Step back in time among the rolling green hills of the Oak Ridges Moraine in Durham Region. Just outside downtown Port Perry, you’ll find Ocala, the oldest winery and only vineyard in the region. There are acres of fun to be had at this Durham Region hidden gem! Indulge in a wine tasting, grab the family for fall apple picking, or enjoy one of their many events that make for a scenic day trip from Toronto in both the summer and fall.
Ocala is so much more than a winery! With over 3500 trees, Ocala grows over 20 varieties of apples including Gala, Empire, and the unique Yellow Transparent. It’s even home to an over 100-year-old Duchess tree! You can enjoy pick your own apples from late summer into early fall. Or you can pop in to purchase a bag of delicious fresh apples in their fruit shop. Along with apples, they grow other fruits like plums, peaches, and table grapes!
The winery shop and tasting rooms are set within a century old dairy barn that’s been masterfully restored. With massive old beams, antiques dotting the interior, and incredible bottles of wine lining the walls, this is where the sweet nectar can be found! This two-story barn maintains all the rustic and historic charm of yesteryears but is perfect for wine tastings and shop visits on the main floor, or memorable times in their event space upstairs, where you’ll find views of the vineyard.
Unlike the wine regions of Ontario found further south, the area of Port Perry is in a completely different climate zone. This means the growing seasons are shorter and the winters are colder. So, Ocala uses mostly white grape varieties as well as a few hardy reds. Even with the need for hardy wine grapes, you’ll find over 30 varieties of wine at Ocala Winery made from both grapes and other fruits. They even have non-alcoholic options!
With a wide assortment of wines, Ocala Winery has many unique flavours. Some of the whites they bottle are La Crescent, Riesling, and Muscat. If red is more your style, try the Foch Premium or Sabrevois, which is one of their most popular wines. Ocala also produces a collection of apple and fruit wines that are a must try!
You can stop in during business hours in the summer for a wine tasting. Or book ahead and enjoy a pairing with one of their eatery menu items, like charcuterie boards, desserts, salads, or sandwiches. Ocala hosts a variety of events throughout the season that make for an awesome date night, girls escape, or family fun day. Plan a visit during the holidays, like Mother’s Day or Father’s Day for afternoon tea, tastings, a barbeque, and other fun activities. There are monthly events too like Sip & Savour where you can enjoy live music, tastings, and fill your belly from a food truck. Ocala even hosts outdoor yoga classes, workshops, and cooking classes!
The farm was started by the Smith family in 1912 as a meat and dairy farm with a small orchard. However, in the 1970’s the family decided to expand their orchards, add the grape vines, and in turn opened it to the public in 1995. Then, in 2017, Lin and her husband, Paul, purchased the property. They’ve helped to keep true to its heritage while also breathing new life into the business with new ideas and events. Every year they open their orchard and arms to the community, like local seniors and special needs youth groups. Providing a space for people to enjoy the outdoors is an essential passion project for Lin.
As pure as the wine on her shelves, Lin is the real star behind Ocala! She immigrated to Canada from China over twenty years ago. After spending time in the GTA, Lin and Paul were looking for a piece of property that spoke to them. Lin immediately felt connected to the land and soil of the farm. It was here that she wanted to put down roots and start giving back to the community that welcomed her with open arms.
Lin’s profession in construction is far removed from farmer and wine maker, but she jumped in with both feet and an open heart to learn. Starting to learn from scratch wasn’t easy, but with passion and letting the land and her crops teach her, she learned to read the signs and adapt her techniques, year after year, to ensure the farm is running naturally at its best. She says, “vines are like people, they need respect.” That’s exactly what she’s given them, her visitors, and her community.
Thankfully during the pandemic, they remained open by providing a safe place outside for wine tastings and small local gatherings, along with curbside pickup, and local deliveries of their wines and fruits. Lin even recalls many faithful visitors calling to ask for bags of particular varieties of apples be put aside for them to purchase. Proving that when you give back to the community, it will give back to you too!
Now that restrictions are lifted, Lin and her husband are delighted to open the gates wide and welcome new and returning visitors back to the farm for new experiences.
971 High Point Rd, Port Perry
Story by Stephanie Mayo