90-year-old Stratus Vineyards employee has no plans to retire

Fred Doyle says he’s seen too many former colleagues slowly slip away after retirement.

“They would come home and sit on their porch and only last a few years because they weren’t active,” he said.

It’s a fate Doyle has spent the past 31 years avoiding.

He “retired young” at age 58 in 1991 after rising through the ranks from “office boy” at the Domtar paper mill in Quebec more than 60 years ago to eventually become manager of the Domtar mill in Thorold.

But Doyle never stopped working.

Doyle’s second career was working as a freelance consultant for paper companies in the United States and Canada, including writing employee training manuals for a company. After about eight years, he said he chose to retire for the second time.

But that retreat didn’t last long either.

In the early 2000s, he landed a job at a local winery that was looking for bilingual staff.

Then, in 2007, he took on a guest relations host position at Stratus Vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake and hasn’t looked back, despite his age.

Now, at 90, the St. Catharines resident is well into his final career and still learning a lot in the process. He works two shifts a week serving Stratus customers and, before the pandemic, led wine tours.

“I learned a lot about wine making,” he says. “I will never be a winegrower or winegrower, but it’s still interesting.

The closest he said he ever came to making wine was a batch of Virginia cherry wine he brewed when he was in his thirties, still living in Quebec.

“It was the vilest thing,” he recalls with a laugh. “There were a lot of chokecherries growing in the fields and we thought about making wine. We had no idea. I think we added sugar and hoped it would ferment.

He said most of his wine knowledge was acquired through “osmosis”, absorbing information about the industry while working at the winery.

This knowledge impressed the visitors.

The winery shared some of their comments.

“What a great experience,” wrote one customer. “Fred did so much more than expected. What an awesome and worldly person Fred is. So much knowledge of wine and Canadian wine history. We will definitely be back and highly recommend.”

Another customer described Doyle as “warm, welcoming and very funny”.

“He was very knowledgeable about his wines and gave us a little insight into how the wines are made,” the individual wrote.

Doyle said he enjoys spending his time with customers.

“I meet a lot of interesting people. I love chatting with Quebecers to keep my French up to date.

Last week, Doyle celebrated his 90th birthday at the winery.

Stratus Estate Manager Suzanne Janke called Doyle a “legend” at the celebration.

“His good humor, his mischievous laugh and his boundless energy delight people every time they meet him. His colleagues, from mid-teens to mid-70s, love working with him. He has been a dear friend and a role model of what it means to live life to the fullest for all of us,” Janke said.

“I suspect he’s one of the oldest employees in the wine region, and that’s worth a big toast.”

Doyle said he has no immediate plans to retire, again.

“When I feel like I’m not contributing my share, I’ll retire,” he said.

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