Murray Marshall, a co-founder and former CEO of Niagara’s Diamond Estates Wines & Spirits, died Thursday. He was 60 years old.

Marshall was a charismatic leader in Niagara and as co-founder of Diamond Estates and its president and CEO from 2000-2014 he helped build it into Canada’s fifth largest wine company (by capacity) and third largest independent sales agency representing over 100 international wines and spirits brands.

He was president of MRM Enterprise Group Inc. upon his death after being “let go” from Diamond Estate in May of 2014 amid fraud allegations surrounding the First Nations Winery.

According the Drinks Business, a dozen people, including Marshall, were arrested in Montreal in May 2015 as part of an investigation into an alleged tax fraud in which 1.8 million bottles of wine were sold on the black market.

Dubbed “Project Malbec,” the investigation began in January 2015 and uncovered a record number of contraband wines sold by a single network. The group is alleged to have sold over 1.8 million bottles of wine illegally over the last four years.

The scheme involved bringing wine in 24,000-litre containers through the port of Montreal, transporting it to Ontario to be bottled to look like popular wine brands, then returning it to Quebec through Kahnawake.

Marshall was fired by Diamond Estates in May 2014 and was succeeded by J. Murray Souter, who told the Drinks Business after learning of the fraud allegations:

“Diamond Estates Wines & Spirits is aware of the fraud investigation surrounding the First Nations Winery and we have been cooperating fully with the authorities in their investigation. We are compliant with all federal and provincial laws and have not been implicated in any of the alleged criminal activity,” he said.

“We ceased doing business with First Nations Winery in December 2014 immediately after learning of the fraud investigation by the Montreal Police,” he added.

There is no question of Marshall’s impact on the Ontario and Canadian wine industry. He was a visionary and builder of the industry.

Under his watch, Diamond Estates grew to a producer of high quality wines and a sales agent for over 120 beverage alcohol brands across Canada.

Diamond operates two wineries in the Niagara region producing VQA and blended wines under such well-known brand names as 20 Bees, EastDell Estates, Lakeview Cellars, Dan Aykroyd, Benchmark and Seasons.

Through its partnership, Kirkwood Diamond Canada, the company is the sales agent for top selling international brands in all regions of the country as well as being a distributor in the western provinces. These recognizable brands include Fat Bastard wines from France, Kaiken wines from Argentina, Charles Wells beers from England, Hpnotiq Liqueur from France, Anciano wines from Spain, Francois Lurton wines from France and Argentina, Blue Nun wines from Germany, coolers and spirits from Independent Distillers in New Zealand, Brick Brewing from Canada, Evan Williams Bourbon from U.S., Flor de Cana rum from Nicaragua, Iceberg Vodka from Canada and many others.

The Diamond Estates production facility and vineyards are located on Niagara Stone Road in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Sadly, Marshall will never get see the crown jewel in the company’s portfolio — a new retail and wine facility being built on the Niagara property.

“We are very excited to officially kick-off this next wave of growth for the winery” said Murray Souter, president and CEO of Diamond Estates. “We are thrilled to see our vision of a state-of-the-art tasting facility come to life. Our brands are amongst the most popular VQA wines in Ontario and our exciting new space will hopefully become an equally popular destination for our customers where we can continue to share our knowledge, expertise and love of wine with our guests in an inviting place.”

When opened in the spring, the facility will be named The Lakeview Wine Company, coincident with the 25th anniversary of Lakeview Cellars, one of the company’s premier brands. The new 3,000 square foot facility will feature a 28-foot and a 22-foot marble tasting bar surrounded by full height continuous glass windows providing uninterrupted views of the vineyard and escarpment. The building’s exterior will be clad in cedar using the unique Japanese technique of ‘Shou Sugi Ban’ creating a charred cedar look with natural wood accents.

Visitation for Marshall will be held at Smith’s Funeral Home, 454 Highway 8 (east of Millen Road) Stoney Creek (905-664-4222) on Tuesday, February 7, 2017 from 3-5 and 7-9 p.m. Funeral Service will be held at Wesley United Church, 651 Highway 8, Stoney Creek (at Fruitland Road) on Wednesday, February 8, 2017.

Publisher’s Note: After this story was published, Diamond Estates reached out to Wines Niagara to suggest there were inaccuracies in the published story. Since we cannot verify all the facts provided by Diamond, we offer the amendments here:

There were just a couple of things in the blog dated February 4th, 2017 that were slightly inaccurate and we were hoping you would be able to adjust accordingly.

In the 1st paragraph — you have listed that Murray Marshall was employed as President & CEO between 2000-2014. He ceased being President & CEO in September 2013. His employment was terminated in May 2014 and was unrelated to the fraud investigation which did not become public until 2015. Murray Souter joined Diamond in September 2013 and became President & CEO at that time.

In the paragraph describing “Project Malbec”, there is a note that says the wine was transported back to Ontario to be bottled to look like popular wine brands — The Montreal police have been very clear to point out that the wine was bottled in Quebec, not Ontario.

The quote by Murray Souter from Drinks Business, regarding the fraud investigation is from a press released issued in May 2015 when we learned of the arrest of Murray Marshall, our former employee. It would be great if you could quote the year in which the quote was stated so that it is clear.

Finally — the paragraph describing the Kirkwood Diamond Partnership seems to imply that Murray Marshall was involved in the creation of the partnership – Murray Marshall was no longer an employee of Diamond Estates when the partnership was first contemplated nor when it was actually formed.