Maple in the County

Every March, we look forward to Maple in the County, an event which for the past 16 years has heralded the arrival of spring, and with it the sweet mapley goodness that it brings. It’s an annual event that brings thousands of visitors to our sugarbushes, wineries and restaurants, and it was also the first event that we, as a family, took part in. It was March, 2002. We were new to the County, and it was a great opportunity to take our son, Nathan, to visit a local maple syrup producer.

In subsequent years, we have enjoyed our fair share of pancake breakfasts, and watched as sap was turned into syrup in the sugar shack. Some years it has been so warm that pancake breakfasts could be enjoyed outdoors on picnic tables while we soaked up the warmth of the early spring sunshine.

Maple in the County is also the beginning of our season, when everybody gears up for a busy spring, leading to the summer and fall tourism seasons. It’s a time when the County welcomes visitors from everywhere – and I mean everywhere: Europe, Asia, the United States, all over Canada, and of course our neighbors in Ontario and Quebec.

This year, we celebrate Maple in the County on the weekend of March 25 & 26, when throughout the County you can enjoy activities such as pancake breakfasts, s’mores by the fire, petting zoos, maple kettle corn, lumberjack shows, free public skating and family movies at the Regent Theatre – not to mention all the fabulous maple treats you’ll be able to taste at local wineries, craft breweries, The Cider Company, and participating restaurants.

If you are planning on visiting the County this spring, check out our Maple Lover’s One Night Package, available Tuesday through Saturday through March 31. Each package includes your overnight accommodation, an afternoon County wine & cheese tasting, dinner in our restaurant, complementary tastings at local wineries, breakfast in the morning plus a bottle of locally produced Maple Syrup – but hurry! It’s only until the end of March. We look forward to seeing you here soon!

Edward Shubert, innkeeper

The Evolution of County Wine

Amy and I bought the Merrill Inn in January 2002 after an intense search to fulfill our County “inn dream.” We had been to the County some years before on a day trip – a time at which it was a sleepy, rural area – having no idea it had the potential to become a recognized wine region. We later found out that grapes had been planted here in the past, but not commercially in the way that we know it today.

At the time we bought the Merrill Inn, there were four wineries, namely Waupoos Estate, Peddlesden Winery (which later became Carmella Estates, and then Casa Dea), By Chadsey’s Cairns (who had the very first 100% County –grown wine), and finally Black Prince Winery, which at the time operated as a cooperative for smaller local growers. Predating Waupoos Winery by several years, The County Cider Company was the ‘legacy’ beverage destination, producing hard cider from its own apple orchards. Even in its infancy, the cider was still every bit as good as it is today. In the past, the County had once been a major source of apples in Canada, their quality and wide variety known far and wide. The wine, on the other hand, had a long way to go.

Our serendipitous move to Picton was very timely, as we have been able to reap the benefits of living in an emerging and vibrant food and wine culture, as well as be a part of its evolution. Looking back, we could not fully appreciate the growth of the wine industry (and now craft breweries) that we would witness over the coming 16 years.

Over this time, we have made friends and enjoyed business relationships with several of these passionate grape growers and vignerons. Like many of our guests, we had our favourites, and had a lot of fun visiting tasting rooms, and building our restaurant wine list.

Through the years, we have come to appreciate the challenges the winemakers and growers endure as they battle their annual issues with the unpredictable and sometimes cruel weather, as well as all of the other various conditions that impact their final product. You get to know who consistently produces the best products, and the areas where certain varietals (chardonnay, pinot noir, pinot gris, riesling, etc.) do best. Our wine list has allowed us the chance to feature these signature wines, with the goal of bringing a balanced and bipartisan approach that matches well with Chef Michael Sullivan’s cuisine. At the same time, we seek to provide the kind of quality and value that our guests will appreciate.

Who knew that this many years later we would be talking about our home this way! The evolution of the County wine scene has brought with it a marked improvement in the quality-to-price ratio (meaning that quality is going up and prices are going down). Whereas at one time, most of the locals wouldn’t even think about purchasing County wine, now they are mostly converts. From four wineries in 2002, we now boast 48. There will be 10 craft breweries to visit in the summer of 2017, and the County Cider Company has become “the godfather” to a massive cider movement in North America. We have had a Master of Wine (Jancis Robinson) proclaim one County chardonnay to be one of the “best in the world,” (it was a Closson Chase chardonnay) and arguably, we are poised to be the top producer of pinot noir in all of Canada. Suddenly, the County’s best-kept secret is completely out of the bag.

In case you haven’t heard, it’s not Napa Valley, it’s not Burgundy, and it’s not Tuscany that is on everybody’s minds these days … it’s the County. If you have not yet experienced our beautiful island community and all of its bounty, you should think about coming soon. Check out our seasonal packages, which offer the best in hospitality and highlight the many popular activities we have to offer (it’s not just about wine, apparently). Subscribe to our e-newsletter, and be the first to find out about upcoming stay-and-play specials, dining promotions and more. See you here!

