Winemaker Profiles

John Squair at Three Dog Winery

November 21, 2016
John Squair, winemaker at Three Dog Winery,

I first met John Squair, owner co-owner of Prince Edward County’s (PEC’s) Three Dog Winery, when I was just getting started on my wine journey. He was a tireless cheerleader for PEC wine and the region in general, hosting blogger events and promoting local wines every chance he got. Talking to him now, that passion for the area is still very clear, though since we met he has quite literally put his money where his mouth is and built Three Dog Winery alongside his wife, Sacha.

“I stared off making beer in the 1980s at brew your own places and the beer was disgusting, so I stared making wine,” he tells me during a recent phone interview. This ‘do it yourself’ style appealed to his love of biology and chemistry, but he quickly realized that he wanted to do things on a much bigger scale than simple home brew.

White from Three Dog Winery.He and Sacha bought their PEC home in 1998, before there were commercial wineries in the area and long before tourists had discovered the region and made it the go-to weekend getaway for hip Toronto and Ottawa wine lovers. The Squairs fell hard for the County and planned to build their retirement home there, perhaps with a little vineyard to make wine for themselves. That dream inspired them to develop a few test plots in 2000 and then they expanded their planting when they moved to PEC full-time in 2003.

John was soon working for local wineries and continuing to learn about making wine. There was a lot of learning, especially about the cold weather in the region and the need to “hill up” (bury the vines) in the winter and plant at a lower density, and some lost vines before they finally got their footing and decided to go all in with their very own winery. They built their winery building via a crowdfunding campaign (full disclosure: I made a small donation to the campaign) and called in friends for a planting party when they needed to expand the vineyard. There was a sense that Three Dog Winery would truly be a wine community – and that has proven to be the case.

Three Dog is located about 15 minutes from Highway 401 on Fish Lake Road and, while this is a little further from the cluster of wineries around Hillier, he has been thrilled to learn that the climate in his part of the County is excellent for growing grapes. “Initially everyone started planting close to the lake in the Hillier area with the theory that the lake would moderate the winter temperature,” he says.  “2003 showed that was not the case. The moderating effect isn’t really there, but what we’ve noticed over the last 15, 16 years is that where Three Dog Winery is, it’s dramatically warmer during the growing season being further away from the lake. So we’re usually three weeks ahead in the growing season compared to Wellington.”

He’s going to try and capitalize on having a warm area and grow some Cabernet Franc in the next few years. Dan Sullivan from Rosehall Run winery suggested it and John is eager to see if it will be a success.

Three Dog Winery SignageWhile they still have to buy some of their grapes from Niagara, as there’s just not the acreage available to make the quantity of wines they need to sell from their own vineyard alone, John has been producing more and more wine with Three Dog’s grapes. This fall, he’s releasing a new estate Pinot Noir and hopes there will be more estate wines in his future. He’s pragmatic about not being able to do only estate wines, “This is our only income,” he explains. “We didn’t start with deep pockets, so if we don’t sell wine, we don’t eat.”
And they hope to continue making and selling it for the long-term. A production building is currently under construction on the property and they have sold their house in town and moved onto the winery property.

John is excited about this year’s harvest, as the growing season was a good one for him. There was no rot or disease to speak of because of the lack of rain and he thinks the fruit was very clean with high levels of sugar. He’s excited to see how the wines will come together.

And while he’s making the wine, Three Dog will continue to be bustling with activity. Since they are a little outside the main winery cluster, they have had to make the winery a destination and they’ve done an excellent job there. They have big events once a month from March through to September, then in the winter they offer snow shoeing and cross-country skiing on their trails (about 8K). They also have a 15 acre sugar bush, where they tap the old fashioned way starting in February and invite people out to take part in the maple syrup process. If you want a fun County adventure, Three Dog is always a great place to start.

And, as he was when I first met him, John remains a huge advocate for PEC.  “The County itself is absolutely fantastic. The whole County culture is really fabulous. I couldn’t imagine doing this anywhere else,” he says. He is excited about the new crop of winemakers and wine industry members who are developing locally and how young people growing up in the area now have a thriving industry bringing work and creating jobs to entice them to stay and build lives in the area. And with Three Dog a big part of the heart of that industry, it will no doubt remain thriving.

