Tastemaker: Brian Schmidt, Vineland Estates Winery (Ontario)

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Like so many of the new people we encounter and befriend these days, I first met Brian Schmidt, winemaker and vice president of Vineland Estates Winery via social media — I think it was Twitter. He’s a fellow cabernet franc fanatic (he makes some great ones) and later, when I met him in person during TasteCamp 2011 I discovered that he more than has a way with riesling too.

I mostly only get to drink Brian’s wines when our mutual friend, wine writer Rick VanSickle from Wines in Niagara, brings them to TasteCamp most years, where they are always a highlight of the annual, somewhat-famous TasteCamp BYOB dinners.

In many ways, Brian represents what a winemaker in this day and age can and should be. He has the utmost respect for the terroir of the vineyards he works with, while also embracing technological advances that enable him to best express that terroir. Check out this story Rick wrote and this video about Vineland’s optical sorter as an example.

If you ever find yourself in Ontario wine country, go see Brian. You won’t be disappointed. In the meantime, get to know him a bit. He’s a true tastemaker.


Location: Vineland, Ontario, Canada

Current Job: Winemaker and Vice President of Vineland Estates Winery

Wine/cider/beer of the moment: Redstone Winery 2013 Reserve Cabernet Franc

My winemaking style in 1-5 words: Elegant. Restrained. Truthful. Focused, Confident.

First bottle of wine I remember drinking: Our 1981 Gewurztraminer at Sumac Ridge in British Columbia. I was 14 . The intense aroma shocked me. The acid was very low so as to not challenge my young palate. The aroma I remember is still a benchmark for me for great Gewurztraminer.

How I got here: The long way! After our family sold Sumac Ridge, I wanted nothing to do with wine. I moved to Vancouver Island, was a commercial scuba diver for 3+ years — and learned I was more mortal than I thought. I had enough terrible experiences that, in the fall of 1991, I came to Vineland to help my brother (who had come in 1988) with harvest and to re-focus my direction — not intending to stay here.

Now, 25 years later, I am still here.

My winemaking style — in more words: Vineyard-focused and malleable!

In a climate that changes day-to-day, let alone vintage-to-vintage, I need to be able to create consistency. This requires me to look at all the potential solutions (in the vineyard and the winery) and make some subtle and some not-so-subtle adjustments regularly.

Mentors: My grandfather — a pioneer in the Canadian Wine industry. He believed in Canadian wine long before anyone even knew it existed.

Music playing in the cellar right now: I always enjoy having classical music playing in the background.

Favorite thing about the local wine industry: Easy — VQA. The founding principles of VQA were to create a standard for winemaking. This standard would serve to elevate the quality of wines made in Ontario. The world is now noticing that Ontario is a winemaking leader in many respects.

Least favorite thing about the local wine industry: The five-month-long harvest. We start with sparking at the end of August… and finish with icewine (usually) at the end of January.

One surprising thing that I’m really good at: I’m mechanically inclined. It is a huge asset to a winery for their winemaker to be able to fix stuff. In a small winery, things are always needing to be monkey wretched. We don’t have large budgets that allow for onsite mechanics or technicians. We need to be able to fix things quickly and inexpensively.

What I drink: I enjoy gin, especially when enjoyed with my 98-year-old grandmother..

My “Desert Island Meal” — wine/cider/beer included: I can never turn down a toasted tomato sandwich in the fall with tomatoes freshly picked in our garden. I love that.

I also love to be in Germany in the spring, when it is spargle (white asparagus) season. Served with Hollandaise and a medium-rare ribeye steak. If that could be enjoyed with a Clos Rougeard, all the better.

About Author

Lenn Thompson, a proud Pittsburgh, PA native, moved to Long Island more than a decade ago and quickly fell in love with the region’s dynamic and emerging wine community. A digital and content marketing and community professional by day, he founded NewYorkCorkReport.com in early 2004 to share his passion for the wines, beers and spirits of New York State. Since then, the site has become the premier source for independent New York wine commentary, reviews and news. Formerly the editor of the Long Island Wine Gazette, a contributor to Edible Brooklyn, wine columnist for Hamptons.com and regional editor for Appellation America covering the Long Island and Hudson River Valley regions, Lenn contributes to Edible East End, Palate Press, Patch and is the wine columnist for Dan’s Papers in the Hamptons. Lenn is also on the board of directors for Drink Local Wine, and is the creator and founder of TasteCamp, a yearly regional wine immersion event for writers and bloggers. An admitted riesling and cabernet franc fanatic, he’s intensely passionate about eating drinking local and the many local wine regions of America. Lenn lives in Miller Place, NY with his wife Nena, son Jackson, daughter Anna and their dog, Casey Lemieux Thompson.

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