Q. Your family owned the largest private vineyard in Niagara. What did you learn from that?
I learned not to be afraid of hard work. I used to drop my school bag and run outside to watch trucks loading up or help my grandma plant vines — there was always something happening. Life on a farm doesn’t stop at 5 or on weekends, but the work is wholesome and honest and I get so much satisfaction from it.
Q. What made you become the first winemaker in your family?
You can make a really great wine that tastes fantastic but if the pH is too high, for example, it will be a lovely wine for two months instead of two years. If the pH is too low, it might have an amazing shelf life but be unpalatable. The artistry of making a fabulous wine and the science of lining up the technical details is what appeals to me.
Q. Your wines have already won 500+ awards — more than most winemakers collect in a lifetime. C’mon, what’s your secret?
I got a degree in horticulture from the University of Guelph, then I studied winemaking in Australia. The University of Adelaide trained us for every imaginable condition, so that helps me deal with difficult vintages. I also like to drink really great wine. If I want to drink it, I’d better make it!
Q. Many wineries and farms have a dog around to help. What kind of dog does a fancy farm girl have?
That’s Brix, my five-year-old Burnese Mountain Dog. He’s my greeter: he’s with me wherever I go. Most farm dogs are shorthaired. I’ve got a purebred that has to go to the groomer every month to smell good!
Q. Your new wine labels feature the drawings of Francesca Waddell, a fashion illustrator whose work has appeared in Vogue. What inspired your Fancy Farm Girl wines: Frivolous Red and Frivolous White?
I’m not a typical farm girl. I renovated my family’s 120-year-old farmhouse to make it more glamorous. One minute I’m in the fields with steel-toed boots, and the next I’m at a gala wearing stilettoes. A fancy farm girl is authentically who I am, and I think there’s a little bit of that in all of us.
Watch this video to find out how Sue-Ann Staff mixes New World and Old World in her wines for Megalomanic. Or, check out this video to discover her favourite grape and her digital trick for making better wine.