Essex Pelee Island Coast (EPIC) is a collection of several wineries in the Lake Erie North Shore/Pelee Island region of Essex County. The area offers a unique maritime climate that provides ideal conditions for vineyards, allowing our grapes to reach the peak of ripeness. The results are wines of exceptional character and luscious flavours. For details about any specific winery, visit our wineries page.
At the same latitude as the Mediterranean, the Lake Erie North Shore Region is nestled along Lake Erie. This location provides a unique maritime climate in a continental region, with exceptional soil conditions, and longer sun hours and greater heat units than any other area in Canada. In fact, geographically speaking, this region is located as far south as northern California and the Tuscany region of Italy, and further south than the renowned Bordeaux and Burgundy wine regions of France.
As a result, grape growers in the Lake Erie North Shore and Pelee Island Designated Viticultural Areas grow some of the world’s finest vinifera and French hybrid wine grapes. These varieties continually and reliably produce award-winning, world-class wines, including naturally produced ice wines.
Wine making in Essex County has a rich history, dating back to the 1860s when three gentlemen farmers from Kentucky came north looking for winemaking opportunities. They found them on Pelee Island, just off the shores of Lake Erie. In 1866 the trio – D.J.Williams, Thomas Williams and Thaddeus Smith – opened Canada’s first commercial estate winery, Vin Villa Estates. Soon after, Pelee Island attracted two brothers from England, Edward and John Wardoper, who founded Pelee Island Wine and Vineyard Company.
By 1890, there were 41 wineries in Canada, with 23 of those in the corridor between Windsor and Pelee Island. Grapes had become one of the major crops on the mainland, as well as Pelee Island. By 1900, Essex was one of the most important grape production areas in Ontario. Acreage peaked in 1904 at 1794 acres, and then dropped. By 1914, there were only 275 commercial acres of grapes, and less than 50 a few years later. Although the reasons for this rapid decline are both diverse and debated, the competition for land for tobacco production, along with prohibition fears in the U.S., appeared to have been the main contributing factors.
Then, as the tobacco industry in North America gradually declined, the wine industry once again began flourishing in Essex County. Commercial wine making returned to Essex County in the early 80’s in full force with the openings of Pelee Island Winery, Colio Estate Winery and D’Angelo Vineyards.
In 1989, Canada adopted a designation system known as VQA – Vintners Quality Alliance. This system was initiated by the winemakers of Ontario to create clear standards so Canadian wines could be accurately measured against wines of other countries. The system was modeled after the French system, which is based on origin and identifies specific geographic areas that have characteristics favorable to the cultivation of grapes. Essex County was officially identified as having two of Ontario’s three Designated Viticultural Areas. The two areas were named Lake Erie North Shore (mainland) and Pelee Island (Island). The third area in Ontario is Niagara.
Since then, a growing number of vintners have been reclaiming the soil and the region’s reputation by producing some of Canada’s best wines. Today, there are approximately 1,000 acres of grapes in the Lake Erie North Shore and Pelee Island Designated Viticultural Areas.
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