A Good Home, Adopted HOme, Award-winning wines, Canadian Icewine, Canadian Wine, Family business, Reif Estate Winery, Reif Wines, Riesling Wine, Vidal Icewine, Vineyards, Winery of the year, Wines

At Home with Klaus Reif, Award-Winning Winemaker

Blog Photo - Klaus Story Winery Front picture

“Born into a winemaking family of twelve generations,” says the Reif Estate Winery website, “Klaus W. Reif may have had his future preordained.”

No kidding!

Thirteen generations of one family doing the same thing for a living?

Blog Photo - Reif Wines in Glass

It’s like something in a novel. 

Like thirteen generations of butchers, bakers or candle-stick makers.

What is it like? I wondered.

**

Klaus Reif is president of Canadian winery Reif Estate.

But his childhood home and vineyard are in Neustadt, Germany.

“Growing up in a winemaking family was a fun time, maybe the best time of my life. Since my early childhood I loved working with my father in the vineyard and the winery. Home was a great place. My parents had the incredible ability to integrate us kids into the winery business as a natural extension of our family life.”

Blog Photo - Klaus Story youngest winemaker in family

In 1978, Klaus visited his uncle Eward in Niagara on the Lake, an idyllic part of Canada. Eward had started a vineyard in ‘NOTL’ just the year before, making him one of Canada’s wine pioneers.

Blog Photo - Klaus story Reif Barrel Herb LR

Klaus fell in love with Niagara. He returned to Germany, determined to learn more about both winemaking and business. He studied at prestigious winemaking institutions.

In 1987, he returned.

“I was young and was looking for an adventure, so coming to Canada was perfect for me.” 

Klaus’ uncle handed him the reins.  Believing that great wines start in the vineyard, Klaus focused on creating small batches of exceptional wine.

Blog Photo - Reif Icewine

One of his first was “a simple wine”, a Vidal icewine.

“I obviously had a different style of winemaking from my uncle. Upon tasting my first wine he basically told me this wine would ruin the winery! Nevertheless, I entered the wine into a competition and won an award which gave me the confidence for my future in winemaking.”

Named one of the Top Ten Wines of 1987, the Vidal has a special place in Klaus’ heart. It helped Reif to grow, becoming its most popular wine, while helping Reif win 100 gold awards for icewines.

Blog Photo - Klaus with glass of wine

In 1989, winemaker Roberto Didomenico joined Reif. (Photo Below, Roberto at right) 

Reif focused on improving its wines and production facility.

Reif has won one international award after another. Reif was also honoured as Canada’s top winery.

“Thirty years ago Canadian wine had a well-deserved bad reputation. It was our goal to change this with new varieties and the application of world class winemaking technology. I believe — no, I know we succeeded — Canadian wines can measure up to the best wines in the world!”

Reif Estate Wines

Klaus’ special place in the vineyard is the “22 rows of the Chardonnay block”. During tough times, it was the backbone of the farm, creating the income Reif needed to make it into the next year.

“This was obviously many years back, but it will always remain my favorite spot!”

Reif produces about 35,000 cases of wine a year — including one of Klaus’ favorites, the Riesling.

Blog Photo - Klaus Story Riesling

Blog Photo - Klaus' Story Reif Estate Winery

Wines are sold online and at the winery at 5608 Niagara Parkway, Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Blog Photo - Klaus story wine tastings among barrels

Tastings, tours, weddings and corporate events are held there.

Blog Photo - Klaus story Sign

Klaus found great success in Canada.

“I love Canada, I love Canadians, I love the Niagara Region. I am grateful for the opportunities I was given. If only the rest of the Reifs could be here with me, life would be perfect!”

Klaus and Destiny

So: what is it like for Klaus  — far from his family home?

“Only in the later years I realized that my lust for adventure took me away from my family. It was definitely the right decision from the perspective of business success and many other reasons.  But, 27 years later, I still miss them!”

**

Photos from Klaus and Reif Estate.

Website:  www.reifwinery.com

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21 thoughts on “At Home with Klaus Reif, Award-Winning Winemaker”

  1. What a great story! And what an adventure it must have been for him starting up so far away from home. Lovely to see the photo of him as a little boy too!

  2. I found this really interesting especially his comment about emigrating when he was young. I nearly went to live in Austria when I was nineteen and had no thought for my family in England. I only thought about my future life away from home. My adventure did not succeed and I came home disappointed. I can sympathise with Klaus’ feelings of wistfulness at being separated from his German family. As I have got older my feelings of being part of a family have got stronger and I am not sure how I would have felt living a long way away from my siblings and parents as they aged if I had managed to stay in Vienna.

    1. i do so agree with you, Clare.
      It is true that when one is younger, it’s the thought of adventure that is the biggest thing.
      Having missed my loved ones so much after leaving them behind, I empathize with Klaus.

      1. Ho Ho! how little we know of life when we are young and how easy it all seems. I am so glad I can remember feeling so optimistic and energetic – so sure that I couldn’t fail.

  3. Cool… we holiday in Alsace a lot and you get the same kind of thing, families who have been making wine for well.. a sod of a long time. And it’s amazing.

    Cheers

    MTM

  4. Yes, how easy it is to leave the family when one is young! I don’t regret my adventures but being separated from loved ones seems to be part of our family tradition, going right back to the generations who made the pioneer journeys from England and Scotland to New Zealand.

    1. It’s the sacrifice that immigrants make. And when you look at the success of Reif Estate, you see the best of the “old world” and the new world.
      In one chapter of “A Good Home” (actually in quite a few chapters) I wrote about the homesickness that often accompanies becoming a great success in one’s adopted country.

      I missed them so much, yet felt almost ungrateful, in the face of such success in Canada, to mention it. I respect Klaus’ frankness in admitting to how much he misses his family – still.

  5. Just wondering about the impact of climate on ice wine production… Saw a documentary on an Air France flight a while back about how European vintners were dealing with the anticipated changes. Very interesting and challenging– to all farmers, really. Thanks for sharing this story!

  6. Loved this story
    One of my cousin’s sons just couldn’t be happy in an office and traveled – ended up far away on a vineyard. A few years later he returned and help start his own vineyard in California. Now the entire family is part of that. You just have to be brave and go find your place.

    1. It’s really exploded in the last 25 years when Canada started scooping up the European based awards for its wines. I suppose it took a while for the vines to mature, but even more so for vintners to discern what vines grew best in our cold climate.

  7. I have been there for a wine tasting a few years back and last year a friend who lives in Florida came up for a week and spent a night at Niagara on the Lake (only 25 minutes from our house!!) and brought me an ice wine from there. Still have it in my cupboard waiting for a special night this summer.

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