Country Dream PEC Terroir People Viticulture

Unexpected Helpers

Daniel Auteuil, Yves Montand in "Jean de Floret".  The film inspired us to start on our vineyard journey, with Gérard Depardieu's unbridled optimism as a city dweller who inherits a farm in the French countryside.   The neighbouring farmers -- father and son -- conspire to cheat their new city-folk neighbour out of his land.   Thank goodness our neighbours Norm and Donny are quite the opposite characters!

Back when we first bought our vineyard property in 2009, we arrived with a wheelbarrow, a hoe, a shovel, and a lot of energy and optimism.  We didn’t consider that we would need tractors and we didn’t know what a three point hitch was.   Clearly we needed outside advice and assistance.

One of those first spring mornings we assembled a picnic table.  Micheline, our girls, and I were having lunch on the hill overlooking the vineyard, when two figures came striding through the green hayfields.  It was our neighbours, Norm and Donny, coming to introduce themselves and to find out what sort of new neighbours they had just acquired.  They had been working on repairing some old hulking farm equipment.  As we shook hands, the contrast between our soft, pink city hands and their tough, greasy working hands was a tiny metaphor for where we were, and where we had to get to, to run a vineyard.

Norm is eighty years old, and lives full time on the neighbouring farm.  His son Donny lives in Belleville, but comes out to his father’s land nearly every day to help out.  Together they run a small herd of beef cattle next door. It’s not very economic, so I guess they work hard for the fun of it… because they love it.  Their view of life contrasts with to the corporate sales environment in the city, where every action has the purpose of profit, and every second is measured.

It was clear they also felt a sense of ownership for our property. Donny had grown up romping through our woods, and Norm had always taken hay off our fields.  When I asked him about how much rent he would pay, he seemed hurt and confused.  “No one’s ever charged us rent to take hay off of that land,” he reflected.   It wasn’t long before we agreed that they could continue taking hay off of the land and no rent would be charged.

You couldn’t ask for better neighbours than Donny and Norm.  Whenever we have a problem, one of them appears, magically, as if they had been lurking nearby in the grass.  Dead battery?  No problem, use our charger.  Need a quick weld to hold together your cultivator?  Come on over, we’ll fix you up.  No washroom facilities?  Here, I just happened to be driving by with this old outhouse you can install conveniently nearby.  Need a cultivator to keep the weeds down?  Here, we had this extra cultivator and Donny cut it down to 6 feet wide so that you can use it in the vineyard.  The list goes on and on.

There are many hands in running a vineyard.  We’re thankful for Norm, Donny, and all the other generous neighbours, family and friends we are so fortunate to have, both in the County and in the City.

Entrepreneur, Winegrower and Father. I write about going for your dreams, living authentically, raising a family and building a winery from scratch in Prince Edward County, Ontario, Canada

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