Spirits and Cocktails

Wolfhead Distillery – A New Addition to the Windsor Spirits Scene

November 7, 2016
Wolfhead Distillery Coffee whisky is made with real cold brew espresso.

Driving into the parking lot of Wolfhead Distillery on our recent visit to Lake Erie North Shore, Shawn and I were surprised that it was attached to a lumber yard – not your traditional setting for a distillery. But as soon as we walked into this new building, all thoughts of lumber were quickly forgotten – the place was hopping. Only ten weeks after its opening and on a Wednesday night to boot, Wolfhead was packed with a dinnertime rush that was pretty darn impressive.

Wolfhead Distillery in Windsor/Essex, Ontario is one of the region's newest distilleries.And the excitement over this new business is not misplaced. They seated us at the bar for a tasting of their spirits – three whisky and three vodka – and was hard not to be impressed. The vodka is wheat-based and seven times distilled with limestone filtration to remove impurities and impart a bit of minerality and salt.

The plain vodka is very good and would make for an excellent martini, but it’s the grapefruit vodka that impresses me most and I’m not surprised to learn it’s a best-seller. The flavours on this one really pop and there’s not that confected sweetness some flavoured spirits have. It tastes a little bit like good quality ginger ale and would make an excellent cocktail or be fine to drink on its own. Wolfhead believes in using natural ingredients in their spirits and that shows through in the quality. The third vodka, the banana caramel, is more like a liqueur and a bit too sweet for my tastes, but I’m also not a big fan of banana flavours in general.

The whisky, which they had to purchase and then blend since their own will not be ready for several more years, is all Canadian and had more corn, making it closer to a bourbon. Surprisingly, the coffee whisky is a clear winner here. Made with cold brew espresso grounds it is not too sweet and has a nice bitterness from the use of real coffee. The apple caramel whisky is very approachable and would make a nice option for someone who wanted an alternative to American Honey.

A grapefruit vodka mojito at Wolfhead Distillery is a fun option at dinner.The Wolfhead team has invested a lot in their business, we take a tour of the distilling area and the equipment, imported from Italy, is high-quality and speaks to their seriousness. They are also very passionate about the water they use in their distilling process and there’s no expense spared in that part of the process. Right now the focus is on small blends and they are all hand-bottled and labeled. This is a craft operation, with a focus on making high-quality spirits that can be sipped alone or in a cocktail.

At the end of the tasting and tour, my favourites are the premium whisky (the plain) and the coffee whisky, as well as the grapefruit vodka and I purchase both flavoured spirits to experiment more with them at home.

Ahi tuna at Wolfhead Distillery's restuaraunt is a great dinner option.We’re seated for dinner shortly after the tasting and I order the drunken shrimp and scallops (made with Wolfhead vodka, of course) and Shawn has the ahi tuna. I also order one of the mojitos, made with Wolfhead’s grapefruit vodka. It’s a great cocktail and a lot of fun, but with no mint or rum, it’s not really a mojito – with that caveat, I highly recommend trying it.

The food is very good and the quality high, the flavours pop and each dish is vibrant and delicious. You can see why the restaurant is packed on a Wednesday night after only being open such a short time. And many patrons are moving from the dining room to the adjacent store after their meals, which is another good sign – sales of the spirits are brisk. This is a fun and friendly place for a meal or tasting.

Since our visit in August, Shawn is almost out of coffee whisky and I think we’re both hoping to see it appear on LCBO shelves soon for easier access.

*I was a guest of Ontario’s Southwest and Tourism Windsor Essex, so my meal was complimentary, but my opinions are my own. And I bought two bottles of Wolfhead spirits, so I definitely really, really liked them.


Gourmet Food and Wine Expo Giveaway 2016

November 2, 2016

The Gourmet Food and Wine Expo in Toronto is always a fun event. Shawn and I have attended many times over the years and we always end up discovering something new or having the opportunity to chat with wine industry friends from all around the world. We even attended Caesar school one year and learned several unique ways to make this Canadian classic!

This year, the GFWE runs from November 17-20, 2016 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre and is a chance to taste and experience a wealth of wines, spirits, beers and ciders. Not to mention all the yummy food options on hand!

Starting today, I have the opportunity to give away 2 pairs of entrance tickets to the event (sample tickets and seminars are not included) and I’m excited to be able to offer this to my readers!

