Tastes from Pelee Island, Canada’s Oldest Wine Region

Written by Gary Killops



Pelee Island is Lake Erie’s largest island. Located 26 kilometres south of the mainland of Essex County, getting there is part of the fun! The hour and a half ferry ride on the M.V. Jiimaan departs from the Kingsville dock at 10 a.m. and returns from the island at 4 p.m. providing day trippers with ample time to explore the Pelee Island Winery Pavilion.

Aerial-Pelee-Island-2-JPEGPelee Island is the oldest wine region in Ontario. It was the location of Vin Villa, Canada’s first commercial winery, which was founded in the 1860s. The ruins of Vin Villa can be seen today on the northwest shore of the island.

Pelee Island Winery established a 50-acre vineyard on the island in 1979. Itis now the home of some 550 acres of vines. Approximately 17 grape varieties are grown on the island, including chardonnay, pinot gris, riesling, gewürztraminer, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot and pinot noir.

The vines relish Canada’s longest growing season and rich limestone-based soils which, along with the moderating effect of Lake Erie, result in grapes that reach their full ripeness potential.

Harvest begins in September. The grapes are picked and transported by ferry to Kingsville where the winery is located. Wine master Martin Janz, a graduate of the Rheingau Institute of winemaking in Germany, oversees the pressing, fermentation, aging and bottling of the wines.

The Pelee Island Winery is on the mainland at Kingsville

The Pelee Island Winery is on the mainland at Kingsville

Tours of the winery are available for $5 per person and include a visit of the production facilities, barrel room, wine tastings and Pelee Island Winery wine tasting glass.

Until 2012 Pelee Island Winery had its own VQA appellation of origin (VQA Pelee Island). In 2013 this appellation was subsumed into the larger VQA Lake Erie North Shore appellation. In 2015 the Vintners Quality Alliance, recognizing that the climate and soil on the island are unique, created a sub-appellation called South Shore.

Pelee Island Winery has an all-encompassing portfolio of wines that includes rosés, sparkling and sweet wines, Ontario VQA wines, Cellared in Canada wines, and ice wines. The range also includes the “Lighthouse” collection of VQA wines (available at the LCBO) and the “Vinedressers”series of premium Ontario VQA wines that are only available for purchase at the winery.

Some recently-tasted wines from Pelee Island Winery:

18_2013-Redwing-Pinot-Noir -web2014 Pelee Island Pinot Noir (LCBO #135939, $13.90)

This silver medal winning wine would be an excellent choice to serve with turkey this Thanksgiving. It also pairs well with salmon and roast pork. In the glass it shows a medium dark purple colour with violet, red cherry, red currant and earthy notes. Fine tannin structure and balanced acidity. A great value wine!


2014 Lighthouse Semi-Sweet Riesling

(This wine is expected to be released in the fall of 2016. The retail price and LCBO number were not available at press time.)

A sweet wine like this pairs well with spicy Asian and Indian dishes. The acidity provides good structure and balance.

This wine is a touch sweeter than Pelee Island Winery’s 2012 Late Harvest Riesling. If you do not generally like sweet wine consider instead Pelee Island Lighthouse Riesling. (LCBO #145417, $12.25) This is an off-dry style riesling that is fresh and lively.

2014 LOLA Rosé (LCBO #450981, $12.90)

HyperFocal: 0This is a seasonal LCBO product and is available while supplies last.

A light, fruity frizzante style sparkling wine, made from a blend of 78% vidal and 22% chambourcin grapes. It offers some sweetness with strawberry and orange citrus notes. It’s an extremely tasty bubbly, and a very quaffable, easy to sip wine.

The eye-catching label was voted the best wine label design at the 2016 Ontario Wine Awards.
2014 LOLA Vidal ($12.75)
Currently available only at the winery.
Vidal is such a versatile grape. It can be vinified from dry in style to a sweet icewine style wine. Pelee Island Winery shows vidal’s versatility by producing a sparkling wine with the grape. It’s also frizzante in style with light bubbles in the glass. Floral white flowers and lemon zest citrus notes offer a lovely off-dry bubbly to sip on.


Pelee Island Winery Website:

The winery is open year round, 9 am – 6 pm Monday – Saturday and 11 am – 5 pm on Sundays. The pavilion is open daily until October 10th (Thanksgiving Monday).

Pelee Island Ferry rates & schedule:


Gary Killops is a certified wine geek who loves to talk, taste and write about wine. He shares his wine tasting notes on EssexWineReview.com

About the author

Gary Killops

Gary Killops is a CAPS Certified Sommelier who loves to talk, taste and write about wine. He shares his wine tasting notes on EssexWineReview.com