Wine-making and Film-making at Long Dog Winery

long dog winery

Long Dog Winery has an interesting story. When IMAX filmmaker James Lahti, his wife Victoria Rose, and his good friend Steven Rapkin bought a property in Prince Edward County in 1999, they did not intend to grow grapes or make wine. The purchase of one of the oldest deeds in the County was meant to be a weekend getaway from their hectic lives in busy Toronto.

Two years later, inspired by others in the region who were successfully growing grapes, they planted 1000 vines and, three years after that, produced their first vintage – three barrels of Pinot Noir. Although the vines were young, James produced a Pinot that reminded him of his first incredible taste of this grape 40 years before in Burgundy, France. His first thought, as he recalls the memory, was “Wow! If we can produce this kind of wine with three-year-old vines, what are we going to be making in 10 to 15 years?”  This was the seed that started Long Dog Winery.

The Savvy Team can answer James’ question: James can make great wines! Five of us from the team conducted a tasting. One of our Savvy Sommeliers also talked with James about his first taste of Pinot Noir wine in the early 1970s, about the similarities between winemaking and filmmaking, and where the “Long Dog” part of the Long Dog Winery name comes from.

In the end, our tasting panel selected, for your enjoyment this holiday season, three wonderful wines that have been created, as all Long Dog wines are, with 100% of grapes grown on the property of this boutique Prince Edward Country vineyard.

Our Savvy Selections

  • Otto Pinot Noiran aromatic, classic Pinot Noir with a cherry finish  
  • Top Dog Pinot Noir – a beautiful rich red Pinot Noir that one member of the panel described as having a velvety Santa Claus finish and that others simply described as “yummy” 

Ever tried a vertical?

Vertical is wine speak for having the same variety from one particular winery from consecutive years. Long Dog Winery has Pinot Noir from 3 years in a row and our Savvy Sommeliers had a delicious vertical experience during the Savvy Selections tasting panel.  We selected our top favourites for you to enjoy.

Long Dog Pinot Noirs:

Top Dog Pinot Noir – in the glass it looks like a light red wine, but that is totally misleading.  The aromas & taste will surprise you & blow you away! Medium bodied with BIG aromas & tastes of ripe cherries, raspberries, blackberries with velvety tannins. Ready to drink now.

Otto Pinot Noir – loads of black cherry aromas that follow into the taste with lots of acidity & tannins that should mellow as it is cellared for a few more years.  This Pinot is definitely well made & will continue to evolve as it ages.  Afterall, it was from the highly acclaimed 2007 vintage.

Long Dog Winery’s Winemakers

It happened 40 years ago, but it was a moment James Lahti has never forgotten.  He was 19 years old, travelling across Europe on a motorcycle, and was in the heart of wine country: Burgundy, France. He had picked up a bottle of wine at a local store, a baguette and some cheese and had stopped by the side of a river to enjoy his purchases. He opened the bottle and – at a time when most Canadians back home were sipping Baby Duck – tried his first-ever Pinot Noir red wine.

“I couldn’t believe wine could taste so good,” he said.  “Pinot has been following me around ever since,” he laughed.

Today, James is a well-known and respected IMAX filmmaker who has been in the movie business for more than 30 years.  For the last 13 years, he’s also been in the wine business.

In 1997, James (left), along with his wife Victoria Rose (middle), also a filmmaker, and a good friend Steven Rapkin, a lawyer (right), bought a 300-acre property in Prince Edward Country as a vacation getaway. It housed eight buildings, including a 150-year-old home, and was meant to be a place to retreat to on weekends.

Within a year, however, James and Victoria moved their film-making business to their new property and James caught the grape-growing bug.  Inspired by others in the County who were successfully growing grapes – and after much research, soil sampling, and consultation – they planted 1000 vines: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Gamay and Pinot Blanche.

Three years later they produced their first vintage: a Pinot that exhibited some of the characteristics of the great Pinot James had tasted in Burgundy 40 years before. His first thought, was “Wow! If we can produce this kind of wine on three-year-old vines, what are we going to be making in 10 to 15 years?”

Today, Long Dog Winery is producing some excellent wines and the 1000 vines have expanded to 25,000. More than half are Pinot Noir. Seventy percent of the other half are Chardonnay and the remainder Pinot Gris and Gamay.

“Winemaking and film-making are both creative processes, which is why I think so many people in the film business end up owning wineries,” he explained.  “As a producer and film editor, a lot of stuff gets dumped onto my desk and I say ‘OK, let’s make a movie’.  Making wine is a similar process. You have 25,000 vines giving you different fruit from virtually every vine and you say ‘OK, how am I going to make the best wine out of this?’”

