Lloyd Schmidt leaves his footprint on Canadian wine

By / Wine + Drinks / February 18th, 2019 / 8
Lloyd Schmidt

One of the pillars of the Canadian wine industry passed away on February 4, just a few weeks shy of his 79th birthday. You might not be familiar with his name because he wasn’t a winemaker or a winery owner, although he was once, but Kelowna-born Lloyd Schmidt has left his footprint in virtually every vineyard throughout the wine regions of Canada.

I first came across Lloyd Schmidt’s name in 1981 when I was researching “Vintage Canada”, travelling the country to visit all of our working wineries. In those days, there we some 70 licensed facilities in Canada (today there are over 800).

1981 was the year Sumac Ridge in Summerland, BC opened its doors – that province’s first estate winery that also had the distinction at the time of being the only winery in the world to be built on a nine-hole golf course.

The winery was the creation of Lloyd Schmidt and Harry McWatters, another industry pioneer. The two men made a decision that would set the precedent for the nascent BC wine industry to follow – they would only plant vinifera vines, which Lloyd would source from vineyards around the world.

For five years, the two men shared a vision of a Canadian wine industry based on the noble grapes of Europe (unlike their compatriots in the Niagara region, who were still growing Labrusca and French hybrids).

The Schmidt-McWatters partnership lasted five years before Lloyd left Sumac Ridge to concentrate on what he loved – the propagation of vinifera vineyards. He founded a company called International Viticulture Services and moved his family to Ontario. He began to travel the world sourcing plant material and soon became the go-to guy if you wanted to get into the wine-growing business. His two sons, Allan and Brian, worked at Vineland Estates for whose vineyard Lloyd imported the Weis Clone Riesling (21B) from Hermann Weis’ nursery in the Mosel. (The B, incidentally, stands for Berncastel.)

Hermann Weis, who owns the St. Urbans-hof winery in the Germany’s Mosel region (named for the patron saint of German winemakers), was the founding owner of Vineland Estates. That winery’s original vineyard, planted in 1976, is still called the St. Urban vineyard (now 42 acres).

If you have a bottle of Ontario Riesling in your cellar, you can thank Lloyd Schmidt. Virtually all of the province’s Riesling, and that of British Columbia, is made from this Weis clone – as well as Rieslings that we might get from Oregon.

My favourite Ontario Rieslings are all pressed from the Weis 21B clone – Flat Rock Nadja’s Vineyard, Cave Spring CSV and all the single vineyard bottlings of Thirty Bench.

Since 2000, I have given an award at the annual cuvée celebration of Ontario wines. It’s called the Cuvée Award of Excellence. In 2016, I was proud to present the engraved decanter to Lloyd Schmidt. The citations was: “for advancing viticulture in Ontario by accessing the best vinifera varietals from nurseries around the world and fighting bureaucracy to do it.”

On a website eulogy is this testament to his legacy:

“Lloyd understood that it was his imagination, intuition and creativity that were being called upon to help shape tomorrow. From establishing new innovative vineyards, to actively investing in emerging businesses, to immediately sensing the true wine-heart of individuals, and to viscerally connecting with enterprising, passionate colleagues, Lloyd has crafted a notable career in viticulture and winemaking that has literally changed the landscape of how we grow and make wine in North America.”

May you rest in peace, Lloyd Schmidt, under a celestial canopy of vine leaves.


Tony Aspler has been writing about wine for over 30 years. He was the wine columnist for The Toronto Star for 21 years and has authored sixteen books on wine and food, including The Wine Atlas of Canada, Vintage Canada, The Wine Lover's Companion, The Wine Lover Cooks and Travels With My Corkscrew. Tony's latest book is Tony Aspler's Cellar Book.

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