By now, you have seen the amount of work and thought that goes into the vineyard each season at Traynor Vineyard, to keep the vines, but also the surrounding land and creatures that call it home, healthy and thriving. Behind-the-scenes is JR McQuaid — owner and operator of Advanced Vineyard Services in Prince Edward County. Born and raised in Wellington, Ontario, just a short drive from Traynor, JR has been involved in farming in one way or another his entire life and eventually made his way to viticulture.
After a busy harvest season and a well-deserved break over the holidays, we were finally able to catch JR to ask him a few questions about his experiences working on the vineyards in Prince Edward County and how he came to be part of the team at Traynor.
How did you become involved in the wine and agriculture industry?
JR: I was born and raised in Wellington, Ontario. My uncle and father owned and operated the Wellington Grist Mill, so we were always part of the community. As long as I can remember, I have been involved with farming one way or another my whole life. I began working in the vineyards as a field labourer back in 2005, but I quickly ascended to Field Manager at By Chadsey’s Cairns here in the County. After six seasons at Chadsey’s, I moved on to another local vineyard, Closson Chase, working as a Field Manager in partnership with the viticulturist. I was there for another six seasons before working at Hillier Creek for another two seasons. As I was working with these established wineries, I was helping new and emerging wineries plant and get the vineyards established for them. I helped Trail Estate go from one acre to five acres and helped Mike Traynor from time to time. I am now the owner and operator of Advanced Vineyard Services, established in 2019.
What is your role at Traynor and what does a typical day of work look like for you?
JR: My role is to manage and operate all the tractor and vineyard operations. This includes weed control, spraying, cultivating and of course grape hoeing and maintaining Traynor’s property to the highest standards. Mike and I put our experiences and knowledge together to manage his vineyards to ensure the healthiest and best quality fruit possible. My slogan is “healthy vines make great wines”.
A typical day at Traynor varies, I also take care of two other local vineyards, so my days are always different depending on where I am, and what season it is. Most days will start with a walk through of the vineyard to scout for diseases, pests, and next steps in the vineyard operations. Next, I usually get on the tractors and do some of that work. The only thing that changes from season to season is Mother Nature. As a grape grower, we are always at the mercy of her powers and must work around her schedule.
How long have you been working on the vineyards at Traynor?
JR: Mike and I have known each other for probably ten years or so now. I honestly can’t remember where we met — but it was probably at a vineyard or somewhere close to one here in Prince Edward County. My work at Traynor began when Mike approached me back in 2016 to finish up some pruning for him on the vinifera vines. The next few years I helped doing odd little jobs for him and his family. It wasn’t until 2021 that I got my own equipment and started taking care of Traynor’s vineyard full-time.
I was very excited to work with Mike and learn the different ways things can be done, especially since Mike has a few years’ experience than I do on the vineyard. Traynor has grown immensely over the years, and there is no doubt that is due to Mike’s innovative winemaking processes and field techniques. It’s very different for me to work with someone that has this much experience, and we have many of the same viticulture practices instilled in us, which makes it a great partnership.
What’s the most rewarding part of the job?
JR: I would have to say the most rewarding part of my job other than working for myself is getting to be OUTSIDE. Rain or shine — it doesn’t matter, I love being outside in the fresh air. Living along with nature… there is nothing better.
What is the most challenging part of the job?
JR: The most challenging part of my work would be putting in the long hours, sometimes 60-70 hours a week in spring, summer, fall, and into winter. Scheduling what and when you can do around Mother Nature’s plans is also always a challenge. I love her, but she doesn’t play nice sometimes.
How have you seen vineyard practices evolve over the years?
JR: In my many years of growing grapes in a colder than usual climate I have seen many different styles of grape growing, mostly in the tie-up tie-down process. This is only done a few places in the world. Many vineyards have tried different ways to do it to lessen the extensive workload this causes, but most have come to the same conclusion: bury with soil or use geotextile to save the vines from PEC’s harsh winters.
Geotextile is a white felt fabric that is tented over the vines for the winter, which Mike uses on his vinifera vines. Whether you are burying the vines or using geotextiles, you will find both are labour extensive and very costly. I think in the future more people will start using the geotextile, as it does have some major benefits with reducing the risk of soil diseases setting while the vines are buried. The past 5-6 years we would have decent bud survival rate even if we didn’t protect them from the winter in PEC. Maybe within the next decade, due to rising temperatures, we may not have to do anything to keep vines safe for the winter — only time will tell.
What do you think makes Prince Edward County so unique in the world of wine?
JR: PEC will always be unique to me as I grew up here and still live in the area. I would have to say that all the farming that has been done here for almost 200 years shows that this area is a very special place to grow just about anything. Many things that were growing here throughout the years were very sought-after like tomatoes, barley, hops, and Columbia blue raspberries — which were all said to taste better from PEC. WHY?! You may ask??? It is all in the SOIL and limestone. The PEC terroir. The soil is different all over the County, but the limestone is under everything. Each area of the County gives the same rock and minerals, and the soil gives a different twist on the flavours in the wine produced here.
Do you have a favourite harvest memory?
JR: I would have to say this year will always be one of my favorite harvests. I was harvesting at another vineyard and at Traynor this season, so I was busy. The other vineyard hasn’t had a harvest in five years and this season I harvested their biggest yield in their 13 years as a winery! Traynor had a pretty good crop too, and Mike asked me if I could truck some grapes to get pressed for him. I never imagined I would have been trucking grapes and juice back and forth to be pressed for six weeks every other day it seemed! I would hear Mike say we are almost done, but the grapes kept coming and coming. Overall, it was a great harvest. Mike and Richard will be able to make some more exceptionally great wines.
Do you have a favourite Traynor wine?
JR: My favorite would be the Ophelia Piquette — I am not a big drinker, and I like a light wine with fruity notes and a clean crisp finish. This piquette is another one of Mike’s innovative winemaking techniques. This wine was made by and for the field workers back in the day without the vineyard owners’ knowing. Ironic that it’s my favorite since I am out in the vineyards all day.
Any advice for someone to start a career in the wine industry or getting experience in the vineyard?
JR: It isn’t always easy, but it is very rewarding when you see where a vineyard starts every season. Slowly you get to see the vines transform to beautifully green hedge rows. The best way to start is to just get out there and do it — in fact, I am hiring now for the 2022 season, so please call or email me if you are looking to get into viticulture!
Without a healthy vineyard, there would be no grapes, and without grapes, there would be no wine — so next time you raise a glass of your favourite Traynor bubbly, be sure to make a toast to JR!