After a two-year hiatus from the wine industry, Donald Ziraldo, formerly of Inniskillin Wines in Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula, is back in business with an ice wine. "There's just too much in the industry that kind of sucks you back in again," he said.
I first met Ziraldo in 1986, while living and working in Toronto. Eleven years earlier, he cofounded Inniskillin, the first Ontario winery to receive a license since Prohibition ended in 1929. Thus began the rejuvenation of the Canadian wine industry.
Over the years, he expanded into British Columbia with Inniskillin Okanagan, and purchased a vineyard in Napa Valley. Inniskillin eventually merged with Cartier Wines and Beverages and, after acquiring T.G. Bright & Co. in 1993, changed the name to Vincor International. In 2006, Vincor was swallowed up by Constellation Brands.
Ziraldo was seduced by some ice wine juice from the 2007 vintage. "A buddy of mine up the road in Vineland, [John Howard], who used to own Vineland Estates, had a little extra ice wine so I was going to help him sell it," he explained. "I tasted it and loved the stuff. It was Riesling and it had that beautiful peach aroma that I only ever saw in the Okanagan [British Columbia], where it's much hotter. 2007 [in Niagara] was a really hot vintage."
After two deals fell through, Ziraldo played with the packaging (designed by Max Kaiser, the son of Ziraldo's former partner and longtime Inniskillin winemaker Karl Kaiser) and decided to register the brand himself.
"I felt bad for John [Howard] because I said I would sell it so I said to him you know what, I'll put my name on it and sell it bottle by bottle."
|Donald Ziraldo is back in the ice wine game, with style.
The inaugural Ziraldo Riesling Niagara Peninsula Ice Wine 2007 will cost $59 for a 375ml bottle. The initial release consists of two hundred six-packs. Ziraldo hopes to continue the brand in the future. Currently, he has distribution in Canada, France and Hong Kong and hopes to eventually export the dessert wine to the United States.
is a specialty of the Niagara region. The grapes, usually Riesling or Vidal (a French hybrid), must be frozen on the vines before harvesting. When they are pressed, the ice is discarded, leaving a concentrated juice to be fermented into ice wine. In 1991, Inniskillin was awarded the Grand Prix d'Honneur for its 1989 Vidal Ice Wine.
Ziraldo had retired in November 2006
, shortly after Vincor was sold to Constellation Brands. For the past two years, he's served as voluntary chairman of Vineland Research and Innovation Center, a 100-year-old federal and provincial government facility. He was instrumental in reviving the center, which was about to be closed, as a catalyst for horticultural research for the Niagara Peninsula.
Not content with a little ice wine to sell, Ziraldo is also planting an experimental Riesling vineyard this spring on the site of the original Inniskillin property. He's cleared a 2-acre cherry orchard and plans to develop an authentic research block with five clones and four rootstocks.
"I spent last year putting in drainage, an irrigation pond and preparing all the land. I'm going to do it organic and biodynamic so it will all be part of the research block," he said.
The goal is to work with the Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute
(CCOVI) at Brock University in the region to document the research on Riesling and ice wine.
"As I went around collecting clones, it was interesting how little [plant] material is recorded, especially in the early days when we brought material in,” he continued. “Also, part of the reason is to get more focus on clonal selection as we do more and more selection of [plant] material for our terroir
and climatic conditions, which we have to do because we are in a more marginal area."