These cold temps are good for one former Gryphon

Ziraldo in London

Don Ziraldo (left) promoting his wines in London, UK

Former Gryphon QB Don Ziraldo [BSc Agric ’71] is well known for his role in revolutionizing the Canadian wine industry. He and his former partner Karl Kaiser were the founders of Inniskillin, the first new winery in Ontario since Prohibition. They were particularly famous for the Icewines they made. Over the last three decades Ziraldo became the face of the Canadian Wine industry to the world.

Icewines obviously require cold temperatures. So this winter has been a good one for Niagara vineyards and Icewine producers. The following is an excerpt from a January 2015 story – Canadian Icewine Primer – that appeared in Bloomberg Business.

While most of us are dreaming of escaping to a warm Caribbean beach, Canadian Icewine pioneer Donald Ziraldo is craving temperatures below zero. To make his luscious riesling icewines on the Niagara Peninsula he needs frosty frozen grapes on leafless vines.

I’m a huge fan of these expensive elixirs—and so are sweet-toothed Chinese. In 2013 they swallowed more than 42 percent of all Canada’s icewine, about 104,000 liters worth more than $8 million. The rest of Asia—South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore—snapped up another 30 percent.

Demand is so high that fakes, some made from flavored alcohol and water, are a serious, growing problem.

The real stuff is ideal for Chinese New Year gifts, but for me, taste is the big appeal: ripe tropical fruit or caramel apple sweetness contrasted with zingy acidity and a thick, rich texture that coats your tongue like liquid honey. Maybe that’s why imports to the U.S. are finally growing, having tripled since 2011.

Ziraldo, who co-founded Ontario’s Inniskillin winery with Austrian-born winemaker Karl Kaiser and now has his own eponymous boutique estate, is the Johnny Appleseed of Canadian Icewine. He’s been making it since 1984 and has crisscrossed the globe preaching its virtues and stocking duty free shops at Asian airports.

Source: Inniskillin via Bloomberg

The big break came in 1991 at VinExpo, the world’s biggest wine trade fair, when Kaiser and Ziraldo’s 1989 Inniskillin Vidal Icewine won the top prize and put Canada—and icewine—on the world’s wine map.

Cool Temps, Hot Market

When I reached him by phone last week, Ziraldo wasn’t worried that the temperature on the Niagara peninsula was 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Harvest dates, he reminded me, vary dramatically from year to year. The cold would come. In British Columbia, picking had started early, in November. In Ontario, which produces about 80 percent of Canada’s icewine, he and most others were waiting.

“Each time the grapes freeze, thaw, then refreeze,’’ Ziraldo says, “the liquid inside the grape becomes sweeter and thicker.’’

It turns out the traditional, labor-intensive winemaking is even more risky and extreme than I realized.

Click here to read full story.

Learn more about Don Ziraldo’s current work in this video:

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