He came to Canada from Germany in 1977 at the age of forty. He purchased Riverscout farm and planted Vinifera vines. a young agriculture student in Germany, Ewald Reif listened with great interest as one of his instructors spoke of his travels to Canada and to the vine-growing area of Niagara. It is believed he came to Canada at the urging of Karl Kaiser. His first few harvests were sold to Inniskillin. Ewald comes from a family of 12 generation winemakers.
After having his family ship barrels and completely redoing the building on the farm he opened Reif Estate Winery in 1983 with his brother Gunther Reif.
The move to Niagara was a bold step that required a total uprooting of native vines in flavour of vinifera plantings. It wasn't until 1983 that the first wines from Reif Estates were finally bottled for sale.
In 1947, there were 15,000 acres of vineyards in Ontario and growers harvested 36,000 tons of grapes. The value of processing sales to wineries was $2.5 million.
At the time of formation, the grapes being grown were labrusca varieties, native to this region of North America. Although ideal for juice, preserves, and dessert and low alcohol wines, their lower sugar levels and higher acids are not suited for the lighter, and dry, table wines which today dominate the world of wines. But that was then.
In the ensuing years, the nature of the grape and wine industry has changed dramatically.
Between 1989 and 1991, growers removed 8,000 acres of labrusca and hybrid vines and, over time, replaced them with Vitis vinifera vines, traditional European varieties. As part of the federal/provincial Grape Adjustment Program, this replacement program was designed to remove grape varieties deemed surplus to industry needs, and move forward with varieties suited for the higher quality table wines that consumers were demanding. At the same time, labruscas were banned from all table wines made in Ontario.
This was the turning point for Ontario grape growers and the Ontario grape and wine industry. Vineyard expansions, upgrading and changes continued with a focus on Vitis vinifera production.
Ewald Reif was ahead of the times knowing immediately upon coming to Canada it was necessary to plant Viniferi Vines. This included Chardonnay, Riesling, Gamay, the Cabernets and Merlots. The winery’s first vintages in 1982 included Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Vidal
Ewald Reif 1983
In 1982, Peter Gamble, a young winemaker from Hillebrand Estates (started in 1979 as Newark wines) tried to make icewine for his personal use, but an unfortunate accident spoiled the experiment. A year later, icewine caught the attention of Donald Ziraldo, the co-founder of Inniskillin Wines, and Karl Kaiser, his winemaker and business partner. They set aside a few rows of Vidal for late harvesting. Ewald Reif of Reif Winery and Walter Strehn of Pelee Island Winery also agreed to set aside grapes just for icewine. also joining them was Hillebrand winery under Dr. Joseph Pohorly and the above mentioned Peter Gamble.
With the help of netting Inniskillin 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. Karl Kaiser. said in an interview "the idea to make icewine came from Ewald." He would soon follow with his own icewine.