Pelee Island: Island Hopping

Tornado warning at 3 am? That was the weather that we missed by a week as an F1 tornado (winds in excess of 75 mph or 120 km/hr) went through just east of Kingsville and headed east toward Leamington Ontario.  This was not your typical summer day!  On our drive to get the Pelee Island ferry in Leamington we saw the downed trees from this storm and were very glad we missed the storm.   The weather for our ferry boat ride was a typical summer day of sunny with a high of 79 F degrees (26 C) with light winds. Given this weather I was forced to do some power lounging on the boat on the outside deck to enjoy this peaceful sunny ride.  However I did go inside to get a snack and a drink at the cafeteria.

Picnic and BQ Patio at the Pelee Island Winery Pavilion

After an hour and half on the ferry we landed on Pelee Island and drove our car for 2 minutes to our first destination, Pelee Island Winery Pavilion (Photo above).  We quickly learned that we could have left our car back on the mainland as a brief bike to the Pavilion would have been a grand idea, leaving time for a bike tour around the island.  That will be a trip for next time.  The island is an ideal candidate for a bike trip having such a small population:  256 permanent residences and that number might go up to 1500 during the summer.

Upon our arrival at the Pavilion we were greeted by Pelee Island Winery vineyard manager,  Bruno Friesen, our tour guide for the day.   The first thing we did was take a quick walk around the Pavilion.  We noticed the outside picnic area that had lots of tables and a large barbeque area for visitors to bring their own food to cook and enjoy with some Pelee Island wine.  There is also the option of purchasing food (and all your picnic needs).  We told Bruno that we wanted to lunch there later but he had more elaborate plans for us.

Lavender fields at the Pelee Island Winery

Bruno’s first order of business was to give us a historical perspective on wine growing on Pelee Island. The first thing we learned is that the wine grapes are grown and processed on the island then shipped to the mainland where the winemaking is done in Kingsville, Ontario.  However, in the 1800’s and part of the 1900’s the winemaking was done on the island.

Then we went into Bruno’s van to continue our tour.  We drove past the miniature replica (see photo) of the first winery on Pelee Island, Vin Villa Winery established in the 1860’s. The winery was owned by Thaddeus Smith and the wine marketed by JS Hamilton.  An interesting note is the current owner of the original site of the Vin Villa Winery wants to restore the building and put in a new tasting room there. This would be a great reason to return.

Pelee Club grounds at Lake Erie

Bruno’s knowledge of the Island, farming and wine making and environmental concerns was vast.  He obtained a degree in Agriculture (with honors) from Guelph University (in Ontario).  Prior to that Bruno practiced and taught environmentally sound agriculture practices in his home country of Brazil.

So it did not come to any surprise that Bruno has implemented his environmental expertise and skills in his present position.  He severely limits amount of pesticide applications.  Bruno also deploys the use of many trees within the vineyard to serve as a wind break, which during the stormy winter season which  helps to shield the vines. Bruno also grows alfalfa whose root system goes deep to tap into the rich limestone.  The alfalfa is then used as mulch and the limestone is a sure key in enhancing the taste of the wine grapes.

Original bowling alley at the Pelee Club

Bruno has also started a small section that is completely organic. The winery is very excited that the first wines from this section will be out soon. The winery also includes 2.5 acres of lavender which is used for lavender oil (sold in the winery shop). We were very lucky to be there while the plants were in full, splendid bloom.

Lunch time was here and Bruno insisted that the plans he made were better than BBQ at the Pavilion so we continued on our journey to arrive at the historic Pelee Club.

The club was established in 1883 by the powerful owners of some of the biggest United States companies. Our host and club manager, David provided us with a lunch that would have been welcomed by any of those moguls.  Clam chowder for starters then shrimp tacos with a mango sauce and cookies for dessert.   Of course this was all paired with six great wines from Pelee Island Winery.  The wines will be covered in the next story.

Miniature replica of the first winery, Vin Villa Winery

After lunch we got a tour of the club.  One of the most interesting features was the bowling alley (see photo).   The lane is not currently used but David hopes that it might be restored soon.   The Club is used by members for outdoor activities like hunting and fishing or just family reunions. The grounds include a boat house, pool room, twenty-five bedrooms, and an outside area to sit and watch the world go by looks out at Lake Erie.

Our island trip for the day was over as Bruno and David wished me and my wife Elizabeth a bon voyage as we headed back to the mainland for our next day of extensive wine tasting.

Pelee Island Winery Pavilion
20 East West Road
Pelee Island N0R 1M0
Phone: 519-724-2469 or 1-800-597-3533

Author: Michael Fagin is a freelance travel writer who has traveled over the last ten years across Canada and visited all the major Canadian wine regions. While he is not writing Mr. Fagin is a meteorologist for West Coast Weather, LLC forecasting weather for the West Coast of the US as well as on an international basis.

Other Articles:

Toronto’s Icewine Festival: Perfect for any Icy Winter Day
Pelee Island Part 4: Burning off the post-wine calories
Pelee Island Part 3: Pacing Yourself for a Busy Day
Summer fun in the wine country of Ontario, Canada
Pelee Islands – Island Hopping

Michael Fagin

Michael Fagin is a freelance travel writer who has traveled over the last ten years across Canada and visited all the major Canadian wine regions. Mr. Fagin is currently touring the Pacific Northwest enjoying the wine country, dining, and hiking the region. While he is not writing Mr. Fagin is a meteorologist for West Coast Weather, LLC forecasting weather for the West Coast of the US as well as on an international basis.

1 Comment
  1. I love the little miniature replica of the winery. My ancestors were one of the first swiss vignerons to establish wineries in Victoria, Australia in late 1840s and the original winery (now in different owners hands) still stands on the property, what’s left of it anyway. It has had no protection over the years and is almost falling down. We often wonder what the actual winery would have looked like when it was working but have no sketches or photos of it to go by. I would love to find someone who knows about the architecture of these buildings who could fill in the blanks as best they can be for us.

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