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A Fool And Forty Acres

Conjuring A Vineyard Three Thousand Miles From Burgundy

by (author) Geoff Heinricks

McClelland & Stewart
Initial publish date
Jul 2005
General, Wine & Spirits
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Jul 2005
    List Price

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foreword by Jamie Kennedy
A Fool and Forty Acres is Heinricks’ beautifully written account of leaving behind the rat race, slowing life down, and establishing an intimate relationship with one small parcel of land in a magical corner of Canada.

You won’t find Prince Edward County on any map of the world’s great wine regions. Yet it is to this dollop of rolling limestone in eastern Lake Ontario that Geoff Heinricks brought his young family in pursuit of a dream of creating a truly world class wine. The County, as the locals call it, is a long way from the Niagara Peninsula, and three thousand miles from Burgundy, yet Heinricks and a few hardy souls like him claim that their wines will one day rival those of the legendary French province.

A self-described 21st-century peasant, Heinricks follows the seasons in his vineyards with exquisite attention, from digging the earth, to grafting and planting the vines, to trellising and pruning, to tending the young grapes, to harvesting the fruits of his labours. Along the way, he sketches the human history of the area, the native peoples whose tools and clay shards are heaved up by the soil, and the United Empire Loyalists, whose tidy barns and farmhouses still dot the landscape today.

He also presents a cast of his colourful County neighbours: from old-school farmers to refugees like him from the city, convinced in the wisdom of producing and consuming locally the very best food and wine in harmony with the land.

About the author


  • Nominated, Cuisine Canada Culinary Book Awards -- Special Interest Category

Contributor Notes

Geoff Heinricks is a former contributor to Frank magazine. He has established himself as a respected winegrower in Prince Edward County and has been called “the county’s soil guru and viticultural conscience” (Tony Aspler, Toronto Star).

Excerpt: A Fool And Forty Acres: Conjuring A Vineyard Three Thousand Miles From Burgundy (by (author) Geoff Heinricks)

“There’s a fair!”

“Yeah, there is a fair!”

Or so my two elder daughters squealed when the car pulled into the farm to pick me up. Their younger sister echoed their excitement. And I guess it does look like a fair. Bright yellow balloons hang over the Pinot Noir, and metallic red and silver tape flashes brilliantly in the sunlight. It all lends an undeniably festive air. Though mildly disappointed there wasn’t a fair at their farm, they still seemed pleased with the idea that it looked an awful lot like one.

I have been tying together the sections of bird-netting that I have finally hauled out. The outer rows of the Pinot Noir have been picked pretty clean. If I am going to take complete advantage of the glorious ripening weather we’ve finally been enjoying and get the potentially excellent sugars and flavours out of the grapes, I have no other choice. The yellow scare-eye beach balls and the tape deterred the birds from trial maraudings, but now that the sugars were 18 Brix, the siren call of the berries overwhelms natural caution and fear.

Crows caterwaul to each other in the hedgerow as I work, telling their comrades to wait but a few minutes until I am gone. Cleverly out of sight, too. Following the string of calls down the trees, I finally spot one crow, sitting atop the highest maple. That is the only one I can see.

The next morning, I finish covering the Pinot Noir with the netting I purchased last year, along with more sections bought this fall to cover the new fruit-bearing rows. It’s a nice, light black plastic mesh that doesn’t break down in sunlight.

I have also bought my own affordable refractometer from Watson’s Barrels & Winemaking Supplies in Niagara-on-the-Lake. It’s not a toy. It’s a fairly costly piece of equipment that’s invaluable out in the vinerows right now. It looks like a small collapsed telescope, with a little hinged lid at the end opposite the eyepiece. By squeezing a drop or two of juice from a berry on a glass plate and closing the lid, a system of prisms and temperature compensation devices calibrate the sugar of the sample in degrees Brix. Looking in the eyepiece in the direction of the sun shows one the reading on the Brix scale. It’s an amazing, easy-to-use tool. Last year, Phil Mathewson lent me his expensive, older, French model. This year it was definitely time to get my own, and, luckily, cheaper ones made in China are suddenly everywhere.

The refractometer is a good teaching aid. As in all things, constant repetition, in this case plucking, squeezing, tasting, and then looking at the reading, helps train the taste buds to recognize the sugar percentage. Most of the time I find I’m within a few tenths of a degree Brix. The next phase of tasting comes only with more experience: the ability to recognize whether the acid is in good balance with the sugars, and whether the skins and the grape taste “right.” Even with good sugars, a grape can still taste green and underripe if it comes from a vine that is too vigorous and out of balance. That kind of judgement may take quite a few harvests to develop.

At this point the samples in the refractometer are reading 20 or 21 Brix, and the grapes ripen fast in the intense sunshine and 30 to 31 degrees Celsius heat we enjoy for a few key days after the rain. The nights drop quickly into the teens, which helps keep the grapes from losing too much acidity.

The voles have started to help themselves. Some ravaged and even undamaged clusters show the signs of nocturnal visits: mud on the berries. The cool nights have caused very heavy mists and dews to settle all around Hillier for the past few weeks. The moisture on the fruit turns the dirt on the fur and paws of the voles to mud as they clamber over them, and so each morning there are streaks of dry clay on the berries. It ruins that wonderful heavy grey-white waxy bloom on the blue-black Pinot Noir. And it’s just plain annoying, like waking up to find graffiti tagged on your house or store.

Do I have the character to let our Pinot Noir hang for another week or so, to get the raw material I need to make the wine I tell people I want to make?

I debate that each morning when the weather turns wet once more. Grey days and steady drizzle from the remains of a hurricane have kept the ground and fruit sodden. So far the Pinot Noir is free of disease. Their thinner skins and tight clusters make Pinot susceptible to botrytis, or grey rot, which leads the disease parade now with the rains and the mists and heavy dews. Our grapes are healthy, the skins tough. Unfortunately, I’m not the only creature that has noticed.