James believes that a great wine starts with great grapes and, as such, takes pride in producing the best grapes possible.  A lot of it has to do with terroir – the soil and environment in which the grapes grow. “You can take the exact same grape variety and grow it and ferment it the same way, but if one vine is grown in clay soil and the other in stony limestone, you get totally different wines.”

Winemaking is as easy as A, B, C & D

The vineyard at Long Dog Winery is divided into four blocks – A, B, C, and D – each with a different soil type. “I keep everything separate. All my blocks (wine speak: parcels of property) are separate. All my clones are separate. And, now with the progress of the vineyard, I’m actually down to keeping some rows separate.”

The reason?  It offers him flexibility and variety when it comes to blending those grapes to make the best wines possible.  “The science is the real fun of it.”

To also guarantee great grapes, James is a “real stickler” for picking and harvesting, ensuring that no more than 30 minutes go by from the time a grape is picked to when it reaches the cool room (monitored at 5 to 6 degrees Celsius). “The minute you pick the grapes, they start to break down. The quicker you can get them cooled, the better your chances of making a good wine like Chardonnay or Pinot Noir.”

James is also a great believer in a French expression that says “the road to a great wine starts with small footsteps in the vineyard”.  He takes this quite literally and, every night, at 6 p.m. with a glass of wine in hand, 10 legs go walking – his and those of his and Victoria’s two wire-haired dachshunds dogs: Bella and Flora.

Why the name?

“Bella” is the name on the label of one of our favourite wines, as is “Otto,” the name of the dachshund that James and Victoria had when they first moved to Prince Edward County.

Their love of dachshunds inspired the name of “Long Dog” for the winery, which James says puts a smile on many people’s faces when they finally come to the end of the winding country road & lay their eyes on the quaint picturesque winery & historic buildings.

“And, that’s what it’s all about,” says James, “the satisfaction of putting a smile on someone else’s face and knowing they’re enjoying your wine and your labour.

It’s the satisfaction you get when they come up to you or send you an e-mail that says ‘Hey, we just had a bottle of your wine last night and it was fantastic.”

“And, from my experience in travelling, and tasting Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from around the world, we are producing some fantastic wines here in Prince Edward County and Niagara. We can hold our heads high, and it’s only going to get better.”

Long Dog Winery is truly a gem in this wine region.

Savvy Sommelier Tasting Notes


Long Dog Bella Riserva Chardonnay

Savvy Sommelier & Savvy Company founder Debbie fondly remembers her first visit to Long Dog Winery and walking through the vineyard with James on a cool summer day.  James repeatedly called the Chardonnay vines “his girls”. Tall, trimmed with a great canopy of leaves at the top like an umbrella shading the grapes from the harsh sun.  This ensures that the grapes are slow & evenly ripen.

Savvy Sommelier Tasting Notes: A well-balanced, medium-bodied, cool-climate Chardonnay that offers classic hints of butterscotch, vanilla, and tropical fruit. Very rich, smooth, and warming, with a long finish, that could be enjoyed on its own or with food.

Suggested Food Pairing:  Delivered to you in time for the holiday season, this wine would be a lovely sipping wine and would pair exceptionally well with such appetizers as savoury shortbreads (see recipe below), spicy nuts, or parmesan crisps.

Cellaring: No need to wait – enjoy it now!

Long Dog “Otto” Pinot Noir

James has 3 tiers of his Pinot Noirs – Otto is the mid-tier with Top Dog being the premium – of course! Crafting a good Pinot Noir is considered by winemakers as the pinnacle of winemaking. Pinots are difficult to grow in the vineyards and in the cellar, the wine can change so fast – for the better or worse – as it ages in the barrel.

James does an incredible job each year with his multiple Pinot Noirs at Long Dog Winery – very impressive undertaking!

Savvy Sommelier Tasting Notes: This aromatic, well-balanced Pinot Noir has aromas and flavours of dried and fresh cherries. Its tannins are velvety and its finish long.

Suggested Food Pairing: The Savvy Team imagined that mushroom risotto would be absolutely delicious with this wine.  Enjoy the recipe below, mushroom crêpes, and grilled salmon. All are classic food pairings with Pinot Noir wines and this Otto is definitely a classic!

Cellaring: Enjoy the wine now or cellar it for 2-3 years.

Long Dog Top Dog Pinot Noir

Wines named as “Top Dog” are a blend of the James’ favourite barrels at Long Dog Winery.  Each wine is vinified separately according to age, location, and clone. The result is the best wine possible – naturally.

Savvy Sommelier Tasting Notes:  Stunning red in colour, with hints of violet, cardamom warm spice and leather.  This earthy Pinot Noir has smooth tannins and a velvety finish. To enjoy it at its best advantage, we recommend to decant for 10-15 minutes.

