Magdalena Kaiser is Director of Public Relations for Wine Country Ontario, and a longstanding Friend of the Circle. In this interview, Amanda Barnes learns about her wine story from siphoning wine at a young age with her father to managing cool climate conferences and being part of the growing, dynamic wine scene in Ontario.
What was your earliest memory in wine?
I suppose you could say I was born into wine. My earliest memory of wine is helping my father fill wine bottles by hand in our garage when I was five years old. It’s a vivid memory that I hold close to my heart. I also recall the smell of harvest and the small Italian basket press in the driveway every autumn.
He had emigrated from Austria to Niagara, Ontario, and made his own “Kaiser’s Best” at home before he co-founded Inniskillin wines in 1974 and became known as the grandfather of Canadian wine. My father taught me many wine things including how to siphon wine, read a refractometer and clean the inside of a tank.
What excites you in particular about working with the wines of Ontario?
Working with Ontario wine is part of my DNA. Honestly, it’s been exciting right from the start and perhaps I take that for granted. I suppose it’s the fact that we grow grapes and make wine in one of the most challenging places in the world – but that makes it thrilling. Against all odds, we’ve carved out something special. And in a short time, we’ve come a long way, making some of the world’s best wines. Vintage variation is challenging but that’s part of what makes us dynamic and really allows us to make wines that reflect our place.
I also love the fact that Ontario is where the Old World meets the New World – it’s hard to describe. Andrew Jefford was our keynote speaker at this past Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (i4C) and he (as only he can do) captured the essence of how Niagara (the place) shines through and makes the variety of Chardonnay cease to come first. I urge everyone to read his full speech.
In my role, I am especially connected to the winemakers, and they are hard-wired into the heart of what our land wants to say. I am especially grateful for this, I love seeing our wine region through their eyes and their wines.
How have you seen the wines of Ontario change in the last decade?
Every decade brings new growth and focus for Ontario, since the start of our modern wine industry in 1974. The last 10 years has brought so many exciting things. We have seen more wineries join the scene – we’re close to 200 producers.
Every decade brings us more focus, more fine-tuning. We are understanding our sub-appellations and producers are looking more closely at varieties and the impact of where they are planted. It’s exciting to taste the differences in the glass, giving us valuable insight.
It’s also inspiring to see so many females join the winemaking side of the industry, many of them having graduated from our two Ontario winemaking schools (Brock and Niagara College). Our young local winemakers are proud to be part of our dynamic industry and their energy is invigorating.
And what do you think are the greatest challenges that lie ahead for Ontario’s wines on the international wine market?
Well, probably the biggest challenge is volume. We are a small wine producing region with 185 wineries, most of them less than 10,000 cases per year. Ontario proudly continues to be the world’s leading producer for Icewine (95% of Canadian Icewine is grown in Ontario) but Icewine is less than 5% of what Ontario makes. It is about 50% of our export mix – meaning the rest of our exports are table wines and some sparkling wine.
With every challenge comes an opportunity and I would say that Ontario has an opportunity to further establish itself in key international markets with premium examples of Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and Gamay. Riesling too, but this variety has a global marketing challenge, not only for Ontario. Our cool, continental growing conditions are rare and these wines can fill a niche in the global marketplace. While we will never have a huge global presence by volume, we can continue to build a strong reputation for high quality niche table wines, alongside our iconic Icewine story.
What does Wine Country Ontario have coming up in the future?
Hmm…there’s always lots of exciting things happening in Wine Country Ontario! I’ll put my PR hat on and say visit winecountryontario.ca to find out.
We just wrapped up a busy July having hosted the International Cool Climate Wine Symposium (ICCWS) followed by our annual International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (i4C). Both events finally happened in person after two years of waiting.
We look forward to next year’s i4C if you plan a trip to Niagara in 2023.