Our Day at the Winery

March 7, 2021

Some of our favourite wines are made from grapes grown at a winery just a few hours away from Ottawa on the shores of Lake Ontario in Prince Edward County. Located on a large irregular headland at the eastern end of Lake Ontario, just west of the head of the St. Lawrence River, the county’s relatively mild humid climate, due to the influence of Lake Ontario, has led to the establishment of about 50 vineyards and close to 30 wineries.

Sandbanks Estate Winery, located in the heart of the county in Wellington, is one of our favourites in this area. So you can imagine our delight when we learned that we could participate in a weekend event in which people volunteer to pick the grapes in the Sandbanks vineyard at harvest time.

You have to love this business model: people volunteer to do the grunt work involved in making wine and all you have to do is give them lunch and a few free samples of your wine. If you’re a winery, what’s not to like? So eager are people to work for free that there are waiting lists, and if you don’t get your name in early, you’re out of luck. You won’t be able to provide free labour. Try again next year.

In 2017 we made the cut, along with our friends Andy and Celine from Wakefield, Quebec. When we arrived at the winery, we were assigned to the rows of white grapes that would eventually become Sandbanks Riesling wine. After a few minutes of instructions on what and how to pick (and how to avoid the yellow-jacket wasps), we collected our pails and shears, and off we went.

The highlight of the experience was when the winery employees walked up and down the rows with snacks and samples of various Sandbanks wines.

As the morning wore on, and more and more wine was sampled, the laughter and chatter amongst the pickers increased. By noon, when the rows were picked clean, everyone was hungry (and well lubricated), and we were led to an area of the estate where a first-rate caterer had set up shop to provide us with an amazing meal (and more wine).

This was followed by a tour of the winery itself, where we were given a demonstration of how all our hard work would eventually turn into bottles of wine (some of which we would inevitably purchase at some point on a future visit to LCBO).

We have not been able to make it back for another picking session, but not for lack of trying. It seems that the labour supply far exceeds the demand. In the meantime, we just keep enjoying the fruits of our (and others’) labour. My favorite is Sleeping Giant, an interesting blend of Marechal Foch and Baco Noir grapes. Marian prefers the Pinot Grigio.

(Note: We have no affiliation with Sandbanks Winery, nor are we profiting in any way (unfortunately) by promoting their wines. But we’re open to offers….).