Edward Shubert, innkeeper

Merrill Inn: by the numbers

Over the years, we have enjoyed our holiday time by taking the occasional cruise vacation. I am always amazed at the logistics and magnitude of feeding thousands of guests every day while making it look absolutely effortless.

I often think about the scale of the purchasing they have to deal with in the process: how much, milk, how many dozens of eggs, kilos of fish, beef and chicken and so on they bring on board every week – which brought me to thinking about our own business. So, as ‘nerdy’ as it may sound, I did a little math to review what we purchase in a typical year here at the Merrill Inn.

In 2016, we welcomed approximately 8,000 guests to the Inn and to The Restaurant – possibly what one of these cruise ships does in a single week – however, you get the idea.

So here is the average grocery list that chef Michael Sullivan shopped for last year:

  • Orange juice: 250 litres
  • Milk: 600 litres
  • Cream: 300 litres
  • Eggs: 1500 doz
  • Cheddar cheese: 300 lbs
  • Bread: 1500 loaves
  • Beef tenderloin: 400 lbs
  • Lamb racks: 300 lbs
  • Fresh fish: 500 lbs
  • Duck breast: 250 lbs
  • Chicken: 200 lbs
  • Seasonal vegetables: 800 lbs
  • Potatoes: 400 lbs

And so many more items … it would be practically impossible to list them all! So next time you’re sitting around wondering about stuff like this (I know, not everybody thinks the way I do), you’ve got a benchmark! Those big family dinners don’t seem so crazy after all, do they?

Edward Shubert, Innkeeper

 

Fun and Games at the Merrill Inn

Here at the Merrill Inn we like to offer our guests a true “County” experience when they arrive, and to this end we have been including a County wine and cheese tasting as a welcome reception with some of our packages. We get a fire going in the fireplace and get ready to go for around 5pm, when usually, a representative from one of our friendly local wineries will come by to lead the tasting. They will pour a red and a white selection from their repertoire, and we pair them up with some nice cheeses, fruit and crackers. It’s a pleasant way to help our guests settle in and wind down, to relax and enjoy some friendly conversation with other guests and maybe discover something new about the County, its wine or wine in general. We started this program to replace the picnics we usually include with our packages in the summer months, thinking that it’s something that we would enjoy, so we were pretty sure others would enjoy it too.

In the past, we have worked with Rosehall Run Winery, Huff Estates, Three Dog Winery, The Grange of Prince Edward, Sandbanks Estates, Sugarbush Winery, Casa Dea Estates, Closson Chase, Exultet Estates – depending on who is available. Guests can ask questions about the wine, or about the area, and it’s always a nice little get together. This past Saturday was no exception, and our Saturday night tasting got off to a rousing start with almost thirty people mixing and mingling. In contrast to our usual protocol, we had our own resident sommelier Astrid Young conduct the tasting, and offered local wines from our restaurant list: we started with the Sandbanks Baco Noir (an all-time County favourite), and The Grange Pinot Gris (a refreshing, grigio-style white), and then moved on to Huff Estates’ Off-Dry Riesling, and finally the Three Witches, an aromatic white blend from Karlo Estates. All in all, a lovely cross-section of popular local wines – but this night, the real story wasn’t about the wines at all – it was about the vibe.

Our common area was literally buzzing: thirty people, representing a range of ages and demographics, all lined up to sample wines and load up their plates with tasty tidbits. Glasses were filled, conversation was had, insider information was shared freely, and in the midst of it all, we even had people playing cards and board games. There were even a couple of people who decided to tackle our monster 2000 piece puzzle – and you definitely need a glass of wine or two for that! You wouldn’t even guess that it was the dead of winter in the County; it seemed much more like a Saturday night in the high season: lots of energy, laughter and plenty of residual good cheer to spare.

Thinking about visiting the County for a late-winter/early spring getaway? Check out our featured packages and join us for fun and games, wine, cheese and good times, here at the Merrill Inn.

The Family Business – 15 years later

circa 2004
These days, Nathan really has no intention of going into the family business.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amy and I had made some time for a variety of projects during our relative quiet time over the winter months. We spent an afternoon updating our album of memories from the last decade and a half at the Merrill Inn, and I ran across this article that I had written for North American Inns back in 2004 … wow! We have certainly come a long way – and of course, grown somewhat older as well.

Looking back, we were both quite amazed at the scope of what we took on, and at the same time very proud of the legacy we have built. The before and after pictures were just the tip of the iceberg. During this time, our son Nathan has grown up, and is now studying journalism at the University of Guelph, Toronto campus. We have taken what once was a quaint country inn and turned it into a stunning representation of gracious living that honours its historic roots while providing our guests with the comfort and service you would expect from a top property in Prince Edward County. The Restaurant has not grown in size, but in reputation we have risen to and remained the number one destination for farm-to-table dining in the County. Our team has expanded, though many ‘originals’ still remain; some of our staff actually grew up while working here, and have now graduated from part-time summer help to being our most valued employees. The County has become Ontario’s top hospitality destination, and we have been right there through every part of its transformation. Our hair may have gotten a little greyer, but we couldn’t be more proud.

We hope you will enjoy reading this article and checking out some of our favourite memories. You can check out the column in its entirety: