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The Pros and Cons of Barn Wineries

By Veronica Leonard

In Prince Edward County a number of wineries have restored historic old barns to use as their production facilities. I’ve recently written about this for the fall issue of County and Quinte Living Magazine Saving the Old Barns of the County – one winery at a time.

There is something very grounding about a barn, and those who have them talk about the kinship they feel with those who built and used these barns over the past hundred or more years.

The late Richard Karlo at Karlo Estates  had his office in what he affectionately called ‘the old goat pen.’  James Lahti at Long Dog Winery has his office in the large high ceilinged pen once used to house a team of Clydesdale horses. Two small windows had been installed high up on the wall so that the horses had a view of the barnyard. James fondly points out the chewed window sills. Caroline Granger of The Grange of Prince Edward winery is the only winery owner who actually grew up playing in the barn that is now her workplace.

Paul Galllagher  at The Devil’s Wishbone still has vivid memories of the rotting silage they took out by the bucketful from what is now their main tasting room. It could explain why his favourite tasting room is up in the loft with a view out to the lake on one side and the vineyard  out the other.

Dan Sullivan winemaker and co-owner of Rosehall Run confessed in an interview with me two years ago that he suffers from ‘barn envy.’   Unfortunately, the buildings on their farm were too dilapidated to salvage, but as he’s watched the work and expense others have had to put in restoration, he’s rather glad they were able to start from scratch and build a building that designed to be a winery not repurposing a building that had limitations.

From a tourist perspective, a barn winery probably gets more impulse visits than a new winery. Hillier Creek’s  big red barn has been a landmark for over a century and while many people might miss the turnoff to their lane, everyone sees the barn and there are probably as many people grazing on their wood-fired pizzas  as there once were cattle grazing in what used to be the fenced in barnyard at the back.

Despite their attractions, barns have drawbacks. Most barn wineries have chosen to use the former animal pens as their production area. Although these are easier to refinish and insulate than the huge hay loft areas, often the ceilings are low and space is a little cramped requiring more small tanks and the stacking of barrels. In comparison to the short tanks at Karlo Estates and The Old Third, the tank rooms at the wineries which were built new such as Casa Dea  and Huff Estates look like cruise missile storage sites.

The new buildings have also been built and insulated for year round use so that Waupoos Winery,  Keint-he,  Sandbanks  and Black Prince look warm and snug in the winter, while tour bus visitors to Closson Chase   and By Chadsey’s Cairns cram into the small heated tasting rooms during Wassail events after five minutes of freezing in the beautiful main barns.

You hear a lot of words like “preserving the heritage of the County” at barn wineries and “state of the art” at the new buildings. Of course, if you only buy your wines at the LCBO, you’ll never know what I’m talking about. It’s as good a reason as any to head to the  Prince Edward County for a wine tour.

Or click on the first of the pictures below for a slideshow of the old barn wineries.


The article Saving the Old Barns of the County, one winery at a time was published in  County & Quinte Magazine.


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