Vineyard tour
Craig MacMillan tours visitors through the wine room at the new Stonehouse Vineyard that he operates with wife Joanne Pratt. Van Dusen photo

Craig MacMillan stands at the counter of Stonehouse Vineyard, ready to welcome tours and guests.
Van Dusen photo

by Tom Van Dusen
AgriNews Staff Writer

LOCHIEL – It’s Dec. 30 and Craig MacMillan is welcoming a handful of visitors to the new Stonehouse Vineyard he operates with wife Joanne Pratt up a long gravel lane on the edge of this historic Glengarry County hamlet.

It’s really only new to the public. Soon after they acquired half of the original MacMillan family farm 10 years ago, the couple began developing what would become five acres of vines, wine room and store, with an early 1800s stone house as centrepiece. It started with two rows of experimental cold climate grapes planted by previous owners, eventually expanding into a vision of a full-blown winery.

John Roy MacMillan, who emigrated from Scotland with his two brothers, was granted 200 acres of forest here in 1793. The stone house was built on the property with money John Roy earned from farming and military service, including in the War of 1812. In 2008, eighth-generation descendant Craig purchased half of the original holdings which had long ago left family hands.

The pride shines through as MacMillan tours visitors through the wine room and store located in a repurposed former dairy and horse barn, shortened by about 40 feet. It’s one of several open houses held by the couple over the holidays to introduce their winery which will officially launch in the spring.

Going by the popularity of the round of pre-openings, MacMillan said there might be a few more weekend welcomes throughout the winter. With minimal advertising, he was surprised at the high response and excellent sales of Stonehouse’s four current offerings, Swenson White, Frontenac Blanc, Frontenac Noir Rose, and signature Fortified 1793 which comes in at 17.2 per cent alcohol content; all selections sell for $18 per 750 millilitre bottle, other than 1793 which is $20 for 375 millilitres.

Throughout the winter, tours are available by appointment, complete with tastings. At the moment, Stonehouse varieties are only sold at the winery with MacMillan not prepared to pay high fees for shelf space at LCBO stores. Depending on level of success over the next few years, the operation could expand and an LCBO agreement might be considered.

Still a full-time federal government employee, MacMillan shows obvious pleasure in describing the history of the site, the work that went into developing the well-tended rows of vines, and transformation of the barn including cleaning out accumulated debris from the lower level and the hayloft… now an inviting, spanking clean events room reached by a new stairway from the store.

Ancient beams were cleaned and repaired, new wooden walls, concrete floor, and windows installed, and modern, easy-raising garage doors replaced the old barn loading doors. The space was filled with wine-making equipment, including three types of oak barrels for aging certain varieties. In the store area, barn boards have been cleaned and reinstalled as walls and the counter.

MacMillan and Pratt are members of the 12-member Eastern Ontario Wine Producers’ Association which is lobbying for greater recognition as an Ontario winery destination.