By MJ MacDonald
“What has been the hardest part about this business?” I asked Joseph while sitting at his kitchen table overlooking his hardy, dormant vines. “Weeds”, he says, casually. That was not the answer I was expecting. How about 18 hour days; back breaking work pruning and tending the vines; waking up at 3:00 a.m. to pick grapes for icewine; crushing at 4:30 a.m.; hauling in equipment for a temporary winery; pampering your fermenting grapes every 8 hours or so for weeks on end and watching your bank account dwindle as you install a wind turbine and begin building a 2500-case capacity winery while you also manage a bed & breakfast and only take 6 vacation days in 2 years?
“Oh, well, yes there is the physical work, too” he admits, grinning.
Joseph Di Profio and Carollynn Desjardins come by the hard work honestly and would not know how to retire even if someone paid them to do it – they’ve been on the go their entire lives. As you read on, you’ll understand – and I hope you’ll soon also enjoy the fruits of their labour whether it is in the glass or as a guest of their beautiful Jordan Station B & B.
Before we sat down to interview the dynamic duo, we strolled over to have a peek at their new building’s progress, adjacent to their home (and B & B, Among the Vines). Gazing at the massive foundation frames, it was hard to picture an almost 2000 square foot, two-story winery and boutique – the goal of this engineering feat and labour of love, slated to open in the spring of 2012. Beside the construction site resides the interim winery facility, holding aging barrels of Merlot, Gamay and a little Sauvignon Blanc from Di Profio’s 2011 vintage, to name a few. Of particular interest was a tank of fermenting Cabernet Sauvignon grapes awaiting pigeage (the act of punching down the cap of grapes during fermentation), a task we could not resist. Nothing better than the smell of fermenting grapes – and oh, the colour! Joseph expects about 25 cases (300 bottles) of Cabernet from the ’11 harvest – he and his winemaker son, Fred Di Profio, allowed these grapes to dry on trays for about 6 weeks with a plan to produce appassimento style wine, a common practice in Italy’s Amarone and Ripasso wines.
Back to the hard work, and the cold weather, with which they are both familiar. Di Profio came from the East Coast, born in Cape Breton and Desjardins from Thunder Bay. A graduate of science in biology and chemistry from St. Francis Xavier in Nova Scotia, Joseph was a quick study in viticulture and vinification. He continued his grad studies in New Brunswick and went on to teach English and consult for the Ministry of Education for many years, with stints in Kingston and Toronto and also at the ROM during a massive revitalization project. His extensive work in negotiations and communications provided a solid base for his marketing and PR savvy today – Joseph is frequently online and keeps his followers and the community abreast of all things wine and winery related on Facebook.
Carollynn was born in Thunder Bay and her path also led her to teaching, starting in North Bay as a primary teacher and finishing her (first) career also as a consultant for the Ministry where she and Joseph met. In fact, they were both each other’s employees at one time – they can tell you that story! Truly a people person, Carollynn has an incredible sense of humour and immense energy for her B & B guests as well as her current students, the vines, who she coached back to life and continues to nurture throughout the seasons.
“After all these years, why a vineyard?” I ask curiously.
Both of their fathers made wine, Joseph’s, originally in Italy. They each tell tales of basement/cellar productions they witnessed or participated in as youngsters. Joseph recalls his father making “Amarone-style” wine by submerging used flour sacks filled with raisins into his red wine to ‘age’. Carollynn’s 85 year old father is still using raisins and sugar for his personal batch.
When Joseph and Carollynn both fully retired, they kept a 50-foot boat (the Mia Cara, now the name of the vineyard) and a townhouse in St. Catharine’s and spent winters at a property in Mexico. After just 4 years, with housing prices declining in the south, they contemplated the sale of the Mexico house, a return to Canada full time and the pursuit of another hobby. Joseph’s son, Fred had been working at Brock University and making wine at Pondview Estate Winery for sometime, so a vineyard seemed like an interesting option and future legacy. A short search led them to the Nineteenth Avenue property in 2009: 12 acres of land, 5.5 under vine and a 4 bedroom, 5-year old house. Knowing they needed to fund this new venture, the large, modern house was just the ticket – and less than 6 months after moving in, Among the Vines was born.
