Have you ever been a-wassailing? With plenty of established (and emerging) wine regions, you’ll find small towns all over Ontario celebrating Wassail this time of year – a Medieval English tradition which pays tribute to the harvest before the arrival of winter. Merrymakers would travel from house to house, with a song on their lips and a glass in their hands! Apparently this cheerful ritual would ensure a good cider apple harvest the following year – Frankly, I like their methods.
Prior to my husband booking us a November getaway in Prince Edward County a few years ago, I had never heard of this harvest tradition. In fact, visiting wine country in the early winter had never crossed my mind as being any sort of fun, given that lush vineyard strolls and al fresco dining would be out of the question. We embarked on our first wintery weekend away with very few expectations for what it would be like – And what it turned out to be… was absolute magic!
Wassail festivities take place during the last two weekends in November and the first weekend of December. So gather your favourite beau (or a girlfriend or two!) and head over to the County. I’m sharing my recommendations on what to do and where to stay. Enjoy!
What to Do
A Wine Tour, of Course!
Although you have the option to take a self-guided tour, I suggest opting for the Wassail bus tour. You won’t have to worry about directions or weather conditions, and you’re guaranteed to stop at the most festive wineries! Our pick-up and drop-off was a two minute drive from our B&B (which, by the way, was breathtaking – more on where to stay at the end of the post).
Tours run on Saturday afternoons from 1pm -5:30pm. You’ll visit 5 wineries and enjoy a complimentary taste at each stop for $25 per person. Totally worth it.
Recently PEC was coined the “Gastronomic Capital of Ontario” by the Globe and Mail. And for good reason; the county boasts renowned farmers markets and culinary festivals year round! Such as Taste Community Grown (Sept), to Countylicious (Oct-Nov), to Maple in the County (Yes – A festival regarding maple everything. I’ll see you there in March).
As for the seasonal fare of Wassail? Every winery offers a little something special this time of year, so you can nibble while you sip. Tasty treats may come in the form of gingerbread, rum balls and tarts, mini beef Wellingtons and roasted chestnuts, fire roasted marshmallows and popcorn too. Trust me, you won’t leave hungry, however you may have to earn your eatables with a song!
Tackle your Christmas Shopping
From stocking stuffers to heirloom-worthy treasures, the County is a haven for creatives and a hot-spot for Arts & Craft lovers. With artist’s studios dotting the area, you’ll find handcrafted glass bowls, jewellery, wreaths and, wine accessories, among other curiosities.
We found that many of the wineries along the Wassail bus tour featured craft works, with pop-up style displays. I came home with the sweetest bee’s wax candles for my Mother’s stocking, and of course a few for myself!
Bring the Magic Home
You’re going to wine country, so lets assume you’ll be going home with a bottle or two (or in our case… five or six). Be sure to pick up a wine suitable for homemade mulled wine so you can Wassail your way through the holidays! This delightful recipe comes from our stop at Sugarbush Vineyards.
Sugarbush Mulled Wine (Glögg) Recipe
Note: Warm, do not boil
- 1 bottle Sugarbush red wine
- 1½ cups cranberry juice
- 1½ cups apple juice
- 10-15 whole cloves
- 4 cinnamon sticks
- ¼ cup raisins
- ¼ cup almonds (optional)
- 1 Tbsp lemon juice
- 2 Tbsp sugar
Psst! Saturday, November 28th, Sugarbush will be BBQing Maple Sausages on site and will also have County Maple Syrup for sale. Don’t miss it!
Where to Stay
We spent the weekend in Picton, a cute town with a lovely main street lined with shops and restaurants, just south of Bellville. My husband did all the research for accommodations, and came up with The Manse. Friends, this place was a dream!
Kathleen (hostess extraordinaire) and Chris (the masterful chef) made our stay exceptionally merry and bright. We arrived in time for our dinner reservation, and immediately felt miles away from our hectic work week and city lives. We indulged in cookies from the butler’s pantry, and dips in the hot tub, after which we swaddled ourselves in puffy white robes for some fireside reading.
Weekends get-aways are quickly becoming my new favourite escape. And they are especially grand when they involve the best wines in town. Happy Wassailing!