Want to enter? Simply leave a comment below letting me know why you want to attend and/or tweet the following:
“I want to #win a pair of tickets to @GFWE from @kristalamb:”

The rules and regulations:
1.    You must be 19 years or older to attend and you will be required to show valid government ID to enter.
2.    No children or infants are permitted.
3.    Winning tickets are valid for one time admission on any one day. There is no re-entry allowed.
4.    You can enter once a day for the duration of the contest either via tweet or comment.
5.    Re-tweeting others does not count as a contest entry.
6.    The winner will be required to answer a skill-testing question.
7.    The contest is open to Canadian residents only, excluding Quebec.

Contest closes November 10, 2016 at 12 p.m. and the winners will be chosen via random draw

Good luck, guys!

Upkeep Updates

Recent Wine Adventures

October 24, 2016
2015 rosé from Niagara's Fielding Estate is a great summer option..

Time seems to fly by these days – before we know it, it’s almost Christmas! Sometimes, my schedule means that I can’t get my posts to you fast enough. That’s why this Upkeep Update is all about some recent wine adventures I thought you’d enjoy hearing about, but I haven’t had the opportunity to turn into a full post. With so many interesting adventures in wine happening these days, I’m hopeful I can go back to posting twice a week soon, but life always seems to get in the way (isn’t that always the case?). In the meantime, here are three fabulous wine adventures from the last few months that I wanted to share with you.

Ghost Pines Chardonnay from California is a fun Halloween wine pick.Spooky wine for Halloween night

We love Halloween in our household! Last year, Shawn and I made Halloween-themed cocktails to celebrate October 31st. This year, I had the opportunity to check out a Chardonnay and Merlot from Ghost Pines wines at a spooky wine tasting at Toronto’s Wychwood Barns. The grey, rainy weather on the night of the tasting was perfect for the theme and an event that featured a scary wine-inspired ghost tale and spooky personalized pictures. My guest and I both enjoyed the Chardonnay, a crisp and refreshing blend of Chardonnay grapes from across California. I’d definitely consider it a Halloween-friendly option for those of us left at home to manage trick or treaters on October 31st.  And this reasonably-priced sipper ($19.95 at the LCBO) won’t leave you screaming at the cash register the way some Cali wines can.

Sparkling wine from Niagara's Fielding Estate.

Niagara Knock-outs at Fielding Estates

This was the summer of rosé for Shawn and I – it was our go-to drink on hot summer nights and two of our favourites were from Niagara: Chateau des Chames’ 2015 Cuvée d’Andreé and Fielding Estate’s 2015 rosé. Shawn and I had the chance to taste and tour at Fielding for the first time earlier this year (how on earth it took so long for us to get there, I have no idea). It’s a beautiful space, but with a much more relaxed and friendly vibe than many big Niagara wine estates. Our tour was informative and we had the opportunity to enjoy a number of their wines, including our favourites of the visit: Lot 17 Riesling and the 2012 Chosen FEW (this one will be drinking very well in 5-10 years).  We will definitely return to Fielding soon – I’m especially looking forward to enjoying a glass of their wine in one of the big Muskoka chairs on the winery grounds next summer.

KWV Cathedral Cellar 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon from South Africa.KWV Tasting in Toronto

If you haven’t read my 2014 interview with KWV’s lovely winemaker, Izele Van Blerk, I hope you will. Izele is one of the most exuberant and infectious personalities in the wine community and I’ve learned so much about South African wine from speaking with her. I was thrilled to visit with her again when KWV hosted a Toronto tasting in September. Nearing the end of a whirlwind Canadian trip (and readying for another week in New York), Izele was still full of energy as she talked about the latest KWV releases, including the value-priced Cathedral Cellars sparkling (perfect for mimosas or casual nights at home) and the impressive 2014 Cathedral Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon.  Shawn and I both chose the Cab as our favourite of the evening. With notes of cherry, chocolate and vanilla on the nose and dark red fruit  on the palate with chocolate on the finish, it’s a well-made wine that will pair nicely with red meat. We also enjoyed the Cathedral Cellars Chardonnay, which had notes of apricot, lemon and vanilla on the nose and was buttery citrus on the palate. I’m already looking forward to Izele’s next Toronto visit.

* We were invited guests at each of these tastings, but our opinions are, as always, our own.