Carollynn addresses her neophyte guests in this way when they admit they’ve never stayed at a B & B: “Don’t worry, dear, neither have I!” And you’d never know it: we stayed there for the first time in January 2010 – the home is immaculate and comfortable and the breakfasts are to die for – especially her signature “breakfast, Ajijic style” (French toast made from fresh, thick cinnamon buns). Even when you’re full to the brim, she ensures you that the dessert will be digested by your “sweet belly” – the second stomach designed for special treats! No surprise that reservations have doubled in just a year, with many guests repeat visitors.
The vineyard was in rough shape when they acquired it in 2009. The vine wood was black; the vines were overgrown and had been untended for years. An assessment completed by consultants from Brock suggested that the vines were dead and should all be pulled out. Joseph, Carollynn, Fred and many helpers from the community helped to prune the vines, clean the vineyard and bring the vines back to life. In 2010, they surprised everyone by cultivating a high volume of Gamay Noir along with a reasonable amount of healthy Sauvignon Blanc and Vidal; the latter two produced their first bottlings and the Sauvignon Blanc sold out in less than 2 months. In the first year of their vineyard operation they also planted 850 new Cabernet Sauvignon and 1400 new vines, among them, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Merlot.
The beginning of 2011 proved to be more challenging, weather wise. They lost a significant amount of their crop due to frost damage, bringing in just one third the tonnage of grapes versus 2010. They also replanted 1500 new vines: Vidal, Sauvignon Blanc and Gamay, leaving them with 1.8 acres for future planting.
Thankfully (and not surprisingly), the hardiest grape of all, Gamay, produced 1800 litres of juice and will provide both a noir and a rosé for their upcoming release. They’ll have a reasonable 5800 bottles total from the vintage, adding Cabernet Sauvignon along with Riesling, a late harvest Vidal and some Pinot Gris, a trio which could end up in a blend this winter. The entire 2011 vintage can be sold retail and when word gets out, the opening in May is bound to be a standing room only event.
It sounds so exciting when you think about it. And for Joseph and Carollynn, this is what keeps them motivated and fully ‘un-retired’. “Harvest time is the most rewarding time of all”, says septuagenarian Joseph. Even recalling the crush at 4:30 in the morning his eyes light up. “The grapes were all hand picked…and they were so beautiful.” Carollynn dubs this stage of her life the “anti-Alzheimer’s program” and thrives on telling their story – and a gripping, passionate one it is. In just moments with the pair you know they love this journey – you can feel the positive energy and hear it in their voices. And you can see it all around their property and taste it in their wines.
So what’s in store for the tireless twosome?
“Getting that winery open is our focus now”, says Joseph, “and preparing for the bottling of the next wines…” He enthusiastically describes the onsite bottling process: a 5 tonne truck arrives on site, backs up to the winery, hooks up hoses and an assembly line commences, completing as many as 250 cases of wine per hour including corking. I believe him when he says it is really worth seeing. Note to self, bottling in April.
Di Profio envisions his boutique winery producing 2500 cases per year and will focus on premium wine making with increased focus on Gamay and Riesling. “We’ll never make bulk wine here”, he stresses. They will, however, produce and sell the virtual Nyarai Cellars wines onsite made by Steve Byfield, adding diversity to both the style and varietals available in their retail boutique. Carollynn nods in agreement and also expresses their goal of hosting small events like tastings, winemaking experiences and receptions. If the last two years of accomplishments are any indication, there is no doubt these two can pull it off. And we plan to be there!
In my first meeting with Carollynn, I remember she called their current affliction “over stimulation in the senior years”. I call it a blessing.
You may also want to keep June 2012 open and plan a jaunt to Jordan Station. For more information visit www.diprofiowines.ca.
MJ Macdonald is a wine enthusiast with a life-long devotion to travel, wine and wellness. By day, MJ is a corporate trainer, by night, a yoga instructor and wine educator, with certification through the International Sommelier Guild (ISG). MJ and her partner Angie endeavour to share their passion with consumers through their Toronto-based business The Cellar Sisters. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. www.thecellarsisters.ca