Source: The Vancouver Sun, September 2012
We got lost cycling to the first winery. It was the iPhone GPS that got confused and led us, almost literally, down a garden path, though in this case it was a farmer's lane. No worries.
Losing your way in strange surroundings when you have all the time in the world isn't necessarily a bad thing.
If we hadn't got lost, we wouldn't have encountered The Mustang drive-in movie theatre - an outdoor entertainment centre that I thought had long gone the way of the dodo bird.
At first glance it was a relic from the past waiting for the bulldozer, but then I noticed it was showing newly released Bourne Legacy on the main screen and, on closer examination, there were other signs suggesting that this was a going concern.
That closer examination took about half an hour and was a very cool nostalgia trip. If I wasn't travelling by bicycle, I might have been tempted to return at dusk.
When you travel the roads of Prince Edward County, Ontario - especially the back roads - there are all manner of surprise encounters that require closer examination.
It's part of the joy of ditching the car and pedalling for a few days: When a curiosity comes your way, you're more inclined to stop.
But this is about a bicycle winery tour - with a few art galleries and artisan stops on the way.
For those who haven't been, Prince Edward County is a jewel on Lake Ontario. It's like a massive enclave far enough from Highway 401 to maintain remoteness..
We lodged at the Happiness Haven bed and breakfast, about 15 minutes drive from the centre of Picton on the lakeshore overlooking Waupoos Island and down the road from Waupoos winery and restaurant.
The B&B is operated by Elizabeth Pulker, a refugee from Kanata, who cooks spectacular breakfasts and is well reviewed on travel websites.
Happiness Haven isn't budget accommodation but being able to jump into the water after a day's cycling is a great bonus, as is The Duke of Marysburgh pub and bistro five minute's walk away - but when we arrived for dinner at 8 p.m., they had run out of food and the kitchen was closed.
That, and hunger, drove us to the Waupoos winery where the meal was agreeable but the bill three times the size it would have been at the pub.
There is no shortage of good accommodation and eateries across all price ranges in Prince Edward County.
The county has two basic requirements for cyclists in search of wineries: fabulous back roads on mostly flat terrain, with a few, relatively short, thigh-burning hills to make it a challenge.
The vine-growing, winemaking business in the county is a relatively new industry. The oldest we came across was 14 years old and most were half that age.
There are a few older and a few younger, but suffice it to say that most of the county wineries are small family businesses producing relatively small batches that they sell over their own counters or by individual delivery to the homes of customers.
Very few sell to the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) and there will be no letters of complaint to the editor over this observation: many detest the LCBO and what they claim with unbridled passion is its monopolistic bullying.
I won't dwell on the LCBO role. All you have to say to anyone in the wine business in the county is "LCBO" and a passionate rant will ensue.
Elsie Biyo, as former Ottawa columnist Gord Lovelace dubbed the largest wine buyer in the world, dictates the price that wineries must sell their wine at LCBO stores and snaps 60 per cent off the sale price for itself.
Whatever the justification, it seems strange that the provincial wine pusher doesn't do more, economically, to assist the province's wine producers.
After the unexpected drive-in movie experience, we got back on track and headed for Huff Estates, which is one of the larger wineries in the region, and home of the Oeno Sculpture Garden and gallery, an outdoor artistic jewel and home to the work of about 24 sculptors. (Oenology is the study of wine making).
There's an indoor gallery, too, but even if you had a few grand to spend on art, one of the great advantages of biking is that it eliminates the possibility of spontaneous purchases.
With a few variations here and there, the wineries charge 50 cents to one dollar for a splash of whichever tipple you care to taste. If you buy a bottle or more, you get your money back.
For cyclists, the wineries take some hard work to reach, but, like grapes, they tend to be bunched together. This, we were told, has to do with county soil, which can be finicky for grape growing.
"Just because I can grow grapes on my land doesn't necessarily mean my neighbour can grow grapes on his," one grower told us.
During the winter, vines have to be lowered and covered to protect them from the elements. Prince Ed-ward County grape growers are the only ones in the province who must routinely do this.
Our plan was to visit seven or eight wineries and perhaps buy a case wherever agreeable taste and price combined. Warning: too many tastings can put a crimp in a cyclist's performance.
Closson Road in Hillier is a major stretch of wineries, from the tiny to the relatively large.
The Old Third, for instance, sells only pinot noir at around $40 a bottle and regularly sells out. Good reviews by wine writers are a massive bonus to these wineries, which have none of the public profile the LCBO monopoly can offer.
One described Old Third's current vintage thus: "The warmth of the vintage shows through, offering sweet red berry - raspberry, red cherry, currant - aromas, very delicate and nuanced. Wood is very well integrated, merely a light frame of spice, allowing the characteristic stoniness of the region to take centre stage. The texture is silky-firm, with light, seamless tannins and the finish is long and perfumed. A very refined, elegant expression all in all that will appeal to fans of the old world, Burgundian style (very Volnay-like, in fact), and a wonderful addition to the Ontario wine repertoire."
If you understand that, and $42 a bottle isn't excessive, they still have some left.
One thing that all these wine-makers share is passion. They all seem happy to talk about their craft - even to obvious cyclists who they know won't be buying.
Exultet Estates at South Marysburgh, Milford, is worth the visit, although rave reviews have seen some of their more popular wines sell out. At the end of the trip, we drove back to Long Dog Winery on Brewers Road, Milford, and bought a mixed case of pinot noir, chardonnay and rosé. The taste and price combined well, but this is from a non-expert.
A winery tour on a bicycle requires more enthusiasm for cycling than it does for wine, but it is an unrivalled way to experience some of the most beautiful rustic countryside Ontario has to offer.
Although unforeseen and unfortunate circumstances at the Duke of Marysburgh Pub and Bistro forced us to overspend one evening, we had budgeted for one good dinner.
Several locals recommended the Milford Bistro (in Milford) so we took their advice.
The Bistro's selling point is that all its food and wine is locally produced. As those travel websites will tell you, we weren't the first to discover the Milford Bistro, but if this were a restaurant review, it would be a rave.
The Milford sells coffee roasted by The Bean Counter in Picton, which we visited twice. If you like coffee, go to the Bean Counter. Likewise, if you enjoy ice cream, go to Slickers in Bloomfield.
We stayed three nights and spent most of four days touring around the back roads being distracted by the unexpected - like the massive disused military base where British pilots trained during the Second World War.
Those who know the area will understand what a journey of discovery a first trip to Prince Edward County can be. Those who have never been are missing something special.