Looking to the future, Donald Ziraldo planted Inniskillin’s first vinifera vineyard of Riesling, Chardonnay and Gamay which was first harvested in 1977. This is the heart of what would be Inniskillin’s philosophy of producing premium wines from premium grapes grown in the Niagara Peninsula.
The site of this 30 acre vineyard is located on Line 3, across from the existing winery and was purchased in 1978 by Albrecht Seeger and his family who still operate it.
Donald Ziraldo and Karl Kaiser founded Inniskillin Wines Inc. and was granted the first winery license since 1929 from General George Kitching, head of LCBO. The original winery site was Ziraldo Nurseries, formerly the farm which was owned by Colonel Cooper in the 1800’s and was named for his Irish Regiment, the Inniskilling Fusiliers.
Inniskillin derived its name from this early history and the connection to the land.
Inniskillin Wines moved from the original site (top) to the Brae Burn Estate (bottom). Grapes were planted and the new winery was built where there were once cornfields. Brae Burn is Gaelic translating to “hill stream”-the hill is referencing the Niagara Escarpment and the stream is referencing the Niagara River.
In 1982, the Montague Vineyard was purchased from Stan Murzda comprising of 50 acres with an additional 50 acres acquired in 1991.
This Niagara-on-the-Lake Estate vineyard has and continues to produce single vineyards bottlings of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris.
Inniskillin winemaker, Karl Kaiser harvested the first Icewine from Vidal grapes frozen naturally on the vine at the winery site (Brae Burn Vineyard).
Inniskillin Icewine went on to become “ONE OF THE WORLD’S GREAT WINES” as coined by the title of a book published in the 1990’s that Inniskillin Icewine was included in. The first attempt to make Icewine was actually in 1983 but the birds ate all the grapes from the vines that were not netted for protection.
Inniskillin forms an Import Division until the mid 90s representing key wines from around the world including Far Niente, Stags Leap,Taltarni, Gaja, Newton, Jaffelin and others. The Import Division was to position Inniskillin in the company of established, well respected international wineries.
VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance) was established as an appellation of origin and standards system led by founding chair Donald Ziraldo. This system secured credibility for pending Free Trade challenges and future export initiatives.
The same year the Free Trade Agreement was introduced, Inniskillin purchased vineyards in Napa Valley to form Inniskillin Napa. Production of Chardonnay and Merlot under the Terra label reinforced Inniskillin's growing reputation as a permanent force in the wine world.This venture continued until the mid 90s.
Inniskillin received the most prestigious award in the wine world at Vin Expo, France - the Grand Prix d'Honneur for Karl’s 1989 Vidal Icewine. This was the major turning point thrusting Inniskillin into the international limelight clearly establishing major credibility as a serious wine producer as well as lifting the profile of Canadian wines at the same time.
Canadian Artist Brad Copping is commissioned to create the first of an annual (1992-2002) limited production of a hand blown ice sculpture containing Inniskillin Icewine.
A permanent collection of the Inniskillin Ice sculptures is part of the Toronto Design Exchange and included in Rachel Gotleib’s book “Design in Canada.”
Alliance, the first joint venture between Canada and France was with Inniskillin and Jaffelin of Cote D’Or, Burgundy and launched in 1993 at the Toronto Design Exchange. Winemaker’s Karl Kaiser and Bernard Repolt collaborated 1993 to 2007 on these VQA wines reinforcing Inniskillin’s theme of “PARTNERS IN EXCELLENCE”.
This was the first association between two cool climate regions to produce a limited offering of VQA Alliance Pinot Noir and Alliance Chardonnay.
Inniskillin Okanagan was established as a collaboration between Inniskillin and the Inkameep Indian Band (Okanquen Tribe) in the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia. A variety of wines including Icewine are produced with the original label reflecting the native heritage specifically the "Dark Horse Vineyard".
Sandor Mayer became Winemaker in 1996.
A new label for Inniskillin Niagara further reinforced a strong presence in the wine world. Our philosophy of “INNOVATION INSPIRED BY TRADITION” challenged acclaimed international designer Jeffrey Caldewey. The primary feature of this label is an engraving of the historic Brae Burn Barn created by Master Engraver Yves Baril who was well known for engraving the Parliamentary Library on the Canadian twenty dollar bill. The original sketch on the engraving was done by Robert Swartley.
The architecture of the Brae Burn Barn is thought to be inspired by famed architect Frank Lyold Wright due to his early commissions in the area.
