Was it chance or destiny that brought Donald Ziraldo and Karl J Kaiser together in 1971 which resulted in the founding of
Inniskillin Wines. Donald was born and raised in Canada; Karl was born in Austria and was quite happy working as a school teacher. He married a Canadian girl and on his visit to Canada he found the wines here to be terrible.
When Russia invaded Czechoslovakia just prior to Karl's return home to Austria; fate would have the Kaiser family returning to Canada settling in St. Catherines. He decided to plant grape vines feeling he could make better wine than the current producers(1). This venture led him to the Ziraldo Nursery where he would eventually meet Donald Ziraldo.
Donald then a student in Agriculture at the University of Guelph would make his own wines when Karl arrived Donald's mother offered him some of Donald's wine which he quite enjoyed. The wine was made from Verdelet a French hybrid grown in the the Ziraldo Vineyard. At this time Labrusca based wines were made in Canada.
Donald's father had planted French hybrides. When his father passed away he began to think of better ways to produce the French hybrides and Vinifera. Donald believed that when it came to grapes you had to make a growth curve based on the plant and its growing season. He received an award for his project at the annual exhibition on wine and grapes. (He would spend the next 25 years working on the project before authoring a book called Anatomy of a Winery .
While tasting Ontario wines in the early 1970's, they realized a gap existed in the premium market segment. They seized the opportunity to fill that gap and set out to break new ground producing premium varietal wines from premium grapes grown in the Niagara Peninsula. Both Karl Kaiser and Donald Ziraldo believed their future in the wine business was dependent on using the Vitis vinifera grapes, the preferred family of grapes used to produce the fine wines in the great wine regions of the world. When sourcing these limited grapes became a challenge in the early 70's, Ziraldo took the lead and planted a vinifera vineyard which included Riesling, Chardonnay and Gamay and formed the quality base for Kaiser to work with.
Major General George Kitching CEO of the Liquor Control Board Ontario tasted their wine, recognizing their spirit and determination granted them a one year provisional licence in April 1974. They could produce 450 gallons to be sold through the New Rare Wine and Spirit Company. On July 31, 1975, Inniskillin Wines Incorporated and its founders Karl J. Kaiser and Donald J.P. Ziraldo were granted the first winery license in Ontario, Canada since prohibition.
Although both Donald Ziraldo and Karl J Kaiser had made wines it was decided Karl a trained chemist would be the winemaker and Donald would be the ambassador sellling their Canadian wines.
This photo of Inniskillin Wines at the Brae Burn Estate is courtesy of TripAdvisor
The original winery was located in the old packing shed on the Ziraldo farm. After working enthusiastically with determination and passion their wines began to sell. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation was impressed and produced a TV show called Ziraldo Zap. They purchased the Brae Burn property in 1978.
In 1975 a British wine critic and author Huge Jackson praised Inniskillin 1974 Maréchal Foch.
The winery built a reputation for this wine and raised production from 500 bottles in 1974 to 20,000 in 1990. Donald in 1980 sold 650 cases to a dealer in Burgund, France. Although this grape was replaced by vinfera such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
VQA Ontario was designated as Ontario's wine authority under the Vintners Quality Alliance Act, 1999 on June 29, 2000 by the Honourable Robert W. Runciman, Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations Donald Ziraldo was the founder of Ontario's VQA the first in Canada
Ziraldo also helped establish CCOVI, the
Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute at Brock University, fostering excellence in winemaking skills in Canada, and he was
instrumental in building the Niagara Culinary Institute, to provide Canadian sommeliers, chefs and hospitality students with the skills to be
our finest ambassadors both at home and abroad. Ziraldo will continue to lend his skills, influence and expertise to the Vineland Research Station, to ensure that research and innovation continues to push Canada forward in being globally recognized as an international leader in
horticultural and environmental concerns. An author, art enthusiast, art deco collector, world class skier, recipient of the Order of Canada
and our beloved Canadian Icewine Ambassador.
