Friday, January 15, 2010

German Wine makers in the World: Johann Schiller in Canada

Canada is an emerging wine country. Like other New World wine producing countries, Canada's winemaking history dates back 200 years when early settlers came from Europe. They initially tried to grow the European vitis vinifera grapes, but without success. Until a few years ago, only American grapes and hybrid grapes were grown.

Canada also went through a period of prohibition, like the US, which greatly hindered the wine industry. This changed only in the last quarter of the last century, when wine making started to take off, leading to a phenomenal growth of the wine industry.

The story of Canadian wine is said to have began with Johann Schiller, a German who served with the 29th Regiment of Foot in Quebec in 1784. By 1811 he had moved to Ontario Niagara region obtaining 400 acres. Having worked at winemaking in the Rhine valley, he began growing grapes and producing his own wine. He obtained hybrids from Pennsylvania and began to supply the needs of his neighbors. His wines were very much appreciated. He is considered to be the father of Canadian wines Industry. Schiller died in 1816.

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller

Johann Schiller's sons sold the property. It was sold again in 1864 bought by an aristocratic Frenchman, Justin de Courtenay, who had unsuccessfully tried to replicate the taste of red Burgundy in Quebec. He had better luck in Ontario and his Gamay won a prize at the 1867 Paris Exposition.

For many years it was believed that vitis vinifera grapes could not survive the rigors of Canadian winters and the freeze-thaw-freeze cycle of early spring. As a result, the majority of plantings in Ontario were (and still are) the winter-hardy North American labrusca varieties (such as Concord and Niagara, now only used for processing in the food industry) and early-ripening, winter-resistant hybrids, such as Vidal, Seyval Blanc, Baco Noir and Marechal Foch.

Picture: Canada's wine regions

There are now two booming wine regions in Canada, British Columbia in the west and southern Ontario in the east. The Okanagan Valley is the predominant wine growing region in British Colombia as is the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario.

The Okanagan Valley wine boom is part of the larger North West American wine story that has been unfolding in the past 30 years, starting with Oregon in the US, and then moving up to Washington State and now to British Columbia in Canada.

The Niagara Peninsula wine story is largely one of ice wine, that have gained world wide reputation, with Illiskin being the leading producer. Canada’s cool climatic conditions enable it to be the largest ice wine producer in the world. Although both Germany and Austria are large ice wine producers, their climates are not as consistently cold as is Canada’s to guarantee ice wine production every year. Canada produces over 2 million 375ml bottles of ice wine annually. An Illiskin icewine was served in December 2009 at the occasion of the Nobel Prize Banquet in Stockholm.

This is part of the series German wine makers in the world:

Wolf Blass in Australia

Swiss-German Donald Hess, US, Argentina, Chile, South Africa, Australia

Hermann J. Wiemer, Finger Lakes, US

Anton (Antoine) Mueller, 1800s,France,

Dr. Konstantin Frank, 1900s,USA

Christian Woelffer and Roman Roth, USA

Robert Anton Schlumberger, 1800s, Austria

Robert Stemmler, USA

Eduard Werle, 1800s, France

Schiller Wine - Related Postings

Wine event: The Wines at the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize Banquet in Honor of President Obama in Oslo

2009 German Eiswein - icewine - was harvested on December 18 and 19


  1. I would be interested to find out more about Johann Schiller's roots in Germany.

    Schiller Wine Blog

  2. 200 year tradition of wine making in Canada
    Corporal Johann Schiller and Ontario’s first commercial winery

    By Rolf A. Piro

    Schillers background and motivation
    In 1810 Johann Schiller began cultivating, testing, planting and growing grapes for wine making in what is now today’s town of Cooksville, Ontario. Lambrusco and Clinton grapes grew wildly in the area – had been supplemented with other grapes vines that came from Pennsylvania and helped to make it enough volume to sell the first wine. It is alleged that Schiller has worked at winemaking in the Rhineland before he joined the Brunswick Auxiliary Corps and this was before he came to Canada.

    The journal of the commander of the Brunswick Auxiliary troops in Canada of Baron Riedesel contains many interesting details about Upper Canada with respect of growing various kinds of agricultural products and this may have influenced Johann Schiller.

    Schillers resources in support of success achieved
    We must not forget that Rhine grapes had been grown in Pennsylvania since 1746 under the auspices of the famous frontier Diplomat Conrad Weiser, a professed friend of the Palatines. Conrad Weiser is known to have supplied the Palatines in Pennsylvania with Rhine grapes, among them being his most famous customer Thomas Lee, a leading political figure of colonial Virginia that purchased 20 young true Rhine Vines. Palatinates that came here to the Niagara District have brought these Rhine Vines to Ontario.

    Bringing good history research and celebrations together
    The foregoing is more evidence of early wine making that Alun Hughes, Professor of Geography, Brock University has been looking for to give Schiller the credibility that he deserves. For the history books it would be useful now to search and find out as to what happened to the hybrid grape seedlings, specifically who used them for future wine making. To do this historians have now their work cut out.

    Whether Johann Schiller has been successful in commercializing wine or not does not appear to be relevant to make him a wine visionary. By having looked at this part of wine making, there can be no excuse to begin the bicentennial celebrations; it is well toasting.

    Principal Sources
    Richard Peters MSS, II, 51 Historical Society of Philadelphia/ Correspondance Conrad Weiser to Thomas Lee (20) Philadelphia. April the 15th 1746. / Conrad Weiser , Friend of Colonist and Mohawk by Paul A.W. Wallace, Philadelphia University of Pennsylvania Press 1945p.236
    Also Riedesel Journals