Epic start to season of epicurean adventures
Canadian summers may be short, but our Eastern Ontario wine and food trails stretch as far as the eye can see.
Rejoicing in Richmond
For our inaugural tour, the La Vida Local bus traveled southwest of Ottawa, making its first stop at Jabulani Vineyard & Winery in Richmond, where guests were treated to a flight of six estate wines, paired with house-made charcuterie that featured South African bilitong, a peppery and highly addictive jerky-style treat made by owner Tom Moul himself.
Originally from Zimbabwe, Tom named the property after the Zulu word for happiness and rejoicing, as that was what it immediately evoked in him when he first set foot on it with his wife Janet back in 2006. Since then, the couple has planted 11,000 vines of eight different cold-hardy varietals, including Frontenac Blanc, Gris and Noir, Marquette, Muscat and Louis Swenson grapes.
Having learned to make wine in both Zimbabwe and Cape Town in his youth, Tom has carried many of South Africa's world-renowned wine-making techniques back with him here to the Ottawa Valley – entirely to the benefit of our collective tastebuds. Not only have his wines proven to be very popular among the locals, but they have also garnered the winery 11 international medals and one All-Canadian Championship award.
Video of Tom describing Jabulani grapes and winery awards
Pleasure in Perth
From Richmond, we traveled down County Road 10 to visit Top Shelf Distillers in history-rich Perth, once home to a 22,000-pound "Mammoth Cheese" the town sent to the Chicago World fair in 1893 to promote Canadian cheeses around the world (yes, you read that right).
Before the Ontario Temperance Act of 1916, Perth was also home to four thriving distilleries, two of them housed in beautiful limestone buildings along the Tay River, which intersects the town. Since 2014, Top Shelf Distillers has been working to revive that 200-year-old tradition in Perth.
Crafting their spirits from locally sourced, natural ingredients, Top Shelf distills vodka, gin and cocktail bitters, along with a 100-Proof moonshine, and five varieties of flavoured moonshines. They are also currently aging a Canadian whisky for an expected release in 2019 after three years of barrel aging.
Located in Ontario's agricultural hub, Top Shelf uses ingredients from within a 1-hour driving radius of the distillery, which we were treated to the fruits of by way of mini shots of flavoured moonshines and two specialty cocktails, which accompanied us on a tour of the still and production area, where workers actually fill and label every bottle by hand.
From Perth, we continued south to postcard-pretty Westport, where we received a warm welcome at the Sheuermann Vineyard & Winery, where wine-making and down-home hospitality are a full family affair. Here we were treated to a flight of elegant wines, including Chardonnay, Vidal, Pinot Noir and a sparkling cider made with a fusion of local apples. Sheuermann is one of the few Eastern Ontario vineyards growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, as they require painstaking attention and the need to bury the vines at the end of each season.
Delightfully paired with our wines was a hot artichoke dip and wood-fired Margarita pizza. This was all enjoyed on the winery's outdoor deck overlooking tranquil Sand Lake, before a tour of the vineyard and Westport Sculpture Garden. Along with a full lunch and dinner menu, the winery also sells locally-sourced smoked salmon from the Westport Salmon House.
Epicurean adventure exceeds expectations
Consensus among all our guests was that their first epicurean adventure on La Vida Local's Southwest Tour exceeded all expectations, and was a thoroughly enjoyable and most satisfying day of wine, food and fun with both old friends and new!
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As summer comes to a close, I reminisce on one of its highlights being the fabulous time I had on the inaugural La Vida Local tour. ♥ Thank you Ruth, Iona and fellow tour-mates!