Ontario Wine Week takes place the 3rd week of June every year in Ontario. #ONWineWeek is a time to recognize Ontario’s 185 VQA wineries and our grape growers.

Starting at the very most southern point of Ontario and Canada, is where the story of Pelee Island Winery begins. It’s a history in the making.

Ontario Wine Week Spotlight on J.S. Hamilton

Joshua S. Hamilton is the one of the forerunners of the wine marketing world. Born in Brantford, Ontario, he started out in the grocery business with Hamilton, Dunlop and Company. When Dunlop retired in 1877, J.S. Hamilton & Company was formed.

As more vineyards were planted on the island, Hamilton became the sole agent. He created a new company, the Pelee Island Wine & Vineyard Co., Ltd. which led to the construction of a 3-storey Wine House at the West Dock on Pelee Island. Unfortunately fire destroyed the structure in 1935.

Pelee Island Then

” Owing to the mildness of climate, and the rich, warm, soil, it is found that the place is peculiarly adapted to grape growing, and already nearly on-third (sic) of the area is under grape cultivation. Pelee Island wine, which by the way is made in the most primitive manner, with the old fashion press beam,- is rapidly gaining a foremost reputation, in many American and Canadian cities. It possesses a pure aromatic flavour not found in any other wine made on this continent – and rarely equalled among European wines.” – 1894 from a local newspaper

Pelee Island Winery Pavilion on Pelee Island, Ontario Canada arial shot with sustainable vineyards and Lake Erie. Taken by Ian Virtue.

Pelee Island Now

From 1920 to 1930, wine consumption increased in Ontario with markets expanding in the United States due to the Volstead Act (Prohibition). However by 1938 the Essex County area saw a sharp decline in wineries.

In 1979, Walter Strehn purchased land on Pelee Island and vineyards came back into existence with the first vintage of the Pelee Island Vineyards Company in 1982. The Pelee Island Winery was constructed in Kingsville (Canadian mainland across from Pelee Island) in 1983.

Fast forward to 2021 and we continue to share with the world the unique terroir of the Canadian South Islands sub-appellation through Vinifera varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and Merlot. 

Pelee Island Winery Pelee Island 1800s winery building at west dock

Historical Sips

Yes, of course we were curious too! What did they grow in their vineyards back in the late 1800’s? Below is list from an advertisement from 1888 by J.S. Hamilton & Company.

Dry Catawba – fine, light, dry dinner wine of fine bouquet, and closely resembling the Sauterne of France and Rhine Wine of Germany.

Isabella – a delicious golden-coloured wine, very choice, delicate in flavour, similar to Sicilian wines.

St. Emilion – a red wine, stout, rich and full bodied, made from the Virginia Seedling and Catawba grapes.

Claret – a dry, heavy, red wine, produced from the Virginia Seedling grape, a great flavour.

St. Augustine – the popular communion wine that was registered in Canada, the United States and England.

Pricing back in the late 1880’s worked out to about $1.50 per gallon in 5 gallon lots, $1.25 per gallon in barrel lots or one dozen quarts at $4.50

Celebrating Ontario Wine Week

Our friends at Wine Country Ontario invite you to participate on social media to win!

This year, the Wine Country Ontario social media channels will highlight Ontario’s signature VQA varieties and specialties throughout the week and then test you on your knowledge via our Instagram stories! One signature variety will be highlighted each day, with key tasting notes and features, and we’re asking you to identify the grape variety!

Over the course of the week, three respondents will be selected as quiz winners – don’t miss out on this chance to test your knowledge and Celebrate the Taste of Home. Make sure you tag @WineCountryOnt in your own posts celebrating Ontario Wine Week and use #ONWineWeek and #CheerstoVQA!

Choose Ontario Wine

Pelee Island Winery is a member of EPIC Wineries. We’re proud to call their members our neighbours and friends. We encourage you to explore the Lake Erie North Shore & South Islands wineries offerings and stories this week and all summer long. Call to reserve a tasting, order online for delivery and ask for local at your LBCO.


Research from: Pelee Island Heritage Centre & “The Vinedressers” – A History of Grape Farming & Wineries on Pelee Island” by Ron Tiessen.

Pssttt… Don’t forget while you’re here to sign up for our Birthday Club and receive a $20 Gift Voucher for your birthday!