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STORY OF TWO GROWERS
Kevin Watson, son of 1989’s Grape King, did his late father proud when he became the second grower in the family to be honoured with the prestigious title. Since then, he’s worked hard to ensure that he continues to uphold the Watson Family’s reputation for excellence.
The title of Ontario’s Grape King is an honour indeed, considering that the winner is crowned by the province’s grape-growers themselves. Since 1959, they’ve voted for the specialist whose attention to detail and passion raise the bar in Ontario’s vineyards. And the Watson Family has been so honoured not just once, but twice.
The story begins when the Watsons settled on 45 acres outside Niagara-on-the-Lake and went into the business of raising hogs. The stony soil at the Watson acreage, however, with its mix of clay and sand loam, was destined to produce grapes of the highest quality. With his keen farmer’s sense, John planted his first vines of Vidal there in 1979; a mere 10 years later, he became the first Watson Grape King.
Kevin, his son, took over in 1995, doubling the farm’s holdings and significantly expanding its operations. Today, Kevin and his wife, Cathy, produce 13 varieties, from vines that include some of the province’s earliest plantings of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Cabernet Franc. The Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes that spring from Watson soil are some of the most sought after in the province; most are sold to large winemakers, such as Jackson Triggs and Inniskillin.
With a keen sense of entrepreneurship, Kevin is also serving the expanding market of hobby winemakers; his grape juice, processed onsite, is consistently sold out to enthusiasts everywhere.
Kevin is an avid winemaker, so he knows firsthand what’s needed to produce quality wine.
“It wasn’t very fulfilling for my father and I to just grow a grape, put it in a truck and watch it go down the road,” he says. “You really want to taste what you have done all year long. That’s why we do it, that’s what helps us create the best product possible and that’s why I love this industry.”
The secret to his success? “All agriculture is the same,” he says. “If you have a love for it and a desire for it, you’ve got it half beat. It’s not always about percentage returns every year…it’s about the love of watching something grow.”
He also knows that the strength of the province’s wine industry is key. Kevin says education will help consumers and governments truly understand the benefits of supporting Ontario wines, and with this kind of support, our viticulture industry will enjoy a long and fruitful empire.
You might say that wine runs in Trevor Falk’s blood. In the 1930s, his grandfather was one of the first farmers to recognize the Niagara region’s grape-growing potential, and in the 1970s, his parents became pioneers in Ontario’s wine industry. Even as a boy, Trevor looked forward to the day he’d take over the family operation, and he’s already got plans for the fourth generation of Falks.
Trevor Falk comes by his passion for viticulture honestly—his heritage goes back to the very beginnings of Ontario’s wine story, when his grandfather decided to devote part of his farmland to nurturing a small vineyard.
When Trevor’s parents took over, they were among the first in the region to grow grapes for what was essentially a non-existent wine industry. “There was a belief that Vinifera grapes couldn’t be grown in our climate,” he says. A few people, however, “hefted cautiously into some new plantings, just to see if it was possible.”
The Falks passed their optimism on to their child. At a young age, Trevor learned to love the vineyards, and planned to one day give his own children that same wonderful experience. There was never any doubt in his mind that he would take over the business, and today, his vineyards now represent one of Ontario’s largest operations, where he, his wife, Stephanie, and his father, grow some of the province’s finest aromatic whites and full-bodied reds in what they consider to be the ideal soil outside Niagara-on-the-Lake.
One of Trevor’s greatest joys is realizing the dream his grandparents envisioned so long ago. That’s why he’s committed to maintaining a traditional family business and resisting over-commercialization. “It comes down to staff,” he says. “Without good staff, it’s impossible to balance the two.”
It’s no surprise, then, that he considers his local employees and many of his migrant workers—some of whom have been coming back for 20 years or more—to be his second family. “I consider them a real extension of my own family,” he says. “They’re such a great complement to our operation.”
And it works. Combining his strong traditional values with an investment in the best technology the world of viticulture has to offer, Trevor has become a major contributor to the premium wines coming out of Ontario over the years.
Now that he has children of his own, Trevor’s committed to keeping the family passion alive. His great hope is that his son and baby daughter will grow up in an Ontario market that’s even thirstier for local wines, and that Falk Farms will continue to flourish for generations to come.