manager Karen Matthews says their best-selling red is Cab Frank (Cabernet Franc), and their best-selling white is Horse & Boat Riesling, which was sold out when we visited. We weren’t hungry for lunch, but from May to September guests can enjoy local cuisine at David’s on Tour overlooking the vines. We purchased a few favorites (Cureman’s Chardonnay and Prime Pinot Noir) and look forward to conjuring our Norfolk County sojourn when we indulge at home.
There are a couple of reasons to visit Simcoe, and the cider at Wooden Bear L is one.
Their apple, cherry and pear ciders are well-balanced and refreshing. They blend McIntosh, Spy, Empire and Idared apples to make their dry cider. Next we savored a classic Canadian lunch of poutine (fries with cheese curds and gravy) and beer at The Blue Elephant Craft Brew House. Brewmaster James Grant uses local ingredients and his strawberry lager was tart and sweet. Grant hosts brew camps where guests design recipes that will be sold in their retail store.
A couple of venues with outstanding atmosphere are Bonnieheath Estate Lavender and Winery and Inasphere Wines. Located 7.5 miles from Lake Erie, Bonnieheath cultivates hybrids including Seyval Blanc, Vidal, Frontenac Gris and Marquette. They also grow apples, lavender and grains. On a sunny day we relaxed on Bonnieheath’s patio sipping crisp apple cider and gazing at their lush lavender fields. Bonnieheath sells picnic foods such as cheeses, dried fruits, hummus and vegetables, and has a full commercial kitchen for weddings and special events.
Inasphere Wines is the newest venture for a young couple who raise vegetables on acreage overlooking the stunning UNESCO-designated Long Point World Biosphere Reserve. They’ve recently opened a tasting room and patio that take advantage of their incredible views; while I don’t remember what we tasted, I can’t forget their lakescape.
We moved to the retro town of Port Dover. This charming hamlet couldn’t be more mid-century if Richie Cunningham, Fonzie, Potsie and Ralph Malph strolled down its adorable beach, complete with palm trees. During our stay at the elegant Bear Hug Bed & Breakfast we sipped wine on the porch, feasted on sumptuous breakfasts and chatted with the interesting owners, Craig Hemming and Diane Carter-Hemming. Craig was a former pop star in the band Edward Bear, whose hits included “You, Me & Mexico” and “The Last Song” (which my husband and I burst into the chorus of since we’re the same vintage) and Craig regaled us with tales of his youth.
Port Dover has some restaurants that can compete with any big-city eatery. Lago Trattoria is one of the newest and townsfolk feel fortunate to have Chef Ryan Rivard’s talents. His wife, Jennifer, is the sommelier and an accomplished mixologist. Chef Ryan switches up his Italian-fusion menu four or five times per year. Don’t miss the Lago fries with Pecorino and truffle oil.
On our last evening, our host took us to Schofield’s Bistro. Schofield’s has an extensive wine list with local and Old World selections. The menu is continental with the occasional Lake Erie delicacy (pickerel) blended in. No matter how sated you are, order the lemon meringue ice cream pie. Even chocolate cognoscenti rave about the homemade pecan crust, vanilla ice cream and lemon curd layers topped with Italian meringue.
After four days, we drove reluctantly towards Buffalo’s Peace Bridge. Maybe next year ferry service will commence across Lake Erie; if not, seize the wheel.
Photo courtesy www.norfolktourism.ca.