Weinbauren und Winzer

(translation: Wine Growers and Winemakers)

With this bottling of 2018 Game Changer Red we honour all passionate wine growers (Weinbauren) and winemakers (Winzer) around the world. Now, why did we choose these unfamiliar German words for both groups? They were chosen for a specific reason. Not only do we wish to honour all grape growers and winemakers, but we also want to shine a specific light on all the Ontario wine industry professionals that emigrated from Germany to help establish the base and grow quality wine production in our region. It is a large community and they are clearly Canadian now but still very proud of their German heritage. Many of the early immigrant’s children are now well established and driving the Ontario wine industry. In fact, there are many cases where the grand children are doing the very same. Still, they all remember where they came from even though they “bleed maple syrup” as proud Canadians!

Why did Germany have such a great influence on the beginnings of the Ontario wine industry? Why did the German viticulturalists and winemakers choose to come here specifically? The Ontario climate and terroir was familiar to them. They knew that they could apply the lessons from the old world here. They were also looking to strike out into the “new frontier” and be pioneers. They wanted to shake the restrictions of well-established rules, regulation and “norms”. They wanted to come to a land where anything was possible. Imagine the type of people who would give up security and stability to risk it all on a new place far from home. Yes. Those are the people that came. They were (and still are) brave, stalwart and creative. They were, and still are, visionaries.

In fact, the beginning of the wine industry in Ontario is attributed to a German immigrant Johanne Shiller in 1811. Near modern day Port Credit, Shiller cultivated the indigenous grapes, fermented them into wine and sold the wine to his community. That was our beginning. The wine was most likely horrible but it did the trick. Shiller was working with wild North American grapes. That would start to change in the 1960s. The full force of only using proper vinifera (old world grapes cultivated for centuries) and vinifera hybrid grapes would finally come with the establishment of the Vintner’s Quality Alliance (VQA) in the late 1980s leading to Ontario law in 1999 (2000).

Our own roots at Vineland Estates Winery reach all the way back to the little German (Mosel) town of Leiwen where Hermann Weiss still has the St. Urbans-hof Winery and nursery. Thankfully, Hermann is still with us but his son Nik now runs the entire business. Nik is looking forward to his children coming into the business as they are just about that age. Still, it was Hermann back in 1979 who saw the potential of our “home vineyard” – our 40 acre St. Urban Vineyard that is now world renown. Back in 1979, it was just a poor farm that no one really wanted. Oh, how the times have changed!