Nestled in the Northumberland Hills is a new winery – about equidistant from Castleton, Hastings, Roseneath, and Warkworth is OakHeights.ca. Now my parents have a place just 3km towards Warkworth – due East as the crow flies from Oak Heights. And I can tell you that the sandy glacial moraines that make up the bulk of Northumberland County soil present a challenge for lawns, flowers and gardens. My potatoes simply did not show up this year. And the peppers and cauliflower are stunted but the cucumbers and tomatoes are thriving and now must get past the insectivoracious hurdle. And this past winter was so deviant – Spring thaw in January followed by bitterly cold 6 weeks with variable snow quantities over the county; just like the rain. So running a winery out this way will be a serious challenge. But if the winery opening is any indication, the vintage is under good management.
Order up some wonderful weather – sunny, clear, 26 degrees
The name of the winery, OakHeights, is well suited. There is a climax forest of Maples and Oaks all around the winery which is nestled atop one of the better 360 degree views of Northumberland Hills. The land has been farmed for over 150 years- so the soil is productive. And the trees and hillsides do provide some protection from the worst winter winds. And the crop of vines looked robust in the weekend’s sunny disposition. It was as if the owners had ordered up one fine day or two – and the Lord delivered:
Maple and pine shaded grape vines
But I will have to tell you I was skeptical. I know just 12 kilometers south towards Lake Ontario is the rich apple growing region stretching from Trent to Cobourg – echoes of the Niagara Escarpment wine and fruit growing area. And Gloabl Warming will probably nudge the temperature in the right direction (but in a perverse counter flow, it also engenders the variance or extremes of weather which is probably Global Warming’s more effective bully on the landscape). So I was relieved to hear that Oak Height’s owner and vintner Ian Fraser had not taken on this venture with rosee covered glasses.
Vine grove protected by hillside woods
During the opening ceremony, under the big tent, Ian Fraser explained to everyone, his slow but thorough approach to establishing a winery here on Oak Heights. Starting with long talks with the previous farmer of the land, the idea of growing a wine crop was incubated. Due diligence was done at University of Guelph and Sheridan College – determining whether soil and weather conditions were hospitable. A small grove was planted thereafter and help from Niagara based vintners moved the venture along. A setback occurred in the winter of 2005 when low snow and bitter cold killed of nearly 70% of the upper level vines. But gradual success with both vines and wine brew convinced Ian that the place and timing was right. So the July 21 and 22nd saw the opening of the winery.
Oak Heights Winery Opening
And what an opening – spectacular weather, horse drawn carriage bring special guests wine expert Tony Aspler and former Premier of Ontario Bill Davis to a big 3 post tent for the festivities including food, wine-to-be-tasted plus jazz and country-folk entertainers.. And after an informative and gracious welcome, Ian introduced his first guest, Bill Davis. Despite being retired for over twenty years, Bill showed he still had the power to entertain a crowd with some amusing self deprecation and political stories a plenty. Bill then introduced Tony Aspler, who was clearly impressed with and encouraging of the wine-making venture that Oak Heights represented.
Bill Davis speaking before the Ribbon Cutting ceremony
After the ribbon cutting people then had a feast laid out in the four corners of the tent – roast pig, roast beef and even a vegetarian corner. After, people could go into the wine tasting room or take a horse drawn carriage tour of the grounds, or just hoof it through the hillside wine groves and on down to the pond. The pace was relaxed and comfortable -like the wines.
Now I am no wine expert – having missed out on my Father’s wine-savouring genes; however I can agree with Tony Aspler who rated the Chardonnay as a more than capable table wine; and the some of the other vintages as most promising. Remember this is a winery recouping from a major 2005 vine setback.
Winery and Tasting Center
But perhaps Tony picked up on an even more important point. Tony predicted that the Winery with its wines, ample tasting room and beautiful sightings would become a magnet for meetings, outings, etc. Northumberland county is dotted with spas, galleries , and all sorts of festival activities year round from the Cobourg Summer Highlands Fest thru Colborne’s Apple Blossom Festival to Warkworth’s Spring Maple Syrup jam. Or consider West Ben Music Theater in nearby Campbellford as typical of newer summer entertainments. But so too the antique shops and art galleries of nearby Warkworth bring shopping adventures up from Route 2 and the Lake Ontario shore drive. But make no mistake, the opening of Oak Heights Winery was an auspicious and tasteful beginning to Northumberland county as a great outing – with now ever more diverse attractions.