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CanadaWINE150: Crafting a blueprint for success for the next generation of winemakers

Canadian wine

By Del Rollo

As I reflect on the past, present and future of Canadian wine there are many fond memories and emotions that come to mind.

I remember being introduced to Ontario wine when I worked at the Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto by Donald Ziraldo. He would come to the hotel often and push our boundaries on our perceptions of world-class wine. The Icewine dazzled us all, but the table wines intrigued me. I remember thinking the whites were good, with most of the reds being sub-par.

With my Canadian roots and spending some of my childhood growing up in Niagara, I decided to dig deeper in to the Niagara wine scene.

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With that exploration, it was clear there was a birth of a new industry forming, one that was all about raising the bar and doing better every year.

The key challenge in the early days was to get people excited about Ontario wine. I recall doing blind tastings of the Inniskillin Montague Chardonnay with my wait staff at the hotel.

Most of the team were European professional waiters and, as you can imagine, their belief was their home country wines were the best. When I put Inniskillin Montague Chardonnay into blind tastings with the team, up against some of the best French and Californian wines, they were all amazed a Niagara Chardonnay landed in their top 3 choices.

As I continued on I recall some of the early prophets of Canadian wine and it was not just Donald Ziraldo. My go to Ontario wine ambassadors were Debi Pratt (Inniskillin), Daniel Speck (Henry of Pelham) and Charles Baker (Cave Spring Cellars at the time, now Stratus).

These folks would drop whatever they were doing to help me out at the hotel and spread the message of Ontario wine. Their passion became mine and my world was turned upside down when I met Don Triggs.

He became an instant mentor to me and that is when I dropped everything and moved back to Niagara to open Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Winery.

I have never looked back and I have to say it was the best move ever. Being part of a project like Jackson-Triggs and being a part of the Canadian wine movement was amazing.

At one point I was managing all of the wineries Vincor/Constellation had across Canada and I remember my first visit to the Okanagan. When I toured Sun Rock Vineyard I had an immediate revelation. We had two totally different climates, terroir and wines but we were joined together as being part of a Canadian wine industry.

Ontario wine

The future is bright for our industry with a lot of changes happening to help super charge our growth. With increased market access and more industry alignment, I believe we have the ability to really shine not only on the Canadian stage but the International one as well.

I am most excited to be working with my peers to help craft the blueprint for success for the next generation of Canadian winemakers. Cheers to us, and by the way, I would be more than happy to continue to put our award-winning Canadian wines against some of the best in the world.

About Del Rollo

Senior Director,
Industry Relations and Estates

While attending Ryerson University for the Hospitality and Tourism Program, Del Rollo discovered his passion for food and wine. After several service and management positions at various dining establishments throughout the Greater Toronto Area, Del began his nine-year career with the Four Seasons Hotel in the heart of Yorkville. He worked his way up the ranks from food server to certified wine sommelier then to assistant manager at the renowned Truffles (Toronto’s only five-diamond restaurant). It was there, Del realized his future was with the ever-burgeoning Ontario wine industry.

In August 2000, Del was invited by Donald Triggs and Dr. Allan Jackson (founders of Jackson-Triggs) to join them in launching a state-of-the-art wine production and hospitality facility in Niagara-on-the-Lake. As manager of hospitality, they knew Del would create an experience second to none by raising the bar and offering a new level of customer satisfaction. With a well-established knowledge of fine wines and superior guest services experience, Del was a natural choice and played a pivotal role in seeing the doors to Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate open in July of 2001 with enormous success. Since then, Del has held a variety of positions within Constellation Brands and currently is responsible for Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate, Inniskillin Winery and Industry Relations. Del sits on a variety of industry committees and is also currently the Chair of the Winery and Grower Alliance of Ontario as well as a member of the Board of Governors of Niagara College.

Del has a very busy family life with 3 sons, Connor (17), Sean (15) and Walker (11). His wife Lisa is an accomplished chef and they enjoy many family activities.