John and Sacha Squair are going it alone in the Prince Edward County wine region. They aren’t in Wellington, the Closson Road, Hillier, South Bay or North Marysburgh. They aren’t even near heavily trafficked roads like Huff Estates, Sugar Bush or Black Prince. They are out in the middle of nowhere wine related on Fish Lake Road way beyond Demorestville, and there’s not another winery in sight for at least half an hour of driving.
Standing out from the crowd.
It’s not the only way John Squair stands apart from the other wineries. After seven years working with Sandbanks Estates Winery, John knows that there are three ways to approach running a winery.
You can have deep pockets and be a purist and use only Prince Edward County vinifera grapes, you can grow affordable hardy grapes which the market is not all that interested in buying, or you can use what you have and blend it with grapes from Niagara and make enough to pay your bills
John opted for #3, actually, he had no choice. He and Sacha had planted grapes for their own wine consumption on the Fish Lake Road property back in 2003, but they both continued to hold down full-time jobs. With his 50th birthday on the horizon, John realized the time was right for them to start their own winery. There was one problem, you must have five acres of vines planted to start a winery, they only had three.
Getting by with a little help from his friends
Undaunted, he sent out an email to everyone on his contacts list who loved wine and invited them to a planting party. After seven years at Sandbanks, John knew a lot of people and they all turned up. There was even a waitlist, County Cider donated cider, Barley Days donated beer, Rosehall Run, Karlo Estates, Lighthall Vineyards and others donated wine. Food was donated by Seed to Sausage, Fiddlehead Farms, Pyramid Farms and Ferments as well as desserts from Moonlight on the Lake B & B. It was a huge success, despite the rain. At the end of it all, he had 7 acres of vines planted, more than enough to meet the legal requirements; however, only three acres of mature grapes were ready for harvest and the other four acres would take three more years before they could be picked.
Niagara has lots of great grapes and at far more affordable prices than the County because they don’t need to be buried. Practicality won out, and Three Dog Winery, named for the three golden retrievers that have always been a part of their lives in the County, was born.
Despite the location, despite the unabashed use of Niagara as well as County grapes, Three Dog Winery is going strong. When I stopped in to visit on a steamy Tuesday afternoon, the place was filled with people who were being greeted by three friendly dogs, Rieki, Jersey and Bakkus. Sacha was handing out freezies to the children, while John was taking a group through a tasting.
Four great starter wines
John has four wines currently on offer. Two whites, a beautiful Pinot Gris $19.98 mostly from Niagara grapes that is dry but has light floral and tropical fruit aromas and Dog House White a blend of local Vidal and Niagara Riesling, just enough Riesling to liven the flavours. (Another Sandbanks lesson, have something in stock that people will enjoy and can afford). The reds are also very approachable, a stunning Gamay, all Niagara grapes, that is redolent of raspberries with an undertone of black cherry at $19.95 and Dog House Red at $14.95 which is a very unusual blend of Baco Noir, aged in French barrels, with the Angel’s Share topped up with Gamay.
Personally I love an inky meaty Baco Noir, but John said his aim was to turn the Dog House Red into a lighter summer sipping red for the patio and he felt a full-bodied Baco would have everyone asleep in five minutes.
Seven years of hanging around with some of the leading winemakers of the area has paid off. This may be a new winery but John has great winemaking skills. All of these wines are eminently drinkable and passed muster for VQA Ontario. We bought one of each.
I can speak from experience that the Gamay paired incredibly well with lamb about two hours after we got home and it stayed on the table as we watched the sunset remembering a really enjoyable winery visit.
John and Sacha know that they are out-of-the-way for people to visit so they are encouraging everyone to go to the dogs by making it a destination. They have an off leash dog park, walking trails through the property, musicians every weekend and an open invitation to their customers to bring a picnic or make their own charcuterie platter, enjoy the wine and the ambiance of the day. Sacha plans to add an onsite yoga studio.
Their website vision says. “We want Three Dog to become a gathering place for the community near and far. Not just a winery where you buy a bottle of wine and leave. We want to create a place where you not only want to stop and enjoy a glass of wine, but also a place where Artists, Artisanal Food Producers, Farmers, Craftsman, can come and set up their wares, we are offering our space for free to share the Bounty of the County.”
I’ll drink to that – oh, I already did.
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