By Janet Davies
Terra Estate Winery hugs the north shore of Lake Consecon in Prince Edward County. It’s a beautiful location. People say County soils are akin to those of vineyards in Burgundy, France. But the owners of Terra Estate were dreaming their dreams in Italian when they planted their first grapevines in 2007. Their dream was to make good Italian style wine, knowing it would be a challenge in the capricious climate of The County. It’s safe to say their dreams are coming true.
Founders Ottavio Marchi and Bruno Tam were in their eighties when they cleared the first tracts of land in preparation for the grapevines. Now, their shovels and tractors are worked by younger family members and friends like Riccardo Cesca who spoke with us at the end of a less-than-Italian summer. “I am cousin of the owner, I am not a field worker, I am helping him with the new age of this winery. We decided it was time to make a new tasting room in a classic Italian style where you can spend some time with us and drink good wine. In Italy you find many structures like this where you can bring family and friends and stay a good long time to enjoy yourself. First, of course, we want to share our wine, because it is good wine! It’s Italian wine, Old World wine. Italian style is very natural, no chemicals – except ones that Canadian law requires – and no sugar inside, and this makes it very different. It is impossible in Canada to talk about truly natural, truly organic wine, because the law does not permit, but ours is as natural as possible in ingredients and our treatment of it.”
Riccardo says he likes to illustrate the role of chemicals by offering clients an old wine to try. “Drink an old wine and you understand immediately about chemicals and sugar. Chemicals work for two years in the bottle, after that they fall down,” he says in his heavily accented, un-technical but colourful English. “Drink an old wine and it is good? There are no chemicals inside. It’s a fast way to show our clients what we mean about chemicals and our philosophy.”
The plans for Terra are dynamic: “…maybe a country restaurant, small and welcoming. Italian style,” he says. “Lot of work in progress here. Last year was a good year for grapes and we have a lot in the tanks now. We grow nine kinds of grapes, but so far we only use eight. We grow a Refosco, but in Canada this grape needs a lot more time in good weather to mature in a good strong way. We can make a really good Refosco, but the grapes are not ready yet, we tried and it was not perfect. Maybe next year. Our white wines are very nice. Viognier is our best wine, I think. All the guys around, the other wineries and winemakers they say our Viognier is the best, and they bought a lot of bottles, so I think they mean it. We have Cabernet Franc Reserve which is very nice, and Novello too. All our wine is good, but some is higher quality than others.”
Riccardo lives in Italy. He is on an extended visit to The County to assist with the winery and to work on what he laughs is his “proper job.” Ricky is an author. “I am writing my third book while I am here. I spend a lot of time down by the shore and out in the vineyards writing. It’s a thriller, very strong, lots of blood, lots of sex,” he laughs. The first in his trilogy, Prince in the Ice, is currently being made into a movie in the United States, which is what originally brought him to this side of the ocean. “The owners Giorgio Marchi and Alexandra Tam live in Toronto, but they spend a lot of time here, they love this place. For me, The County is fantastic, unbelievably nice, and everyone all around is good. I love it here.”
Riccardo has an assistant, Peter, with him to help with his “proper job.” Peter says, “We came out here to help the owners, to give the business a boost to get started. The winery and tasting room are up and running. I think we did a good job, customers keep coming in and they are happy with our wine. We have a good product and we give the best service we can to make this a friendly place.” Ricky continues, “The neighbours are great. They come in and spend time with us, they are good company, they are happy for us and what we are doing.” He feels in some ways this rural island is like Italy. “But we know we are like tourists here, and not very rich tourists!” he laughs. “Helping our friends and family is not so well paid! But I am taking time to relax as well as to work, to clear my head and write. It is an amazing place.”
Ricky hints that local people and landscapes are inspiring characters and events in his book. “For a foreign man, it is easy to work and live here, because all the people try to help you – honestly – and that surprised me. I love this place. I would like to stay here. I don’t think I can do that, but we have decided to stay another year.”
Ten years ago the elder Marchi and Tam bought the 100-year old farm and planted immediately. The vineyards have grown to 35 acres. “All the wine you drink here is 100% from this land, it is only our product. It has not been easy, all of the winemakers will tell you that. Especially for our style of wine it is difficult because we need a lot of sun, a lot of warmth and harvest time in Canada arrives too quickly.” When Ottavio and Bruno bought the farm, they were advised by many that it was not good terrain for grapes. “Too much rock, people said,” says Ricky “But they were sure it was perfect, that they could make really good wine. For a while there was not much connection with neighbours and other winemakers, but when Ottavio’s son Giorgio heard I was going to America for my movie, he said ‘Please, you’re Italian, you know wine, you make friends easily. Come here, spend time with our property and our business.’ Wine is a passion with me and many of my friends who have come to spend their holiday time with me at the winery and help. Everyone said Yes we can do this! We made good relationships with clients, we are friends with our clients. It is our philosophy.”
This story is, of course, real life and there have been setbacks. The building inspector was not delighted with every aspect of the new tasting room. Changes were made, and while they awaited final approval the team used the lakeside gardens as their tasting room. “We had a little gazebo, a tent, and it was beautiful. People like to be outside. You can see the lake and the dock and all the countryside – children could run around.” Another mixed blessing is that rocky soil. “In my opinion it is very good, just as Giorgio’s father said it would be,” says Riccardo. “When it rains a lot, the rocks take it in and they give their mineral salts and nutrition to the plants. The bad side is we have to work that rocky soil and it keeps breaking our cultivator! But for the plants it is perfect.”
We were surprised to learn that much of their wine is going to Mexico, to be served in high-end restaurants there, and, of course, to Toronto, too. “Giorgio is well known in Toronto,” says Ricky. “He has many friends who know their wine and they taste Terra Estate wine and they want it!”
Terra Estate is a proud and independent operation. “We didn’t want to send our wine off on a truck to be bottled,” he says. “We have the equipment right here and we do it ourselves. We have two bottling machines, one for sparkling wine and one for still wine, for the vino ordinaire, and there is a separate machine for labeling. We decided right from the beginning to have control of our wine from the little plant all the way through to the bottle, to do it all ourselves. It is a very big investment that started with buying the land ten years ago. Every year they have increased something, planted more, bought more equipment, added another tank.” He sits back and looks around the property. “It is exciting and satisfying and rewarding. I am happy to be a part of it. I feel a part of it. I feel a part of this County.”
For start-ups or businesses looking to expand or re-locate to The County, you can fill out this Business Inquiry Questionnaire, and the Community Development Department will respond in 48 hours.