Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Feeling PECish ─ Part 1

What to make of Prince Edward County?

As wine regions go, it’s a toddler.  Almost all wineries in Prince Edward County (known as PEC or the County) have been producing wine for about a decade or less.  In winemaking, understanding terroir, discovering what works and what doesn’t, is measured in generations, not years.  A decade is just a blink of an eye.  

The newness shows in the quantities produced as well, as the entire region produces significantly less than many individual Niagara vintners.      

So, it’s probably unfair to evaluate PEC’s wines in comparison to many others.  It would be fairer to measure where PEC is in 2012 to where the Niagara region was in 1985.  Fairer…but impossible.

Back in late August, Michèle and I went on our first trip to PEC with a couple of friends, Steve and Carolyn.  We visited 10 wineries, focussing on those that make wines that are designated VQA Prince Edward County.  That designation means that at least 85% of the grapes used to make the wine have to come from Prince Edward County.      

I don’t envy the economic realities faced by PEC vintners.  Producing wine takes a lot of money, not only the up front capital costs (think millions of dollars) but the yearly operating costs are daunting.  In the early years, as you’re feeling your way, production is small, which means your return on investment is small…even negative.       

Be warned:  just because you buy a wine from a PEC winery doesn’t mean you’re buying wine from Prince Edward County (or from grapes grown in Prince Edward County).  In PEC, the need for positive cashflow leads many winemakers to supplement local grapes by bringing in Niagara grapes to make wines that qualify as “VQA Ontario”.    

I view this practice as, at best, a short-term evil that may be necessary to survive the tough early years.  It’s somewhat akin to the practice of “Cellared in Canada”, where Canadian wineries import cheap grape juice from outside Canada, make wine, and stick their label on it.  (Importing grapes or grapejuice from another region or country is barely a step up from me making wine in my basement.)  It’s a way to turn a profit, and stay in business, while the local production matures.  But just as I think that the practice of “Cellared in Canada” should disappear within 10-15 years at the very latest, I would expect PEC wineries eventually to cease using grapes from Niagara.  The toddler has to grow up.

Making wine from “imported” grapes is one way to generate cashflow.  Another way is to charge a lot of money for the VQA PEC wines that you do make.  It’s unusual to find a VQA PEC wine for less than $30 (Rosehall Run is a notable exception) and many wines will run you a lot more than that.  Are they worth it?  Unfortunately, my answer is no.  The quality just isn’t there yet to justify paying $40, $50, $60 for a bottle of VQA PEC wine. 

But I did anyway.  Why?  Curiosity to see how these wines will mature and work with food.  And an altruistic, patriotic desire to support wineries in a new and struggling region close to home.

More on PEC in Part 2 here....

Subscribing to this blog through RSS or email is easy! Just click on the subscribe link to the left ←

No comments:

Post a Comment