In 1991 Donald Ziraldo traveled to the Grand Pix d'Honneur Show taking only their 1989 icewine. It was the award heard around the world; Inniskillin won the gold. Donald did not stand by and celebrate he immediately put together his public relation team (including Deb Pratt and Jane Holland) and made sure the world knew.
Grand Pix d'Honneur
The icewine chapter came in 1983 when Karl Kaiser, Ewald Reif (Reif Vineyards), Hillebrand and Pelee Island all agreed to put aside a small portion of their vineyards aside and attempt to make icewine. With the help of netting Inniskillian was able to produce a 1984 vintage with a label that read Eiswein Vidal (ice wine). The wine won Gold at the 1986 Inter Vin International competition in Toronto. The wines were good but it was up to Ziraldo to sell them.
Ziraldo then introduced icewine to the Asian and US markets. He also enlisted George Riedel to design a icewine glass.
Without the Asian and US markets icewine and Inniskillian may have had a difficult time,
Canadians perhaps due to years of mediocre wines still preferred European wines. It would be the late 1990's before Canadians took pride in their own wines. Meanwhile Donald Ziraldo spent 200 days or more travelling the world promoting Canadian's wines.
Donald Ziraldo at The Greal Wall of China
Donald Ziraldo - George Riedel - Karl Kaiser
The Icewine Glass 1999
Ziraldo was awarded an Honorary Degree from Humber College and an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from Brock University in 1994 (in recognition of achievements including the arts, community service, and contributions to the university). He also received the Order of Ontario in 1993 and 1998. National Post Business Magazine chose Ziraldo as one of the top twenty-five Canadian CEOs of the century in 1999. "More than any individual, Donald Ziraldo embodies Ontario's wine industry," said Robin Garrett, President and CEO of the Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Corporation. He has been a driving influence in bringing together Ontario wines, agriculture, and regional cuisine to the international stage. His biography
He was appointed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs in
2006 to chair the Vineland Renaissance Advisory Panel and sat on the
Ontario Culinary Tourism Steering Committee chaired by the Deputy Minister
of Tourism. He has been a driving influence in bringing together Ontario wines,
agriculture, and regional cuisine to the international stage.
Donald Ziraldo was presented with the Order of Canada, 1998
He left Inniskillin in the hands of the Constellation Group in 2006 and has focused on research and development projects as president of Vineland Research and the Innovation Centre of Horticulture as well as other projects around Ontario.
Donald was awarded (2010) Italy's Masi Civiltà Del Vino Prize, one of the world's most important winemaking awards. He was regonized for opening Inniskillin and developing it into one of the most important producers in Canada. Also for his Ziraldo's marketing expertise developing the VQA designation as a mark of quality for Niagara wines and introduced uniquely Canadian icewine to the world. for promoting the art of winemaking in Niagara through the use of native grapes and traditional methods, updated with the latest technology
Recently he was named
Brock University Faculty of Business Distinguished Leader for 2011/12.
He has since launched two new icewines — Equifera and Ziraldo — and recently been appointed Managing Director of Senhora do Convento, a unique and beautiful port winery in Portugal that Dr. Ziraldo has been charged with bringing to the world stage
Pinnacle Awards 2017, the Rosanna Caira Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Donald Ziraldo,
(1) There were only seven wineries operating at this time in Ontario. Andres,Barnes, T.G. Bright's, Jordan Chateau Gai, Parkdale and The London Wine Company
~ Donald Ziraldo
~ Inniskillin Wines
~ Niagara's Wine Visionaries - Linda Bramble - James Lorimer & Company Publishers
~ Icewine Extreme Winemaking -Donald Ziraldo, Karl Kaiser -Key Porter
~ Ice Wine the Complete Story
- John Schriener, Warwick Publishing
~ The Wines of Canada- John Schriener -Mitchell Beazley, Classic Wine Library
~ Brock University