The first room I entered was The Glass Factory and featured many food items. This room offered craft beer, cocktails and spirits to wash down the delicious Southwest culinary fare, but little wine. Next door, in the much larger 99 Gallery room, wine from Southwest Ontario was very well represented, along with some cheese, chocolatiers and other fine foods from the region.
I have never really been to Ontario's Southwest region except for a camping trip to Port Burwell and driving through to go to Detroit. This event was a chance to discover some of the best that Ontario's Southwest has to offer, and I definitely found some worthy places to visit when I eventually visit the area.
Bright Cheese and Butter. This cheddar factory has been in business since 1874 and produces some very yummy cheese. They had four cheeses available to taste - Old Cheddar, Sizzling Hot Havarti (which is quite hot), Providence and Asiago. While I enjoyed all four, my favourites were the Old Cheddar, and the Providence which is like a mountain cheese from Switzerland. Their products are available throughout Ontario, but your best bet is to visit one of their two locations to taste and buy their freshly made cheese.
Habitual Chocolate, located in Woodstock and London, Ontario where you will find some amazing, authentic rustic-style chocolate bars made from single varietal cacao beans. The beans come from small family farms in exotic locations such as Costa Rica, Papua New Guinea and Nicaragua. I prefer dark chocolate and really enjoyed the 85% Amara with beans from Ivory Coast, and the 80% Don Tito from Mexican beans. Both of these chocolate bars had the richness and flavour of dark chocolate, but were not terribly bitter like some of the commercially made dark chocolate bars. Highly recommended for chocolate aficionados.
For fans of history, Chatham-Kent is an interesting place to visit. This region was part of the "Underground Railroad" - a network of secret routes used by those held in bondage to escape from slavery in the 19th century. Some of the most poignant stops on the Ontario Underground Railroad tour are historic sites in Chatham-Kent, including Uncle Tom's Cabin Historic Site, Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society, and the Buxton National Historic Site & Museum. You can also meet some of the descendants of those that escaped slavery and still call Chatham-Kent home. I am very much interested in this subject and personally hope to visit these sites in the future.
After a day of cheese, chocolate and sightseeing, settle into a B&B in Lake Erie North Shore wine country. The next day, spend your time visiting a few of the more than dozen wineries in the region. My favourites wines at the Ontario's Southwest City Fare were from Muscadere Vineyards, Colio Estate Winery and North 42 Degrees - all of which are located a few minutes from each other in the communities of Harrow and Colchester. Also check out Cooper's Hawk Vineyards and Sprucewood Shores Estate Winery.
On your way home, stop at Ontario's first and only brewery farm. Ramblin' Road Brewery Farm is an actual working farm with crops and a hop garden to create small batch hand-crafted local beer. I tasted a few of their beers and if you're a fan Red beers like me, check out their PurebRED Red Lager - it's a good one.
The Raging Bowl Pottery was one of the more interesting tables at this event. Alongside handmade porcelain crafts by artist Melissa Schooley was a delicious lavender-infused Balsamic Vinegar and flavoured whiskys. The flavoured whisky can be made at home when you purchase her flavoured tea bags - available in flavours such as Vanilla, Hazelnut Vanilla, Chocolate and Coffee - and soak them them in your favourite spirit. My favourite was the Hazelnut Vanilla!
For lunch (or dinner), stop at The Combine in Norfolk County. This restaurant's menu is filled with locally sourced ingredients and daily seasonal specials. Located in the home of owners Ryan and Jennifer, there is a handmade brick oven, garden and outdoor patio. I enjoyed their Perch Taco on a corn tortilla topped with butternut aioli, pickled salsa, avocado cream, and fried lemon.
Another stop to consider for a fine meal is DEBB's Cuisine on Queen in Dunnville, where they combine fresh local ingredients with a creative approach and meticulous presentation to create a memorable experience. At this event, they had a delicious Chicken Breast with Fried Goat Cheese Rice Ball that you could wash down with a Bourbon Street Caesar.
Ontario Southwest locations on a Google Map. I hope you find it useful!
Overall, I really enjoyed the event! There weren't as many wines as I had hoped for, but the number of culinary delights and other alcoholic beverages more than made up for it. This was a very good, well-balanced event that had something for everyone, offering very good value for the price of admission.
For more information about Ontario's Southwest region, please visit their website.
Tasting Notes:MUSCADERE VINEYARDS RIESLING 2014 - VQA Ontario, Canada (D) - $16
Lovely, lifted nose of petrol followed by stony minerality. The palate is medium-bodied with a chalky mineral texture and subtle flavours of orange, citrus, stone fruits and white peach. It has good acids and finishes long. Score: 88 pts
MUSCADERE VINEYARDS CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2012 - VQA Lake Erie North Shore, Ontario, Canada (XD) - $30
Medium+ intensity nose, ripe fruited scents of currant, cherry, cassis, cedar oak and red & black fruits. It's shows good complexity on the full-bodied palate with very nice aroma replays along with hints of mint. It has good acids and chalky tannins. Cran-cherry finish that's long. Score: 89 pts
COLIO ESTATE BRICKLAYER'S CACHE SMALL LOT SYRAH 2012 - VQA Lake Erie North Shore, Ontario, Canada (#426676) (XD) - $29.95
Decanted and served, this has a lovely medium-to-high intensity nose of black cherry, black peppercorn, white pepper and black plum. The palate is medium-to-full bodied with smooth, silky tannins, balanced acids and very white peppery aroma replays. This has been the last vintage of this of this wine and is now available in very limited quantities. Score: 89 pts
NORTH 42 DEGREES PINOT NOIR 2013 - VQA Lake Erie North Shore, Ontario, Canada (XD) - $19.95
Medium+ intensity nose featuring black tea, cherry, strawberry, and red plum notes. The aromas are quite appealing on the light-to-medium bodied palate. It has light tannins, fresh acids and more black tea notes on the long finish. Score: 88+ pts