* This is the first in a series about Prince Edward County Winemakers that Uncork Ontario and I will be doing during the lead up to Terroir: The County Wine Celebration on May 3rd. I’m so excited to introduce my readers to even more PEC wineries!
I’ve always thought Devil’s Wishbone was a great name for a winery, but when I asked owner and winemaker, Paul Gallagher, where it originated, I was surprised by the unique story behind the moniker. Gallagher was working a difficult plot of his PEC land on an antique tractor. Backing up, he braked and realized that he couldn’t stop because the brakes had been oiled by the previous owner. He saw his life flash before his eyes as the tractor started to tip. He was certain he’d be crushed, as the front end veered toward him, but a wheel caught on a grape vine and kept the tractor from flipping.
Neighbours who had seen the whole thing happen, rushed over to make sure Gallagher was OK. Once they realized all was well, they told him how the piece of land he was working had been called the ‘devil’s wishbone’ by settlers because nothing would grow there. Well, Gallagher knew that grapevines would grow there and, given their role in saving his life, Devil’s Wishbone seemed like an appropriate name. And, with that, a winery name was born.
Now, that winery is one of the many striving to make wine unique to Prince Edward County’s terroir. Gallagher, who worked as a chartered accountant in Toronto for 30 years before deciding to try his hand at winemaking, planted his first vines in May 2005 and now has 16 acres of vinifera. “I had to get away and go play in the dirt,” he says with a chuckle of his winemaking adventures.
And winemaking has, in many ways, been a life saver that goes beyond grapevines stopping a tractor from tipping. Gallagher had a stroke in 1998, followed by open heart surgery and several heart attacks. He turned to the farm in PEC to get his strength back and regain his vocabulary. Working the land, he got back strength in his arms and legs and now speaks without issue.
When Shawn and I visited, late last year, we were impressed by the lovely old barn that Gallagher and his wife, Jennifer, have turned into the winery and tasting room. It was a cold, drafty day, but they had blankets to throw over our legs while we tasted and the atmosphere was rustic and pretty. I imagine it would be a beautiful place to spend a warm, summer day.
While still a work in progress, it is filled with Gallagher’s tasteful antiques and a warm, cozy vibe. That feeling is reflected in the wines, which are all hand-crafted with everything from bottling, labeling and corking done by hand.
“Our philosophy has been to start slowly,” Gallagher tells me, “First we had to see if we could grow grapes, then we started to make wines and our first really significant vintage will be 2012, which we’re hoping to release this month. We have Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir that’s all VQA and PEC grapes. I’m very pleased with them. We’ll have 250 to 300 cases of Pinot Noir, which is a long way from the 25 cases we had the first year.”
Gallagher would like Devil’s Wishbone to maintain boutique winery status, growing slowly and keeping the focus on quality over quantity. Their wines are unique to the terroir and filtered less vigorously than some – an interesting stylistic choice that helps them stand out. Their limited production and a bit of bad luck in terms of last year’s very wet weather means they do still source grapes from Niagara for certain wines, but Gallagher is hopeful that this year will yield more local grapes. His preference would be to use all PEC in his entire line of wines, but points out that winemaking is a business fully dependent on the weather.
While they are all sold out of their back vintages, you can check out some of Devil’s Wishbone’s recent releases at Terroir in PEC on Saturday, May 3, 2014. The annual event is one Gallagher highly recommends and always enjoys, as it’s a chance to sample what his neighbours are doing. “We have an immensely significant situation in PEC because eighty to ninety percent of the winemakers are friendly with each other. We all share how we do this and I like the fact that I can go over to Half Moon Bay, Lighthall, Hillier, Harwood, Karlo and they all just want to talk about what we’re doing – we’re even exchanging equipment back and forth. In this area, it’s up to us to form our group and I think it’s important for every winery to be at Terroir and use this as a celebratory time to show our releases.”
If you can’t make it out to the County on the 3rd, Devil’s Wishbone wines are available at the winery. Check out their website for more information: http://www.devilswishbone.com/