Social-Political History of Pelee Island: The Island was inhabited by aboriginal peoples (the museum on the island displays interesting archaeological treasures) prior to colonial presence. Thomas McKee, a British commander, leased the land from two First Nations in 1788 to begin farming, while the aboriginal peoples maintained rights to hunt and fish on the island. The McCormick family then purchased the island outright in 1834 and alloted land to various family members for settlement. British loyalists and First Nations peoples repelled attacks from the United States on more than one occasion in the first half of the 19th century. For more information see www.peleeislandmuseum.ca
Geography and Natural History: Pelee Island, in Lake Erie (the smallest of the Great Lakes) is the most southern inhabited point in Canada. The lsland is approximately 42 square kilometers and, due to its southern location, it has unique flora and fauna that cannot be found in other parts of Canada. The short hike through the Fish Point Reserve Nature Reserve explains the special species of turtles, trees and plants on the Island. At this reserve, the Pelee Island Bird Observatory monitors the migration of birds (see www.pibo.ca). The Stone Road Alvar, a unique limestone plain, is also home to numerous rare plant species.
Vineyards on the Island: The first winery on the Island, Vin Villa, started to operate in the mid 1860s and the Pelee Island Wine company was formed with agent J.S. Hamilton in Brantford, Ontario in the 1890s. The winery won international prizes in Paris, France according to http://www.winesofcanada.com/history_pelee_island.html and maintained production into the early 1900s. Tobacco and other cash crops became popular on the Island and in southwestern Ontario generally. In the last few decades grape growing was reintroduced given that the Island's microclimate, with the most frost-free days in Canada at 196 days, has a long growing season and is conducive to a number of grape varietals. Pelee Island Winery has vineyards of approximately 550 acres on the Island and the Erie coast and opened the Pavilion on the Island in 1992.
Wine Tasting at Pelee Island Winery: The Pavilion at Pelee Island Winery offers free wine tastings (up to three wines) or, for only $5, you can go on a brief tour and taste 5 wines. The Pelee Island Winery's Pavilion appears to be a special meeting place on the island. On the weekends there is live music in the afternoon and the residents of the Island (only about 350 year round residents but over 1000 in the summer months) and local businesses often hold meetings at the Pavilion. They have an area where you can grill your own food and enjoy your meal with a bottle of Pelee Island Winery wine at retail prices. When my friend joined me on the Island we cycled in the heat and then enjoyed a bottle of Alvar Chardonnay Gerwurtztraminer (an interesting but not spectacular blend) with our own selection of cheeses at one of the picnic tables outside the Pavilion. During my various tastings I was pleasantly surprised by a number of their wines, most notably: 2008 Pinot Gris, 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Vinedresser, 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon - Petit Verdot, and the Cabernet Franc Icewine. We also enjoyed a bottle of nicely chilled Pelee Pink, a slightly sweet rosé with a hint of burnt sugar and orange, with our spicy homemade pizza. See www.peleeisland.com
Outdoor adventure on the Island: During my one week visit I complemented my wine tasting with various outdoor activities. I cycled around the Island a number of times(there on bicycle rentals available near the ferry dock from Comfortech Bike Rentals), swam at the various sandy beaches scattered a long the shores, hiked the easy trail to Lighthouse Point, explored the shoreline and Fish Point Reserve and kayaked along the East Shore one evening, after the wind calmed down. At the end of every day I was treated to a spectacular sunset from my shoreline deck.
Tips: Book your travel on the ferry in advance (www.ontarioferries.com), especially if you want to take your car to the Island. And stay for several days to experience the wine, nature and hospitality that the Island has to offer. See www.pelee.org for links to accommodation and activities on the Island.