Every night the ripest clusters, with berries around 21 to 23 Brix, disappear. Or they are obliterated, left nearly naked on the stems, with a paving of plucked but forgotten berries around the vine trunks. The voles mock me not only with what they take, but with what they leave carelessly strewn about.

That little detail is bothersome. The voles, it seems to me, have to work too hard to abandon fruit without taking the seeds. Also, some of the windup traps I put out to thin the population have been batted about, even after I weighted them with chunks of limestone.

I decide I’d better make a surprise night visit to the vineyard. What I find is a patrol of raccoons stalking the edges of the netting. One, an immensely fat creature, is leaning against the netting, helping himself to grapes from the outer row.

I scream and yell like a madman, and they slowly waddle to the hedgerow. I pull the netting away from the clusters where the giant raccoon has pushed in, and add more stones to anchor it. My heart sinks, and I know that the share taken by voles and birds is nothing compared to what I now recognize as the worst thieves.

The next night I come to spend all the hours until dawn guarding the fruit. I have a gun — an air rifle, because, after all, this is Canada, and I haven’t done the paperwork that would allow me to own a shotgun or proper rifle. It will at least get their attention. And I have a few good clubs as backup.

These are some of the hardest hours I’ve put in among those rows. I patrol, then crouch down and wait for half an hour or so to set up an ambush. The cool evening temperature, so good at holding acidity in the ripening fruit, forces me every hour or so into a lawn chair to drain more of the tea and coffee I’ve brought, and to fume about wasting my time.

Not a single raccoon shows up.

When the darkness gradually begins to lift, I walk towards the car. The sound makes me jump: the fenceline is suddenly filled with clicking, the strange tcchk-tcchk-tcchk raccoons make. The damned things have been watching all night, waiting for me to leave so they could get down to work. I just shrug, and when I get to the car, my sense of defeat is complete. I’ve locked the keys inside. I’ll have to wait another three hours before I can knock on the Van Lunes’ door to use the phone.

I stop by to check things again, after some breakfast and a shower, and startle two raccoons at work. They turn, and without much haste make their way down the unnetted young rows, where they have been helping themselves to the odd cluster that wasn’t worth protecting. The only signs of their displeasure are the purple turds of skins and seeds they leave, either to hasten their taunting, sauntering escape, or to let me know they didn’t much enjoy being put off their schedule last night. I have the air rifle with me, but of course the tin of lead pellets is in the trunk. I peel to the car, but by the time I run back the raccoons are nowhere to be seen. I scream in frustration, and ping off a few shots into the trees like a fool.

There are only three things to do. The first is to ensure that next year I put up electric fencing around the perimeter. The second and third are to hope for a return to fashion of coonskin coats and a worldwide Davy Crockett revival. Roadkill for me is now one less mouth to feed. I have not hit a raccoon myself yet, but cheer whenever I spot the good civic work performed by another driver. The turkey vultures can have all they want.

Editorial Reviews

“An outstanding memoir.… Topping this book would be a difficult act.… How an intellectual threw his shoulder behind the plough and created a credible vineyard in the place of scrub brush is a lively and exciting tale.… Pain, loss and humiliation are strong themes in A Fool and Forty Acres, yet it is a terrifically engaging success story.– It’s the author’s knack for storytelling and his unbridled love of the challenge that make this a wonderful contribution to the growing literature of life on the land.”
–Marianne Ackerman, The Gazette (Montreal)

“This delightful book is not only a viticultural primer, but a personal memoir, local history and geographic study of a fascinating microclimate. Most of all, it’s a celebration of wine in all its myriad splendour.… The book is as informative as it is entertaining. A reader learns a great deal about wine – including its history – seemingly by accident, so accessible is Heinricks’ approach to the topic.”
–Robert Reid, The Record (Kitchener)

“If this book were a wine, it would be something sparkling but robust, full of local flavour.… Through this impressionistic tale, even a wine or vine neophyte can easily imbibe all kinds of viticultural lore and information.…Heinricks writes with deft pacing, a sense of humour and an eye for telling details.”
–Andrew Vowles, Hamilton Spectator
“Absorbing reading both from the viticultural point of view and the historical. I started to read the book and was 40 pages into it in no time at all.… I consider this a super book, and you do not need to be a wine expert to read it."
–Malcolm Anderson, The Gazette (Montreal)

“[A] deft memoir of a life given over to the grape's dominatrix demands.”
–John Allemang, Report on Business magazine

“An absorbing glimpse into the intricacies and toils of creating a vineyard from scratch. Plus a vivid, living history of Ontario's Prince Edward County, the achingly pastoral peninsula that juts into Lake Ontario just west of Kingston.… Heinricks is studious, thoughtful and forthright, with the ability to write very well.… Often I recalled the long, richly detailed pastoral works of Thomas Hardy.”
–David Lawrason, Globe and Mail
"We've never met Geoff Heinricks, but he's a hero for turning his back on the bright lights and following his heart.… Heinricks' story of trying to create a world-class vineyard out on Lake Ontario, while keeping marriage, sanity and four kids together, is a lot of fun."
Toronto Star
“There are few books on growing grapes quite like A Fool and Forty Acres. Maybe Marq de Villiers’ The Heartbreak Grape comes close.… You really don’t have to know a floraison from a vendage to enjoy this book. It is a universal read filled with humour, intelligence, wonderfully drawn characters, and an extraordinary sense of place. And after you read it, lift a glass of superior Ontario wine in salute. It’s that good.”
–Andrew Armitage, The Sun Times (Owen Sound)

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