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How Canada’s Icewine Pioneer is coping with Covid

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10/02/2021 Donald Ziraldo has put Canada on the world-map in the wine world with his award-winning icewine and talks about how they are doing business during the pandemic.

Located in Niagra-on-the-lake, Ziraldo Estate Winery specializes in award-winning Riesling Ice Wine, whose 2014 vintage, with 90 points, won a gold medal at the 2020 Sommeliers Choice Awards. Ziraldo Estate Winery is founded and run by a Canadian vintner and a recipient of the Order of Canada in 1998, Donald Ziraldo. Donald is often acknowledged as one of the most important figures in the Canadian wine industry, along with his partner Karl Kaiser. The two have been credited with starting the first winery in Canada since prohibition, Inniskillin Wines

2014 Ziraldo Icewine Gold Medal winner at 2020 Sommeliers Choice Awards 

2014 Ziraldo Icewine Gold Medal winner at 2020 Sommeliers Choice Awards 

Following his departure from Inniskillin Wines, Donald started Ziraldo Estate Winery by planting an ‘experimental’ Riesling Vineyard at the original Inniskillin property. Along with the famous Riesling icewine, the Ziraldo brand also specializes in a limited edition Picolit and Riesling table wines.

Originally planted in 2007, the vineyard consists of five clones of Riesling planted on five different rootstocks as an experiment to determine which clone is most suitable for the Niagara Appellation.

Canada’s icewine pioneer talks to us about how Ziraldo is coping with the challenges brought on by the pandemic. 

How did you respond as a business to the lockdown in terms of managing teams and furloughing staff?

“We stayed the course and shifted our focus.”

How have you found the various teams working from home – any challenges, and how did you overcome them?

“We faced a few challenges. We discovered that staff is very resilient and innovative.”

Which areas of the business have been impacted the most, and how have you responded?

“Retail was impacted the most. Our response? Grin and bear it.”

How were your online sales during the lockdown, and what lessons have you learned?

“Online sales are certainly improving, and I think that the silver lining in this lockdown has been people’s shift to online purchasing of wines.”

How about the on-trade? What steps have you taken to keep in contact and support your customers?

“Keeping up personal contact and doing zoom calls to remain top of the mind.”

What changes have you seen in the on-trade since the lockdown has lifted?

“Lots of layoffs. Selling off wine cellars to generate cash flow.”

What kinds of drinks are being bought right now? What impact has there been on pricing and the size of drinks lists?

“It seems that many customers are going for lower prices. The premium market is strong. However, the midmarket is suffering most.”

What have you done in terms of online tastings and Zoom events? Has this been effective? 

“Zoom tasting and events have been extremely successful. I have done both local and international. Great way to meet a large number of people and simultaneously make a contribution to the planet/ environment.”

Donald Ziraldo, Founder & Owner

Donald Ziraldo, Founder & Owner

What lessons and opportunities have you learned for the future in terms of how you do tastings and events?

“I will definitely do more on the internet.”

What are your thoughts on what might happen over the next six to 12 months? Are you optimistic or pessimistic?

“Optimistic about the business. However, gravely concerned about the consequences on restaurants. Sommeliers, in particular, might be hit hard.”

What will be the key factors that you need to get right to determine your success in 2021?

“Keep an open mind and listen. The hospitality industry will have to reinvent for all intents and purposes. The younger generation will manage it much better since they will not be making what we generally are seeing as an upheaval of the hospitality industry as we knew it.”

What is your strategy to grow distribution in 2021?

“Be prepared and support the customers who have been struggling through this pandemic.”

2014 Riesling icewine by Ziraldo Estate Winery

The 2014 Riesling icewine is succulent and refreshing ice wine, with notes of saffron, honey, ginger, jasmine, and candied orange. On the nose, the aromas are reminiscent of white and tropical fruits, with overtones of peach nectar and mango. 

The Niagara Peninsula's unique climate provides the ideal conditions to ripen the fruit. The cold winters naturally freeze the water in the berries to yield an exquisite balance of fruit, acid, and an extraordinary array of flavors which results in this fine wine, often called "liquid gold".

The secret to great Icewine is the ideal balance between the intense sweetness and the inherent high acidity from the cool climate region of Niagara. These Riesling grapes, naturally frozen on the vine, were harvested during the middle of the night and pressed in the extreme cold to separate the juice from the ice crystals, followed by fermentation in a special yeast for many months. This remarkable process concentrates the sugar and acids - intensifying the aromatic flavors in the berries. 

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