This Tweed, Ont. winery wins awards for ‘incredibly sweet’ port discovered 170 years ago

When you think of the best wineries in Ontario, the Niagara region is usually what comes to mind – but a winery near Tweed, Ontario. hopes people will seek their wine further north.

“We’re really small, but we really strive to make really small, high-end, boutique-quality wines,” said Sandor Johnson, owner of Potter Settlement Artisan Winery.

The winery, which is nestled between Highways 7 and 37 in Hastings County, about 90 kilometers northwest of Kingston, Ontario, is now winning international awards for a port accidentally discovered during the McClure Arctic Expedition in 1850.

“It’s a very unique product that no one has tasted in 170 years, which is pretty amazing,” Johnson said.

The historic wine – nicknamed Portage – was named after the sailors who pulled barrels of port across the ice when their ship got stuck while crossing the north.

Johnsons started 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 journals that Johnson learned how he and the other sailors had created Portage.

“They had port up there with them that froze, stripping away all the bitter acids, which they found incredibly sweet,” Johnson said.

“And then the midnight sun cooked the port in the barrels and after trying it they said they had found it fit for Queen Victoria. When I read this of course I had to do it.”

Fast forward 172 years, and Portage recently won three gold medals at Potter Settlement Artisan Winery in competitions in Madrid, London and Napa, California.

“We’re still pinching each other,” Johnson said.

Temperatures in Tweed reach -27C

As one of Canada’s northernmost wineries, Johnson says temperatures at Tweed drop to -27C during the winter – cold enough to freeze the port as they did when shipping in the arctic.

And while those cold temperatures have meant Tweed has been overlooked as a place to grow grapes, Johnson says the soil is rich in minerals not found further south.

“We are very lucky to produce some of the best wines where you least expect them,” he said.

Johnson now offers over a dozen different wines, mostly made from grapes grown on the Tweed property.

CBC Toronto spoke with Johnson about the history of his winery and how he hopes it will bring attention to northern wineries.


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