The Wine History in Prince Edward County

Wine, food and relaxation – these are the things that Prince Edward County is known for. But, there are many  layers of history that lie behind this quaint island region nestled off-the-beaten-track in Eastern Ontario.

There was a time when Prince Edward County was barely associated with wine – instead, it was an invaluable military outpost, an agricultural centre and a hub of architectural development (Picton’s grand homes and commercial building along Main Street.).

The island first became known as Prince Edward County during the 1800s. Named after Prince Edward Augustus, Duke of Kent, who was the commander-in-chief of North America, the island was a crucial gathering ground for loyalists during the American Civil War. Prinyer’s Cove, an important port on the island’s coast, was the safe haven of choice for commercial schooners escaping the war. In this island of refuge, there was little talk of wine.

However, agriculture, whether involving wine or not, has been central to the county’s way of life for centuries. In the early 1800s, Prince Edward County was known as the “Canning Capital of Canada,” supplying a third of all of the canned goods in Canada, the UK and the US. Whether it was peas, carrots or pumpkins, Prince Edward County propped up its economy on these canned goods.

This was when the roots of the wine industry started to settle into the fertile soils of the island. In the late 1800s, some workers actually started to grow grapes, using them to produce the first wines of the region. However, this was quickly stomped out by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Prohibition movement, and the practices were buried under a veil of secrecy.

It was only in the 1980s that the Vinifera grape returned to Prince Edward County. With a climate suitable to grape growing, the county started to foster more interest in building an industry. By the 1990s, the first vineyards started to pop up, along with cutting-edge viticulture practices to help the fragile grape buds survive the winter on the vine.

Some grape vines leading down to Lake Ontario, near Waupoos.By 2000, the first winery in the region, Waupoos Estate Winery, was opened (Waupoos means Rabbit in Algonquin). Once 2003 rolled around, The Grape Growers of Ontario designated Prince Edward County as a wine-growing region. Finally, Prince Edward County was named a Designated Viticultural Area under VQA legislation in Ontario in 2007, cementing its place in the wine-growing culture of Ontario. In one short decade, the region grew into what it is today – the perfect vacation spot for any wine or gourmet food enthusiast.

But acknowledging one decade of wineries doesn’t do Prince Edward County’s history justice. Over the course of two centuries, the island’s role in Canada has shifted – from military outpost, to canning capital, to a lush paradise of wineries. Its diverse legacy should be recognized.

Check out the Waupoos Winery by going to this link.

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