Back to the Land
Two brothers heed the call of the grape at Muscedere Vineyards
Starting a winery is not an easy endeavour, financially or mentally. Few businesses require hundreds of thousands of dollars in start-up costs while, at the same time, forcing the owners to wait several years to evaluate the quality of their product.
With wineries shuttering annually in Canada and around the world, entrepreneurs are advised to heed caution when plunking down their life savings for a piece of the winery dream.
Rob and Fabio Muscedere, co-proprietors of Muscedere Vineyards, proceeded with caution when they established their winery in 2000.
Muscedere Vineyards is a family business with 11 varietals planted on 5.2 hectares in the Lake Erie North Shore region of Ontario. The 65.9-hectare property has been in the family since 1986, and until last year, the winery’s production facility was located in the basement of the family home on the property.
“We’re in a good financial position because we had my parents as investors. They invested the land and the facility for the first four years,” says Rob. Without their support, “we would be in a bigger hole. It might not have made as much sense.”
Despite these obvious advantages, Rob estimates that he and his brother spent $200,000 to get going — just on equipment. That doesn’t include the cost of assessing the soil and planting grapes, nor the time that could have been spent on more lucrative endeavours.
So why did Rob and Fabio Muscedere leave their high-flying careers — Rob was an engineer for Magna in Detroit while Fabio was a product manager for Gillette in Boston — to start a winery?
“We always had a bug to start something together,” says Fabio. “As we looked more into it, a winery came up as a suggestion. As we researched it, we thought we could do it in our hometown where we grew up.”
Adds Rob: “We grew up in a family that always had wine at the dinner table.” He notes that their grandfather was a commercial viticulturalist in Italy. “It made sense to go back and work the land.”
Keeping with their financial prudence, both brothers became high school teachers — Fabio in 2004 and Rob in 2008 — a profession that would allow them to live closer to the winery and have the necessary time off to work on the vines.
“We’re still relying on another paycheque,” says Rob. But that doesn’t mean that the fulltime winery dream is far off. “We’re growing this slowly and we’re at the point where we can start to draw the fruits of the work of the past few years.”
The work began with Muscedere Vineyard’s first planting in 2003 — 2.02 hectares of riesling, vidal and cabernet franc, with 0.2 hectares allocated to trial varieties. The first vintage, released in 2006, included two tiers of 2004 cabernet franc and a riesling.
The ultimate goal is to become “a high-end, premium, 3,000- to 4,000-case winery,” says Fabio. They plan to focus on reds, especially cabernet sauvignon. “In our region, red wine is the thing that is going to make us stand out.”
The brothers say they are keen to establish relationships with local grape growers. “We want to form good relationships with growers nearby,” says Rob. “We can increase our yield quicker [by buying fruit, rather] than planting and waiting.”
But for now, it’s long days, long nights and a whole lot of work.
Notes Fabio: “Just about every holiday, summer, weekend and free time we have is spent at the winery.”