“Born into a winemaking family of twelve generations,” says the Reif Estate Winery website, “Klaus W. Reif may have had his future preordained.”
Thirteen generations of one family doing the same thing for a living?
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
Wines are sold online and at the winery at 5608 Niagara Parkway, Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Tastings, tours, weddings and corporate events are held there.
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!”
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.