The Railway Man
“It’s a passion really,” was Eddy’s opening as he calmly sat forward with his famous ear to ear smile. Grape growing must be his passion as this gentleman and his since departed, lovely wife Lorraine spent 4 years of weekends and holidays exclusively travelling from Ottawa to Niagara to tend their farm and new vines. Eddy always wanted to farm, but the practicality of his job as a manager for CN Rail kept him from moving to his boyhood dream….for a while.
Eddy’s father Bonventurus (John), a carpenter by trade was born in Lithuania but moved to Montreal where he married Eddy’s mother (actually from a village near John’s own birthplace). In Montreal the two of them raised a family and John loved to make home wine from Californian grapes. At a young age Eddy was very interested and wanted to take the hobby to the next level with a farm and vines. His father never understood his son’s desire as he, himself, was trying to break free of the agrarian life.
Even though Eddy made a career from the rails he never gave up on his dream of owning a farm. To keep a hand in “agriculture”, he continued with his father’s wine making tradition but with a major change. Eddy was not satisfied with the status quo. Eddy embraced all wine education as a serious amateur and attended conferences and symposiums, especially in upstate New York. His talents grew as did his passion and he started embracing fresh grapes from Ontario. On one Niagara grape buying trip during the Grape and Wine festival he noticed a For Sale sign on Cherry Ave. near Vineland Estates Winery. It was a mixed fruit farm and it had a smattering of hybrids and some labrusca grapes. It seemed perfect, so Eddy made an offer on the spot and stayed a couple of extra days in Niagara for the offer to be accepted. The journey to professional wine making had begun.
In 1988, Lloyd Schmidt (our initial “The Visionary” Game Changer) helped Eddy to secure and plant 325 Cabernet Sauvignon vines and 680 potted Chardonnay vines on the new farm. These were early vinifera planting for Niagara. Unfortunately, the summer of 1988 was very, very dry and Eddy had to continually hand water each new planting to ensure it would survive. Every week, before he and Lorraine would drive back to Ottawa on Sunday evenings he would ensure each vine was well watered in hopes that they would be OK until he arrived back on Friday to give them another drink. As Eddy puts it, “that summer darn near killed me, but I was happy as I had my dream.” He paused and chuckled, “OK, almost a nightmare!”
After four years of the “back and forth life”, CN Rail offered Eddy a “package” at the age of 54. Eddy saw this as his opportunity to fully embrace his passion and moved to the farm. As their children were grown up, nothing stood in their way. Today Eddy sighs, smiles that famous smile and eagerly notes seven grand children and two great grand children. You can just tell that he is a doting grandfather.
Right out of the gate Eddy’s 1991 Cabernet Sauvignon took best red in Ontario. He recalls that his hot (30 Celsius) fermentation and extended maceration (30 days) with his maturing Cabernet Sauvignon vines created gold. He chuckles at his “magic 30/30” and notes that it was from pointers he had received in Geneva, NY. Eddy has also been an eternal avid reader. He consumed all he could find on wine making and grape growing. As such, Eddy’s wines and practiced techniques became early benchmarks for making reds in Ontario. Eddy protested, “hey, the whites were nice too, especially the Chardonnays.” Again, he laughed.
It was in 1991 that he and Lorraine decided to incorporate and created the 2,300 case Lakeview Cellars Estate Wines. “It was a lot of work,” mused Eddy. “So, we took on partners and shared the workload. I was not getting any younger so in 2001 we sold the winery to Diamond Estates and a couple of years later I passed the winemaking duties on to the very talented Tom Green. I then turned to my Dad’s passion, wood working.” Again, with the big sigh, Eddy leans back and said, “Grape growing is simply part of me and I became unsettled once again.” In 2006 at the age of 70 Eddy started a small vineyard right next to his home on the King Street ridge in Vineland. The true greats are never finished.
As we enjoyed our last sips of coffee at the end of our lingering lunch, I noted to Eddy, “So you chose Chardonnay Musqué for your new small plot and it has turned out very well. That fruit makes our premium Circle of Friends and Elevation Chardonnay Musqué wines here at Vineland. How did you know that variety would produce magic on that little plot?” Eddy grinned, leaned in once again and quietly said, “I’m an old man. It’s a sturdy variety and I always felt that there would be a market for that grape. The choice was clearly pragmatic!” He leaned back and with a steady gaze let out a rumbling, rolling laugh. That’s our practical Eddy.