If the wine industry had an ‘Indiana Jones of Wine’ – Brain Schmidt would be it. Adventurous, brave and an icon to the global wine industry, he is a winemaker, a vice president, a leader and a philanthropist.
Brian Schmidt was born in Kelowna, British Columbia and was raised on a family vineyard. The Schmidt family was one of the founding families of the Okanagan wine industry and together he and Allan Schmidt run Vineland Estates Winery.
I first met Brian Schmidt, when I started my wine career working at Vineland Estates Winery back in 1998. As the winemaker for the winery he was the very first to teach me (and many others) about Ontario wine. Even before I was legally able to taste, I was learning about the great possibilities of Ontario Riesling. I could always feel Brian’s passion for making great Ontario wine. His Rieslings and Cabernet Franc have and will continue to be two of my favorite Canadian wines.
I lived just down the road in an old country farmhouse and loved working at the winery. At every corner you were being taught about the finer things in life. The winery was a fabulous environment to grow up in. I was absorbing lessons and skills no one in my general life circle knew much about. It was fascinating and this is how I fell in love with wine in the first place.
Brian was the first winemaker I ever met and got to know. To this day, the winery, the wines and the imprint of my relationships and my education are because of what this winery brought into my life. In essence, Super Wine Girl would not be Super Wine Girl, without Vineland Estates Winery and the people behind it. My passion exists because of this winery and everyone who continues to be a part of the VEW family.
Years ago I learned about Brian’s commitment to giving back in Haiti. His work takes on many forms, including building hundreds of sturdy block homes for those less fortunate than us here in North America. He goes to Haiti on a constant basis (covid aside) volunteering at local orphanages and feeding inmates at a local prison. Brian and his wife also own a small farm there and employ a local crew that manages it. The vegetables created as a result of the farm are split between feeding local school children and the orphanage and sold at a local market – which in turn teaches the farming team to learn proper business practices.
When I asked him what first inspired him to go to Haiti, he told me this heartfelt story.
“My first trip was back in the spring of 2013. I was a chaperone for a Missions trip my son Connor wanted to go on. My wife Rebecca said that the only way she would let him go is if I went with him. I had no intention or idea that I would immediately fall in love with this painfully beautiful country. While on this trip there was some work being done back at home, and when I returned home I stepped foot into our newly renovated walk-in closet and the memories set in. I remembered the stick and mud homes these beautiful kind people in Haiti lived in. They lived in homes smaller than our closet with a total of 7-10 people living in that space. I fell to my knees and cried – I was so ashamed and shaken. Why do I deserve this and they have to suffer? I vowed at that moment to never turn my eyes away from those that are in need in Canada, Haiti or anywhere.”
The category 5 Hurricane Matthew in October 2016 devastated the area as the hurricane passed directly over the top of the community killing almost all living animals and destroying many homes in Haiti. “The homes we had built out of brick and mortar were left standing. Even though some roofs were damaged, many people made their way to these homes for safety – thankfully not a single life was lost. This is a miracle. However, the community’s church was completely destroyed. This year we completed a four year program to rebuild the church. More than a church it is a place of refuge in the event of another hurricane that happened in the fall of 2021. Thankfully the church was rebuilt with walls that are 2 feet thick where many went for safe refuge. This church is the cultural center of the community and it was a saving grace for the community.”
Brian’s philanthropy is incredibly inspiring. He and his family are truly committed to making a difference here in Ontario as well as helping those less fortunate. This type of a story helps us all to recognize and understand that making a difference truly matters! Vineland Estates Winery also gives back to local charities by donating a portion of wine sales online and at the winery boutique to the local community groups and orgransions. This is exactly how more wineries should be putting their best foot forward in the world today. Aligning top quality winemaking while also finding a way to give back should be part of taking a leadership position regardless of industry.
A multi-award winning winemaker, Brian is also the chair for VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance) which stands for and propels the movement forward of the consistent production of and awareness of premium quality Canadian wine. He has what he calls an ‘untamed passion for growing all cool climate varieties’ but has a particular love for Riesling and Cabernet Franc.’
In December 2021, I met with Brian to talk and taste a new release wine called ‘Legacy’. Legacy is a multi – vintage blend of a single vineyard Cabernet Franc. It is labeled as a non-vintage wine, and is blended to understand the truest sense of place.
“The original idea for our Legacy project was to answer one simple question – What does our BoTeek Vineyard Cab Franc truly taste like? Without decades or centuries of experience I needed to create the foundation to learn by harmonizing and repeating practices, blending vintages and removing vintage variation. I wanted to gain further insight into the true soul of this place, the vineyard and the final taste of the wine, and not need decades of vintages to honestly express the character of the wines grown here”
Legacy Cabernet Franc ~ Infinity Vintage is sold only in magnums and there is a very limited release available every year. The final tasting wine is a Cabernet Franc lover’s dream! With soft and round tannins you can taste the perfection in the final blending, and there is elegance on the palate balanced with notes of dark berry fruits, light spice and a hint of herbaceous. A must for any Cabernet Franc lover as this style of blend is so unique and really not done anywhere else in the world with this grape making it an extremely rare bottle to add to anyone’s cellar!
Brian and Vineland Estates’ commitment to consistency, creativity in winemaking and giving back makes them a true top winery in my books. Considering the Riesling and the Cabernet Franc are my two most recommended Ontario VQA wines, I would highly suggest stocking up on the wines from VEW over and over again. If you follow Brian Schmidt on Instagram you’ll learn about the world of wine, and it will be easy to understand why I call him the Indiana Jones of wine.
Take a peek online – Vineland.com and go shopping. with free shipping when you order six or more bottles online, you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your home.