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.
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.