Nurturing Nature

Using sustainable practices and site-specific intuition, Louise Engel and David Johnson of Featherstone coax great grapes through ever-changing conditions.

What inspired you to learn about viticulture?

LOUISE: We both grew up on farms, so farming has always been a part of our lifestyles. We met in Guelph at the university and opened a little butcher shop. The more we got interested in food, the more we got interested in wine, so we set our sights on Niagara.

DAVID: The person we bought our farm from was a grape grower of some renown, Roman Prydatkewycz, a lovely gentleman and mentor, and we’d work on a couple of rows with him. (He now works with Vineland Estate Winery, and personally has a prime vineyard site on the Bench.)


Is growing grapes more nature or nurture?

LOUISE: It’s a partnership. Our choice to grow grapes sustainably and naturally, without a lot of chemicals, is a philosophical one. Beyond that, what we do here is specific to this location. If we were even five kilometers down the road, we might be doing things very differently to suit that environment.

DAVID: You can taste the difference in, say, 2008 versus 2009 vintages. That’s nature. I don’t know of another agricultural practice with such meaningful vintage differences. The biggest job in the vineyard in 2016 was just reacting to the heat and drought of the vintage. You improvise a bit with things like leaf removal to regulate heat and sunlight exposure. We get water for trickle irrigation from a little creek that runs through a limestone quarry and through our property.


What’s the scariest part of the growing season?

DAVID: Threat of hail. A hailstorm lasts for just a second, but can shatter the grapes and destroy your crop for the whole vintage.


What’s the best part of the growing season?

DAVID: The best moment is seeing the wine in the bottle! But it’s also a great feeling when you reach the moment when you see the grapes are ready to be picked.

Louise: It’s satisfying to literally see the fruits of your labour.




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