North of Long Tail

A documentary photo series celebrating Lake Erie
For the month of June, see the exhibit live at Wychwood Barns Artscape.

Mat & Melissa – Norfolk County

1
2

Mat and Melissa grew up and started their busy professional lives in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont. As they thought about starting a family together, they realized they both longed for a more relaxed, slower pace of life — somewhere more rural and closer to nature.

“We were looking for ‘country living’ or ‘lake life’ as they call it.” 

Mat started making wines in 2007 as an amateur. This passion grew with each passing year, and so did his success in provincial and national competitions. Mat knew there was potential for him to try doing this professionally. Mat and Melissa had toured many wineries and felt like they had an understanding of what it would be like to have their own. Operating a winery fit with the lifestyle they were looking for — a different pace of life.  In March 2012, they decided to move to Norfolk County to open a winery/cidery.

“It all happened quickly. We put in a few test rows of grapes and went from there.”

3

A year after they moved, they had their daughter Scarlet, and a few years later they had another one, Violet. Growing up 15 minutes from Lake Erie, surrounded by vineyards, apple trees, and chickens, their girls have very different childhoods than what Mat and Melissa had in the city.

“Our girls don’t know city life.”

4
5
Scarlet, age seven, started a business collecting and selling the eggs from her 25 chickens.

(top right/bottom) Scarlet, age seven, started a business collecting and selling the eggs from her 25 chickens.

In 2015, Mat and Melissa opened Hounds of Erie Winery. Their late great dane Rohan inspired the name and logo. They wanted to create a winery, where people could bring their dogs and stroll through the vineyard.

Dan from Hamilton, holds up a cider he is trying on his tour of the winery. All of their wines/ciders have a hound-inspired name, like the “sassy bitch” and the “hound and the hare”

Dan from Hamilton, Ont. holds up a cider he is trying on his tour of the winery. All of their wines and ciders have a hound-inspired name, like the Sassy Bitch and the Hound and the Hare.

8
Mat checks on the wines currently being made.

Mat checks on the wines currently being made.

At this point, Mat figures he has made more than 70 different wines. Today, they make an assortment of wines, using hybrid grapes explicitly chosen because they do well in their particular climate and soil.

“We focus on the strength of our site.” 

They have sandy loam soil with blue clay underneath that the grapevine roots grow into. It is for this reason that a whole year can go by without any need for irrigation.

10
Scarlet (7) and Violet (4) enjoy picking the raspberries for the wines and ciders. In 2020, Hounds of Erie released a raspberry wine for the first time.

Scarlet and Violet enjoy picking the raspberries for the wines and ciders. In 2020, Hounds of Erie released a raspberry wine for the first time.

According to Mat, the fruits they use in their wines and ciders are exceptional, which they attribute to the climate — a “lake effect” with cooler springs and falls and warmer summers and winters.

1

Melissa holds up some grapes from the vineyard that are almost ready to be harvested.

“The credit for our wines and ciders should go to the fruit grown in Norfolk County and the surrounding countryside. The fruits grown here are remarkable, and that comes through in the beverages.”

13
They currently grow 23 different varieties of apples — ranging from a few table varieties to many hard cider varieties. Recently, three of their hard ciders won top provincial awards.

They currently grow 23 different varieties of apples — ranging from a few table varieties to many hard cider varieties. Recently, three of their hard ciders won top provincial awards.

Environmental stewardship is central to Mat and Melissa’s mission at Hounds of Erie.

Their property is next to the Long Point World Biosphere Reserve, a world-renowned refuge and stopover for migrating birds and butterflies.

“You don’t realize how south you are until you see birds that are more colourful than we ever saw in Kitchener-Waterloo.”

15

Hounds of Erie is a part of Alternative Land Use Systems (ALUS) supported by Ontario Nature, with space on their property made to provide habitat to species at risk. They have bird boxes on every row in the orchard, as well as some bat boxes. They have already had a few nesting pairs of bluebirds, barn owls, hawks, and falcons in the vineyard. Their relationship with these birds is symbiotic. The more insectivores Mat and Melissa have on their property, the fewer bugs they have to deal with eating their fruit. Mat particularly appreciates the small kestrel falcons that avoid eating the insectivores but eat the other birds fond of grapes.

Their property is only two kilometres from Lake Erie, and they are concerned about the rising water levels. Mat jokes that with the four meters of erosion happening to the shoreline, they will “have beachfront property someday.” Sadly, he also recognizes that would mean Long Point, where they love going down to for fish and chips, would be entirely gone.

16

“We want other families to enjoy Lake Erie as we have. It’s a great feature to live near and visit. It’s important that people leave it the same way that they came to it.”

Despite their plans for a slower life of country living, they have been busy since moving to Norfolk County. They both still work day jobs, as well as doing all things winery-related. They have plans to expand, construct a larger building for the winery, and hope to host larger events, like weddings, on their property in the future. They also plan to reach out to their local church to offer up their space to the congregation on Sundays.

Dan and Nina (and their dog RD) from Hamilton enjoy cider while walking amongst the vineyards on a tour of Hounds of Erie.

Dan, Nina, and their dog RD from Hamilton, Ont. enjoy cider while walking amongst the vineyards on a tour of Hounds of Erie.

“What we are trying to create at our winery is exactly what drew us to the area: space where people can come, bring their dog, and enjoy a slower pace of life as they have a drink and stroll through a vineyard.”

Read More

STORIES FROM THE LAKE

Patricia – Pelee Island

Read More

Heidi – Pigeon Bay

Read More

Take Action

Lake Erie and the millions of people who rely on it for their drinking water, local jobs, and so much more need your help.

The health of Lake Erie continues to decline. Action is needed more than ever to restore its health for current and future generations.

You can make a difference. Here’s how you can help protect the lake and support the people who are closely connected to it.

EXHIBITION BY: documentary photographer COLIN BOYD SHAFER in collaboration with ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE

ED-LOGO-NO-TAGLINE-FINAL-transparent (1)