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UPDATED: Herbert Konzelmann, a giant in the Ontario wine industry, has passed away at 84

By Rick VanSickle

Herbert Konzelmann, a legend and pioneer of the Ontario wine industry and founder of Konzelman Estate Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake, has passed away. He was 84.

The family said in a message on Facebook that “Herbert was a kind and generous man who devoted himself to his family and winery. A pioneer in every definition of the word, Herbert was a guiding light for the Niagara wine industry since first arriving from Germany in 1984. He was fearless, passionate and dedicated to his craft. Herbert remained active in all aspects of winery operations to the end, not because he needed to, because he loved to.”

Tributes are just beginning to pour in for Konzelmann and Wines In Niagara will keep adding to this post as we get more information.

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Said Donald Ziraldo, who founded the first commercial winery in Ontario since Prohibition with his partner Karl Kaiser (who died in 2017): “RIP Herbert. A great friend of mine and Karl. A great addition to the industry as we grew. He got it! His enthusiasm and tenacious German commitment inspired many. We will all miss him.”

From wine writer Tony Aspler, who has followed the career of Konzelmann from the the very beginning: “My cherished memory of Herbert was when an Ontario delegation attended the International Wine and Spirits Fair in Guangzhou, Guangdong in 2002. My wife Deborah and I were in a taxi with Herbert who was filming the city as we drove, complete with his own spontaneous narration — partly in English and partly in German. He subsequently sent us a copy of the video, complete with background music that we still have. In addition to being a great winemaker, Herbert was a true gentleman. We will miss him. Rest in peace, old friend.”

From Vineland Estates winemaker Brian Schmidt: “Whenever I visited Herbert I would bring him the sourdough bread that was made in our kitchen at the restaurant (only once I brought him bread that I baked myself). When I arrived, his immense smile would welcome me. He would notice the bread and always he would say, “ahhhh Brian, You KNOW I love this bread. He would tear the end off the loaf and enjoy it in that moment … THAT was Herbert, he would enjoy life in BIG chunks at a time. He never did anything in half measure. An idea or new process in winemaking, a tool, a trip, meeting a new young friend. He was ALL in.

“The first time I met Herbert was in Windsor at the All Canadian Wine Championships he was unloading his van. I saw him and thought I should help. I did and he acknowledged my help when done and with a ‘HEARTY Herbert handshake’  he said these words: ‘One day I will take a rock from your garden,’ the meaning, one day I will help you. He lived up to his word MANY times over. He was always willing to share his knowledge, yes, but it was his endless passion that taught me more. His seemingly endless energy was infectious … you could not leave Herbert without feeling energized. He was all that people will say of him, a legend, a pioneer , a Mentor , a loving husband, father, grandfather, creative winemaker … all of this and more, but to me, Herbert was a second father, a man of faith that inspired me to be better, to work with passion and purpose, to take EVERY day and make it meaningful. Herbert will be missed and honoured by many, as he should. I will not be able to bring him a second loaf of bread,  but each loaf I bake will be a reminder of a man I loved.”

Fabian Reis, grandson of Herbert (both pictured above), posted this tribute to his grandfather on Facebook: “Today I said goodbye to my dear Opa, Herbert Konzelmann. Who not only was a grandfather to me but rather a father figure. We are very similar in nature so both our German stubborn blood sometimes clashed but we always had the out most respect for each other and held each other in the highest regards ❤️ we both have very high expectations and I wouldn’t have my work ethic and ambitious drive if it weren’t for this man. His legacy continues and I am proud to call you my Opa. Even our little Hugo has Herbert in him and he lives on through the next generation. Thank you for choosing Canada and giving us a life here and having such courage with Omi to come to Niagara and lay the foundation for the wine industry it is today, and I promise to him I will do my part to bring it to the next level. I know you will continue to be with me in the wine cellar and as I walk through the vineyards. Today we celebrate you and hold our glasses high.”

Paul Speck, President of Henry of Pelham: “Very sad news. He was a wonderful man. We had a lot of good laughs over the years. My thoughts are with his family.”

Reaction from various social media channels:

Arthur Mills: “Oh no! I am deeply, deeply saddened. Herbert was one of my very first winery customers 41 harvests ago. As very young man I was trying to be respectful and professional to his much older stature, calling him Mr. or Herr Konzelmann, but he insisted ‘you can just call me Herbert.’ He always made me feel welcome, and although many months would pass between visits and/or phone calls, I felt as close as family. RIP Herbert.”

Sarah Beth Sheppard “Wow! Heaven is going to produce some great wines in the next while … with Lloyd (Schmidt), Harry (McWatters), Hermann (Weis) and Herbert all up there…! Great wines!!! Condolences to the Konzelmann family and to all who know what an amazing man he was!”

Angela Aiello: “My condolences go out to the family and those who knew him. I truly appreciated everything he did for the Ontario wine industry.”

Moira Saganski: “Oh I’m so sorry. Martin (Malivoire) and I send our condolences to his family and friends. He was and is a legend in The Canadian wine world.”

Ron Giesbrecht: “So sad, and I send my sincere and deeply felt condolences to the Konzelmann family and to all of Herbert’s many friends. I knew Herbert as a giant. A character that could not be diminished or made small — and we are all the greater for his indomitable spirit. Schlaf schön, Herbert.”

Nina Hofer: “Oh my … my condolences to the family. I had some great blending and wine school moments with Herbert as a very green (LCBO) product consultant . His dry late harvest Gewurztraminer remains my most memorable of his portfolio. I will remember him most for his passion for family, industry, and opportunity. May you rest in peace Herbert xx.”

Del Rollo: “Very sorry to hear this. Herbert was the real deal. He was one of the founders of the Canadian wine industry and helped to blaze a trail for all of us. RIP Herbert.”

Konzelmann is a fourth generation winemaker and the first in the family to leave Germany in search of the next perfect spot to grow grapes.

In 1984, Konzelmann discovered one of the prettiest properties in Niagara, along the shores of Lake Ontario in Niagara-on-the- Lake, a spot that reminded him of Alsace, France. Not because of the scenery, but due to the microclimate, which is similar to Alsace with a wonderful balance of sun, soil, airflow and moisture conditions ideal for making clean, aromatic, fruity wines.

It was a long way from Stuttgart, Germany, where Friedrich Konzelmann, Herbert’s great-grandfather, first established a winery in 1893. But with land running out in German wine country, Herbert made the decision to take the family’s wine roots to the New World. The site for Konzelmann’s Niagara jewel, along Lakeshore in Niagara-on-the-Lake, is gorgeous. From the loft you get stunning views overlooking the vineyards and a shimmering Lake Ontario.

Konzelmann Estate Winery was officially the seventh winery to open its doors in Ontario. Currently, the sixth generation of the Konzelmann legacy.

To this day, production includes over 30 wines with a total output of 500,000 bottles per year, and they have received hundreds of awards and accolades during their time in Canada.

But it has always been Herbert’s beloved Rieslings that represent what Konzelmann does best.

His passing leaves a giant-sized hole in the mosaic that is Niagara.