John & Sacha Squair of Three Dog Wine

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Talking to John and Sacha Squair about the path that took them to owners of Three Dog Winery, one thing sticks out more than anything about most PEC winery owners – they do it all. From grape-growing, to winemaking, social media, marketing and wine sales – most of the owners of the wineries in PEC have to wear a lot of different hats. I spoke with John and Sacha about their long route to opening Three Dog Wine, and here’s what I learned:

John & Sacha Squair

John & Sacha Squair – photo by Paul Dearborn

John and Sacha didn’t intend to be winery owners. They were originally looking for a place to escape from the the city, maybe do a little hobby farming, and have some space where their three dogs could run. The plan was to eventually build up to a retirement home on the land. In 1998, they found 100 acres on Fish Lake Road, on the northern tip of Prince Edward County.

Grapes were just beginning to be grown in the County, and in 2000 they planted 500 Pinot Gris plants all by hand. They became weekend hobby farmers, and would stay in a tent while visiting the property. Sacha adds that in the cool, wet November days, John would entice her with a promise of pheasant pot pie at Currah’s Restaurant in Picton. In 2002 they added 1500 Pinot Noir vines. Their farming equipment consisted of a small garden tractor that they used for everything. The cold winters of 2003 and 2004 made them realize that the plants had to be “really-hilled” up and the garden tractor was not enough.

After a couple of years of living out of tents on the weekends, they decided they needed something more permanent and set out to buy a cottage. They ended up finding a beautiful old church for sale in Rosehall – Sacha had always wanted to live in a church. They made the permanent move to the County in 2003, and founded Grapevale Vineyard Management – John basically started looking after other small estate
vineyards, pruning, spraying, and in some cases, making wine. The front half of the old church now houses Sacha’s yoga studio, while they live in the back.

John worked for Sandbanks for several years and was a regular at every major wine event held across central and eastern Ontario. Many of us in the wine community first met John at these same wine events. After several years of selling wine, they realized the hobby vineyard needed more attention and they were still short of the 5 acres of vines required to get their own license. In March 2013, John left his old job with a mission to get his own winery up and running. As John turned to his community (local and on-line) and was able to land 100 helpers (with a waiting list) to plant the remaining vines leading to his license. It turned into quite an event with great food and beverages provided by many of John’s neighbouring wineries and connections he had made over years in the region. Several friends of mine still speak fondly of the “planting party” at Three Dog. John understands well the bonds between the farmers and producers in this region stating “We are effectively on an island. We have to work together – we’re stronger as a group!”.

When I ask what has surprised them the most, they say that they (and others) are surprised how quickly John was able to plant his required vines, get all his permits & licenses, build a winery, and produce wines. For the record, he credits the wealth of support from the community, the sharing of knowledge and ideas as key factors. With 3 wines available now (Doghouse White, Doghouse Red, & Pinot Gris) and a fourth on the way soon, that’s quite an accomplishment in a year!

As for the biggest challenge? John and Sacha both laugh and say “working together”. John adds that with small wineries, cash flow is always an issue. He mentions a recent finance meeting with other winery folk where one lamented the fact that one of their children had to take a full time position at a bigger winery for the summer. John mentions that with his sales license not coming until the end of November, it has been difficult to sell wine through the quiet of winter, although things are picking up now that the weather is better.

As Three Dog Winery is one of the newest wineries in the County, and John and Sacha would like you to visit while you are in town for Terroir, mention this post when you come in and they will offer you a free tasting!

Three Dog Winery  Photo from their web site

Three Dog Winery Photo from their web site

Three Dog Winery is located at 1920 Fish Lake Rd., Picton Ontario. They are open Saturdays & Sundays 11am – 5pm until May 15th, then open daily 10am – 6pm until Oct 10th.
Phone: 613.403.4323

Terroir – A County Wine Celebration! takes place Saturday May 3, 2014, Noon until 5pm at The Crystal Palace, Main Street Fairgrounds, Picton.  Blogger Krista Lamb is also writing about County Wineries leading up to Terroir – her blog is here.

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