June 1999 marked the opening of Inniskillin Hall at the Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) at Brock University which stands as a fitting tribute to the tradition and pioneering spirit with which co-founders Karl Kaiser and Donald Ziraldo began.
Inniskillin works with Georg Riedel to create the Riedel Vinum Extreme Icewine Glass through a seminar/tasting in Toronto with twenty journalists. The Icewine glass was released in 2000.
Icewine master Kaiser launches VQA Sparkling Icewine to celebrate the millennium with his 1998 vintage of Vidal Sparkling.
Inniskillin is recognized by Wine Enthusiast Magazine as the New World Winery of the Year. Co-founders Karl Kaiser and Donald Ziraldo accepted this honour at a gala dinner in New York City from Editor Adam Strum and Canadian Consul General Pamela Wallin.
Inniskillin becomes a proud sponsor of the Canadian Olympic Team, with the philosophy ‘Cultivating Canadian Champions’. A special planting of Riesling grapes, which will be used specifically for Icewine, takes place in July of 2004 at the winery site. Individual vines are sold to raise money for the Athlete’s Excellence Fund.
Commemorative Olympic labels were designed for 3 different Inniskillin Wines – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Vidal Icewine and launched at the LCBO.
IWSC Best Dessert Wine
Winemaker Sandor Mayer wins the Best Icewine Trophy for his 2003 Inniskillin Okanagan Riesling Icewine at the International Wine and Spirits Competition, London, UK.
Co-founders Donald Ziraldo and Karl Kaiser leave Inniskillin. Karl eased into retirement and Donald went on to chair Vineland Research and Innovation Center (2006-2011) and remains involved in the wine industry.
Bruce Nicholson joins Inniskillin as Winemaker after a stellar career at Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Estate Winery, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia.
Bruce Nicholson initiates a partnership between Inniskillin Wines and StormFisher Biogas to generate clean and renewable electricity from the winery’s grape by-products (grape skin and seeds).
Renovations - Starting in 2007, Phase One of extensive renovations is completed with a new entrance, parking pods amongst the vineyards and The Piazza to welcome and connect guests to all areas. Founders’ Hall is a major hospitality area for public and private events which includes a state of the art Demonstration Kitchen.
Phase Two of the renovations is completed of the Brae Burn Barn where new designs complemented the existing barn structure where new entrances, bars and internal architecture of the beam structure are profiled.
July 2008 reflected the official launch of the two year renovations-Inniskillin: The Next Milestone! To honour this, actual engraved milestones were embedded in The Piazza highlighting Inniskillin’s major accomplishments since 1975.
Bruce Nicholson’s Icewine shines at Vinitaly 2008 with a Grand Gold for 2006 Vidal and Gold for 2006 Riesling.
Bruce Nicholson captures the top award-Premio Speciale Gran Award at Vinitaly 2009-with the highest scores in two categories with his 2006 Gold Vidal and his 2006 Sparkling Vidal Icewine.
Vancouver Olympic Sponsorship with Vincor includes Inniskillin Ice Gate Sponsorship at Richmond O Zone. The Ice Gate was created by Canadian Artist Gord Halloran with his artwork profiled on our 2006 Commemorative Vidal Icewine label. Artwork is called ‘Paintings below Zero’, a natural fit for Inniskillin Icewine.
DRINKS INTERNATIONAL MAGAZINE (Sept. issue) has listed INNISKILLIN among the World’s 50 Most Admired Wine Brands (#48) and among the Top Ten in North America Wines (#7).
Swiss International Air Lines has selected Inniskillin Gold Oak Aged Vidal Icewine 2006 (VQA) to be served in First Class on all intercontinental routes.
Bruce Nicholson garners a major number of international and domestic awards with over 50% for his iconic Icewines.The shining star amongst these awards is the 2008 Riesling Icewine with the following recognition:
- International Wine and Spirits Competition, London UK
- OUTSTANDING GOLD
- San Francisco International Wine
- Selections Mondials des Vins Canada-GOLD
- Ontario Wine Awards-WINE OF THE YEAR; GOLD
- Lieutenant Governor’s Award of Excellence for Ontario Wine
International Wine and Spirits Competition Awards Banquet
Winemaker Bruce Nicholson was on hand to receive the Top Canadian Producer Award from IWSC President, Mauricio Gonzalez Gordon, amidst the grand setting of the historic Guildhall in London, England.