The Vineland Estates Winery team tells the story of family, with brothers Allan and Brian Schmidt working alongside each other since 1991. As President and Winemaker respectively, the Schmidts are third generation in the Canadian wine industry.
Along with Justin Downes, Executive Chef of The Restaurant @ Vineland Estates Winery, the executive team represents many years of service to the winery. Combined, this team has over forty-five years of experience in the organization. With consistent personalities at its helm over many years, the winery is well positioned to continue to evolve as it celebrates twenty-five years in the Niagara wine industry.
Allan Schmidt, President, Vineland Estates Winery
Born and raised in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, Canada, Allan’s background in the world of grape growing and winemaking has stemmed from a long family connection. In 1980, Allan’s family became co-founders of Sumac Ridge Winery in the Okanagan Valley, and today Allan represents the third generation of his family to be involved in the development of this growing Canadian industry.
After oenological training in California at Heitz Cellars and viticulture training in the Nahe region of Germany, Allan moved to Ontario in 1987 to take up the position of Winemaker and General Manager at Vineland Estates Winery. The family connection with wine continues to this day. Today, Allan holds the position of President and works alongside his brother Brian, who is now Vineland Estates’ Winemaker. In 1993, they dog sledded to the magnetic North Pole with several bottles of Icewine, claiming to be the first winemakers to take Icewine to the North Pole for polarized aging.
Since Allan joined Vineland Estates, it has become the first winery to open an on-site fine dining 4 Diamond Restaurant and Bed and Breakfast Cottage. Production has grown to 60,000 cases a year of premium wines, and the winery has received hundreds of international wine awards, including the Vinitaly Grand Special trophy as the highest scoring winery in a field of over three thousand wines.
Allan has played a vital role in Vineland Estates Winery’s evolution, and his twenty-year history with the company has seen it develop into “Niagara’s Premiere Wine and Culinary Experience.”
Allan Schmidt - Biography
Brian Schmidt, Vice President and Winemaker, Vineland Estates Winery
Brian Schmidt was born in Kelowna, British Columbia and was raised on a vineyard that had been in the family for three generations. The Schmidt family was one of the founding families of the Okanagan wine industry and this was the foundation of Brian’s interest in winemaking.
Brian has traveled extensively throughout Europe studying winemaking and the winemaking process. It is this experience that has resulted in the creation of a winemaking style that has become a Vineland Estates Winery signature.
In 1991, Brian traveled to Ontario to train with his brother Allan, who was the original winemaker at Vineland Estates. Brian took over this position at the winery in 1994 and ever since his commitment to producing quality products has been evident in the Cellar, where his self-described winemaking style is “minimalist by nature.”
The result is the consistent production of award winning wines that have garnered national and international recognition. One notable achievement was the awarding of the Vinitaly Grand Special trophy as the highest scoring winery in a field of over three thousand wines. Brian has been instrumental in building a reputation for the winery as a producer of Ontario’s best Rieslings, in focusing the portfolio of wines on additional signature varietals such as Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, and in the creation of the iconic Elevation brand of wines. His continuing legacy is to build Vineland Estates’ reputation for premium wines of outstanding quality.
Brian Schmidt - Biography
Justin Downes, Executive Chef, The Restaurant @ Vineland Estates Winery
Justin grew up in the small town of Vineland exploring all the town had to offer to inspire his childhood adventures. He began his dream of becoming a chef as a young child watching his mother, a pastry chef, following her around in fine dining kitchens across the Niagara Region.
He began his career at Vineland Estates Winery in the summer of 1999, starting as a kitchen steward, watching the chefs around him. The following year, he enrolled at Niagara College in the Chef's Apprentice Program. As the years passed, Justin steward to Chef de Partie.
In 2002, Mark Picone, the former executive chef at Vineland Estates Winery, gave Justin the opportunity to do a six month stage in Colle Di Val D'Elsa, Italy, at Arnolfo Ristorante, a two star Michelin rated restaurant. During his time in Italy, he gained insight to classical Italian cuisine, which he uses to this day.
Shortly after his return to Canada, Justin attained his Red Seal Certification, and was promoted to Sous Chef at the winery, making him responsible for managing staff and for sourcing local ingredients to create the seasonal menus.
In April of 2011, Justin accepted the position of Executive Chef at Vineland Estates Winery. His new focus will be on strengthening his relationships with local farmers and purveyors to create regionally sourced menus that attract the culinary adventurers in all of us.