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Catering to a wine clientele

Norfolk couple developing on-farm vineyard and winery


March 15, 2008
By Marg Zavaros

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Norfolk couple developing on-farm vineyard and winery
Ontario caterers Terry and Margaret Marshall knew they had a great idea when they decided to plant their own vineyard.

catering
Margaret Marshall works in her Norfolk County-area farm vineyard. She and her husband Terry planted a 10-acre vineyard over the past five years to complement their catering business. Photo by Margaret Zavaros


Norfolk couple developing on-farm vineyard and winery
Ontario caterers Terry and Margaret Marshall knew they had a great idea when they decided to plant their own vineyard.

Five years ago, the Norfolk County couple started catering for local banquets, family events and community groups. They were into the business about a year when they began exploring the possibility of developing a vineyard to complement the catering.

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They hired an independent consultant from Niagara to teach them the finer points of planting and tending a vineyard and planned trips to vineyards in Essex and Niagara where they could talk to experts and observe some of Ontario’s finest vineyards.
 
“What impresses us about the wine industry is how it’s increased in Ontario over the past few years,” says Terry. “More and more people in Norfolk are exploring the possibility.”

And, according to Terry, “The more wineries in Norfolk, the better.

“They complement each other in other areas of Ontario and … they can promote an area. When we learned how other grape growers had started their business, we decided that we could do it too.”

In the spring of 2003, the couple, with the help of their children, planted two acres of red varieties – Marechal Foch and Lucy Kuhlmann. The following year, they planted almost six more acres of red and white varieties – Baco Noir, Pinot Noir, Vidal and Chardonnay. This enabled them to obtain a processing licence.

The Marshalls follow a traditional harvesting schedule, picking the earliest varieties in the first week of September and continuing with later varieties until about mid-October. All the grapes are picked by hand and processed at Quai du Vin Estate winery in the St. Thomas area. Consultant Jamie Quai, son of Rob Quai, owner of the Quai du Vin winery, has been working with the couple for just over a year. He’s a graduate of Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute.

According to Terry, the vineyard produced has a good 2006 crop.

“We’re fortunate we didn’t have downy or powdery mildew,” he said, adding he followed a very strict spray program.

The couple has also been lucky with winter weather. “So far, we haven’t had harsh winters and only a corner of one field was touched by frost (in 2006),” says Terry.

Even with the favourable conditions to date, the Marshalls bury their grafted vines with soil to protect them from frost and extreme temperature variations.

Risk taking is just part of farming to Terry and Margaret. For the past 20 years, they’ve explored various agricultural enterprises, including growing tobacco, experimenting with sweet potatoes, raising red and white veal, producing free-range chickens and fattening milk-fed pigs.

When Terry’s parents retired and moved to town in 1988, the couple took over the Marshall family farm near Silver Hill. They leased the bulk of their acreage for growing corn and soybeans while they worked off-farm jobs – Terry at the Cami auto plant near Ingersoll (he’s recently retired) and Margaret with the regional police office (until a few years ago).

They are looking forward to continuing their agricultural venture in 2007, thanks to funding they received last fall through the Community Transition Program, a $15-million fund established by the Ontario government to help companies and individuals to diversify their businesses in the province’s tobacco belt. With their funding, the Marshalls plan to further develop their vineyard – the Florence Estate Winery – and start a brewery and a café on-farm.

“We’re still working on our blueprint of the winery and café,” said Terry, adding he plans to plant an additional eight acres of vineyard in the spring of 2007.

The couple has also been busy contacting other wine aficionados in the Norfok area, inviting them to form the South Coast Amateur Winemakers club.

“Things have worked out well for us,” says Margaret. “We’re very happy with this venture.”