By Rick VanSickle
Chances are, if you have ever enjoyed a Riesling from Canada you owe Hermann Weis a debt of gratitude.
The legendary Mosel vigneron, whose family has owned vineyards in Germany’s Mosel region for centuries and founded the esteemed St Urbans-hof in 1947, died Sunday. He had just turned 85 years old.
Nicolaus Weis founded St Urbans-Hof, named for the patron saint of German winemakers. In the 1960s, his son, Hermann, assumed management of the vineyards, winery, and Germany’s largest vine nursery, establishing a reputation as a world-renown vine breeder — particularly praised for his work with Riesling.
In the early 1970s, Hermann contributed to the early introduction of vitis vinifera into Canada by planting the first large parcel of Riesling vines in the Niagara Peninsula at the St. Urban Vineyard (later to become Vineland Estates Winery).
In 1978, Cave Spring Vineyard was among the first vineyards planted to Weis’ proprietary Riesling Clone 21 (often referred to the Weis Clone and is the most planted Riesling clone in Canada), followed in 1979-80 when Weis planted three other Niagara Escarpment vineyards around Beamsville and Vineland. He then went on to establish Vineland Estates winery in 1983.
In a Facebook post on Sunday, vice president and winemaker at Vineland Estate, Brian Schmidt, expressed profound grief for the loss of Weis.
“Today we lost a legend. Hermann Weis from Leiwen on the Mosel River quietly and peacefully passed away, he was surrounded by his vines and his loving family,” he said.
“As the original founder of Vineland Estates Winery, we owe all of our success to Hermann’s passion and vision planting Rieslings vines when and where no one thought it was a good idea. Except Hermann. In Canada, in 1979!”
Last spring, Schmidt led a trip of 140 Vineland Estate wine club members to the St. Urbrans-Hof winery in Germany on the 40th anniversary of Vineland’s first planting of the Weis Clone in the St. Urban Vineyard.
“Hermann’s impact on Canadian wine, and Riesling in particular, could not be possibly be overestimated,” Schmidt said.
“Long time friends with our family, my father (Lloyd, who passed away one year ago) will be waiting for Hermann with a glass of Riesling in hand. Hermann will once again have to suffer listening to my father’s broken German, they will be laughing and sharing stories of a friendship that lasted more than 40 years.”
Lloyd Schmidt enjoyed a close relationship with Weis and established an importing business that has seen the Weis clone become the most planted Riesling clone in the country.
Today, Nik Weis, Hermann’s son, farms 33 hectares of Riesling on some of the finest sites of the Middle-Mosel and Saar (its tributary). The cool continental climate and steep slate slopes produce some of the world’s freshest and most age-worthy wines. St. Urbans-Hof belongs to the VDP, the prestigious local growers’ association that self-imposes strict criteria, including dramatically lowered yields, to guarantee wines of the highest quality. Above all, these wines are about purity of fruit and clear expression of terroir.
Other tributes poured in for Hermann Weis as word of his death spread:
Allan Schmidt, president of Vineland Estates
“I have always had so much love respect and gratitude for this great visionary pioneer. It was 33 years ago this week that I arrived in Ontario from B.C. as Hermann had hired me as general manger for Vineland Estates Winery. My mother and I are toasting the Weis family with a glass of Weis 21 Riesling right now.”
Kevin Panagapka, winemaker
at 2027 Cellars in Niagara
“What a legend. It’s a sad day, what an iconic wine family. He’ll be sadly missed. I had the fortune of doing a Riesling tasting with Nik (Weis) a couple of weeks ago. Thank you for Riesling in Niagara Hermann, this region owes you a monumental debt of gratitude.”
Angela Aiello, Toronto wine journalist,
host & educator
“Such a sad day. He is now with his true wine angels. I am grateful that Vineland Estates Winery gave me the love for the Riesling grape that is now tattooed on my right arm. RIP Hermann.”
Ron Giesbrecht, Niagara College
“Sincere condolences to the Weiss family, and thanks to the man that brought so much to our understanding and love for Riesling.”