Sad Day for the Ontario Wine Industy
December 30 was a sad day for the wine industry in Ontario. It was the day that Gabe Magnotta, founder (with his wife, Rossana Di Zio Magnotta) of Magnotta Winery lost his four year battle with Lyme disease. He was 60 years old. Always an avid outdoorsman, Magnotta contracted the disease when he was bitten by a tick while birding with his dogs. The debilitating disease ravaged his body, but it could not weaken his mind or crush his spirit. Despite his illness and the stresses it placed on his family and business, Magnotta Winery, opened in 1990, grew to become Ontario’s third largest winery. Throughout the ’90s, the Magnottas expanded the scope of their winery to include a brewery and a distillery.
Over the years, the Magnottas successfully made wine from many different grapes and at many different price points, ensuring that consumers had a lot of wine from which to choose. But perhaps Magnotta’s most notable contribution to the Ontario wine industry was born of the court room rather than of the vineyard. The Magnottas spend a good part of the winery’s existence fighting what Gabe and Rossana considered to be the LCBO’s draconian rules and regulations. At first, the LCBO refused to carry Magnotta’s wines citing low sales and lack of shelf space. In response, the Magnottas opened their own store. The bonus for the consumer was that the Magnottas could sell their products at cut-rate prices. The years that followed saw the Magnottas in many more legal battles with the LCBO, particularly over whether or not distilled products could also be sold at the winery. A decade later, the Magnottas saw their legal efforts begin to pay off. The winery, itself, has continued to expand under the Magnotta’s watchful eye, and now includes hectares of vineyards in the Niagara region and in Chile.
I used to live near the Magnotta’s flagship winery and store in Vaughan, Ontario. The winery’s selection provided me with a tremendous opportunity to begin to learn about grape varieties and wine styles. Gabe, Rossana and other family members were always present and available to talk about wine, the industry or even the art that hung throughout the place. What a wonderful opportunity to learn from the owners and winemakers, themselves!
In 2002, the Magnottas used their success to raise awareness for colorectal cancer. Their efforts resulted in the Colorectal Cancer Research wing at the Toronto-Sunnybrook Regional Cancer Centre. Now, the Magnottas have launched a campaign to raise funds to build a research centre dedicated to finding a cure for Lyme disease.