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

Fred Doyle says he has watched too many former colleagues slowly slip away after they retired.

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

That’s a fate Doyle has spent the past 31 years evading.

He “retired young” at age 58 in 1991 after working his way up from “office boy” at the Domtar paper mill in Quebec more than 60 years ago to eventually become manager at the Domtar plant in Thorold.

But Doyle has never stopped working.

Doyle’s second career was working as a self-employed consultant for paper companies in the U.S. and Canada, including writing employee training manuals for one company. After about eight years, he said chose to retire for a second time.

But that retirement didn’t last long either.

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

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

Now, at 90 years old, the St. Catharines resident is well into his latest career, and still learning a great deal in the process. He works two shifts a week serving Stratus customers and, prior to the pandemic, led wine tours.

“I’ve learned a lot about wine making,” he said. “I’ll never be a winemaker or viticulturist, but it’s still interesting.”

The closest he said he’s ever come to wine making was a batch of chokecherry wine he brewed when he was in his 30s, still living in Quebec.

“It was the vilest stuff,” he recalled with a laugh. “There were a lot of chokecherries growing in the back fields and we thought we’d make some wine. We didn’t have a clue. I think we added sugar and hoped it would ferment.”

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

That knowledge has impressed visitors.

The winery shared some of their comments.

“What a great experience,” wrote one customer. “Fred made it much more than expected. What an impressive, worldly person Fred is. So much knowledge about wine and the Canadian wine history. We will definitely be back and highly recommend.”

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

“He knew his wines very well and told us a bit about 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 talking to people from Quebec to keep my French up to date.”

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

Stratus estate director Suzanne Janke called Doyle “a legend” during that celebration.

“His good humour, mischievous chuckle and boundless energy delight folks every time they make his acquaintance. His colleagues ranging from their mid-teens to mid-70s adore working with him. He has been a dear friend and role model of what it means to live life to the fullest for all of us,” Janke said.

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

Doyle said he has no immediate plans of retiring, again.

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