This Tweed, Ont., winery is winning awards for 'incredibly smooth' port discovered 170 years ago
'Portage' dates back to the McClure Arctic Expedition in 1850
When you think of the best wineries in Ontario, the Niagara region is usually what comes to mind — but one vineyard near Tweed, Ont. is hoping people will look farther north for their wine.
"We're really small but we're really striving to make really small, high-end, boutique quality wines," said Sandor Johnson, owner of the Potter Settlement Artisan Winery.
The winery, which is nestled between Highway 7 and Highway 37 in Hastings County, about 90 kilometres northwest of Kingston,Ont., is now winning international awards for a port that was accidentally discovered during the McClure Arctic Expedition in 1850.
"This is a very unique product that no ones has tasted in 170 years, which is quite amazing," Johnson said.
The historic wine — dubbed Portage — was named for the sailors who pulled barrels of port across the ice when their ship became stuck while transiting the north.
Johnsons began making wine in 1999
Henry Gaun was among those who took part in the expedition before settling in Tweed. The land he called home would later be inherited by Johnson's family and used to start making wine in 1999.
It was through Gaun's diaries that Johnson learned how he and the other sailors created Portage.
"They had port up there with them that froze, knocking out all the bitter acids, which they found incredibly smooth," Johnson said.
"And then the midnight sun cooked the port in the barrels and after they tried it they said they found it fit for Queen Victoria. When I read that of course I had to make it."
Fast forward 172 years, and Portage has recently won the Potter Settlement Artisan Winery three gold medals at competitions in Madrid, London and Napa, Calif. — making Johnson's winery the only one in Canada to take all three top honours.
"We are still kind of pinching ourselves," Johnson said.
Temperatures in Tweed reach -27 C
As one of the northernmost vineyards in Canada, Johnson says Tweed's temperatures dip to -27 C during the winter — cold enough to freeze the port like they did during the Arctic expedition.
And while those cold temperatures have meant Tweed has been overlooked as a spot to grow grapes, Johnson says the soil is rich in minerals not found farther south.
"We're very fortunate to make some of the finest wines in a place where you'd least expect it," he said.
Johnson now offers more than dozen different wines — mostly made with grapes grown on the Tweed property.
CBC Toronto spoke with Johnson about his winery's history, and how he hopes it will draw attention to northern vineyards.
With files from Jasmin Seputis, Laura Pedersen and Julia Knope
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