This is a great time to support a local business. Aside from all the great independent running stores across the country, there are several businesses owned by runners making great things. Trail Estate Winery is the baby of Alex Sproll, a Toronto based runner and almost accidental vineyard manager.
Trail Estate is currently doing deliveries across Ontario. Browse their selection and place your order here!
Trail Estate came into being around 2011 when Alex’s parents, who immigrated from Germany to Kitchener-Waterloo in 1978, sold the bakery they had managed for years and purchased the seven acres on which Trail Estate now stands.
Alex now splits his time between Toronto and Prince Edward County. While he handles “marketing, operations, and a little bit of HR,” Mackezie Brisbois, the only other full time staffer at Trail Estate, handles the winemaking.
Running, of course, is a metaphor for everything. In the years he’s spent managing Trail Estate and running, a few parallels and lessons have emerged.
It’s a slow process–and needs room to experiment
Trail Estate is a relatively boutique operation when compared to some of its larger Ontario counterparts. Alex explains that wineries usually measure their output by cases of 12 bottles. While some bigger wineries produce up to five million cases per year, Trail Estate’s seven acres typically tops out at about 1500.
That’s fine for Alex, who isn’t much interested in mass production. Each wine Trail Estate produces is an opportunity to experiment and build upon the lessons learned in previous seasons.
“A lot of breweries do experimental things and batches, whereas wine didn’t really do much experimenting back then,” Alex says. Trail Estate has therefore been built on a philosophy of low-intervention, refraining from manipulating or controlling fermentation or filtering so that every batch would yield the same result. By keeping batches small and experimental, there’s something unique to try at the end of each season.
There are lessons to take from competitors and contemporaries, but Alex concludes, “You have to be your own client. There are no data points, but if you take a little risk and do it well, people will eventually find you.”
In running, as well, there’s only so much that the numbers can inform the process and tell the story. We have to be our own coaches, even when we work with a coach, and know when things are working for us and when they aren’t. There may be some trial and error, but the results will find us.
Do something new when you can
Running is a great way to see your city. Alex’s favourite runs remain those on which he explored new streets in Toronto and on which he encountered colourful scenery, back when, in his words at least, “Queen and King West were still a bit sketchy.”
Alex adds, “When you go somewhere you can just go for a run and it’s a quick way to see a city. And it gets you into neighbourhoods you wouldn’t normally get into.”
While he still gets out on solo runs in Prince Edward County, Alex ultimately prefers the variety offered by the city. He explains, “People always ask if i love running in PEC, but I find it a bit frustrating when you’re used to running in the city there’s always stuff that you’re passing and stuff to see. In the country you go straight and you pass farms.”
That’s Alex’s advice when it comes to picking a good wine. We likely have a good sense of our own taste, but Alex highly recommends variety. That’s why Trail Estate takes some inspiration from the craft beer boom and adopts a sometimes experimental approach to winemaking and avoids sticking to just one thing.
“Go a little outside your comfort zone,” Alex urges. “We overthink it sometimes and it’s really just booze. My recommendation is to sample broadly and not get stuck on one wine all the time. Wine should always be different every year anyway.”
The best part is the community around it and the people you meet
“I never really ran in high school and only picked it up as I was approaching 30 as a way to take care of myself a little better,” Alex says. Like many who were new to running at the time, he joined a Running Room group.
Working as a graphic designer at the time, a skill he still employs when it comes to marketing Trail Estate, running was an escape from the long hours and monotony of an environment where everyone had a similar background and routine.
“I think what I love most about it is that it’s a community based scene. It’s interesting meeting people that have nothing to do with your field or people you went to school with,” Alex says.
Having a glass of wine with friends serves the same purpose, carving out a little time for people who matter, taking a moment to share, and clearing your mind. Even as we’ve made something of a shift to socializing through virtual means, that time for connection and community still matters, perhaps more than ever, and still adds richness when our day to day becomes a bit tedious.