Suggested Food Pairing:  Serve this wine with baked trout.

Cellaring: Drinking well now, this wine will cellar 2-3 years.

Recipes To Enjoy With Your Long Dog Wines

With Long Dog Winery’s Chardonnay…

Savoury Parmesan Shortbread Rounds

Bon Appétit Magazine, December 2007
Makes 24


1 ¾ cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (about 2 1/2 ounces)
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
½ small garlic clove, mincedPinch of cayenne pepper
1 cup (2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes 


Preheat oven to 350°F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

Mix flour, 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, salt, garlic, and cayenne pepper in processor. Add butter and, using on/off turns, process until dough begins to come together. Gather dough into ball. Divide dough in half. Roll each half into 12-inch log, and cut each log into 1-inch pieces.

Roll each piece into ball. Arrange dough balls on prepared baking sheet, spacing about 1 1/2 inches apart. Press each ball into 2-inch-diameter round. Sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese over.

Bake shortbread rounds until tops are dry and bottoms are golden brown, about 20 minutes. Transfer shortbread rounds to rack and cool completely.

DO AHEAD: Shortbread rounds can be made 1 week ahead. Store rounds in airtight container at room temperature, or freeze up to 1 month.

With Long Dog Winery’s ‘Otto’ Pinot Noir …

mushroom risotto

Mushroom Risotto

Gourmet Magazine, April 2005
Serves 6


1 cup dried porcini – optional
3 ¾ cups hot water
5 ¼ cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon soy sauce1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely chopped (approx. 1 cup)
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3/4 lb fresh cremini mushrooms, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 lb Arborio rice (2 1/3 cups)
2/3 cup dry white wine
½ cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley


Soak porcini (if using) in 1 ½ cups hot water in a bowl until softened, about 20 minutes. Lift porcini out, squeezing liquid back into bowl. Rinse to remove any grit and coarsely chop. Pour soaking liquid through a sieve lined with a coffee filter or a dampened paper towel into a 3- to 4-quart saucepan, then add broth, soy sauce, and remaining 21/4 cups water to pan and bring to a simmer.

Meanwhile, heat oil with 1 tablespoon butter in a 4- to 5-quart heavy pot over moderately high heat until foam subsides, then sauté onion, stirring, until just softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and fresh mushrooms and sauté, stirring, until mushrooms are browned and any liquid they give off is evaporated, about 8 minutes. Stir in porcini and cook, stirring, 1 minute, then add rice and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add wine and cook, stirring, until absorbed, about 1 minute.

Stir 1 cup simmering broth into rice and cook, stirring constantly and keeping at a strong simmer, until absorbed. Continue cooking and adding broth, about 1 cup at a time, stirring frequently and letting each addition be absorbed before adding next, until rice is tender and creamy looking but still al dente, 18 to 20 minutes. Thin with some of remaining broth if necessary. (You will have about 1 cup left over.) Remove from heat. Stir in cheese, salt, pepper, and remaining 5 tablespoons butter until butter is melted.

If reserving some risotto to make one of the following recipes, set aside 3 cups and cool to room temperature, then chill, covered with plastic wrap.

Stir parsley into remaining risotto and serve immediately.

With Top Dog Winery’s Pinot Noir…

Maple Salmon on Asian Inspired Greens

Canadian Living Magazine
Serves 8


1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper
2 lb Pacific salmon
6 Tbsp vegetable oil
6 Tbsp soy sauce
2/3 cup rice vinegar
4 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 whole red onion, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp finely minced ginger root
2 lbs assorted mushrooms
6 Tbsp teriyaki sauce
6 to 8 cups baby spinach
2 Tbsp sesame seeds


In a small bowl, mix the maple syrup, soy sauce, garlic, garlic salt, and pepper.

Place salmon in a shallow glass baking dish, and coat with the maple syrup mixture. Cover the dish, and marinate salmon in the refrigerator 20 minutes, turning once.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, mix oil, soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, mustard, onion and gingerroot; set aside.

Place the baking dish in the preheated oven, and bake salmon uncovered 10 minutes, or until easily flaked with a fork.

Pile mushrooms in centre of large piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Drizzle with teriyaki sauce. Fold edges and ends to seal well. Place in over for the last 10 minutes to which the salmon in cooking.

Warm up the dressing which was set aside earlier in a sauce pan just until boiling.

Divide baby spinach evenly among 8 dinner plates. Top with steaming mushrooms and drizzle with warm dressing. Place 1 of salmon piece over each plate of spinach. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds for presentation.

Looking for more Canadian wines like these from Long Dog Winery to try?

Check out our selection of Canadian wines in our online store. We also have monthly wine subscriptions so you never miss out on the delicious wines we discover.

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