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Inniskillin Winery Founders Call It Quits

Donald Ziraldo established Canada's first post-Prohibition winery and won global recognition for ice wine

Konrad Ejbich
Posted: November 27, 2006

Donald Ziraldo, who founded Inniskillin with Austria-born winemaker Karl Kaiser in 1974, has resigned his position as president of the winery. The decision came just one month after Kaiser announced his own retirement, and less than a year after the winery's holding company, Vincor, was acquired in a takeover by Constellation Brands, the world's largest wine company, for $1.3 billion.

"Karl's retirement and the many changes over the past years prompted me to review my career and my life," Ziraldo said in his opening remarks at the kickoff of the Ottawa Food & Wine Show, held Nov. 3-5. Inniskillin has been run entirely by Vincor for several years, with Ziraldo acting mainly as a figurehead to promote the winery abroad.

Ziraldo lobbied Ontario's conservative government to issue the first post-Prohibition winery license, arguing that he and his partner could make better wines than existing wine "manufacturers" could. Then liquor board chairman general George Kitching took a liking to Ziraldo and Kaiser, and gave the pair of upstarts their first license in 1974.

In the early years, Kaiser raised the quality and profile of winemaking while Ziraldo, the young bachelor and charismatic promoter, pushed the wines in Paris, London, New York and Los Angeles. Inniskillin pioneered Canada's shift to growing vinifera varieties, introduced the first vineyard-designated bottlings and spearheaded the establishment of the Vintners' Quality Alliance, the country's first quality-driven wine producers' association. Global recognition came when Inniskillin won the Grand Prix d'Honneur at VinExpo in 1991 for its 1989 ice wine.

Ziraldo, now 58, said it was time to "pass the torch," adding that he plans to travel, ski and spend some time with his new bride, Anna Netter-Ziraldo.

Vincor, now operating as its own entity under Constellation, has named Bruce Nicholson senior winemaker for Inniskillin Niagara. Nicholson was previously at another Vincor property, Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Estate. Kaiser will serve as a consultant to Nicholson on Inniskillin's ice wine production.

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