Niagara-on-the-Lake’s wine industry lost one of its pioneers on Friday.
Herbert Konzelmann, the founder of Konzelmann Estate Winery, died after a battle with cancer. He was 84.
The Lake Report talked to friends and fellow wine giants to get a sense of what such a loss means.
Paul Bosc, whose father Paul Bosc Sr. was another major pioneer of NOTL’s wine industry through Chateau des Charmes, said he remembers meeting Konzelmann in about 1984 — when he first moved to Niagara to set up as a winemaker.
“It seems like yesterday. He was just so enthusiastic about where he was. It was like he had won the lottery,” Bosc said.
“And the reason I think I remember it so well is my dad was that way too. Both my dad and Herbert were European immigrants and felt very, very fortunate to be here — although there was a tremendous amount ahead of all of us.”
Konzelmann would go on to plant the first wine grapes right on the lakefront where his namesake winery still operates today.
Bosc said though his own father started a few years earlier in wine, Konzelmann “very enthusiastically sort of lined up with the rest with the rest of us, like a good teammate. There was definitely a collegiality that existed back then.”
He also remembers how important family was to Konzelmann — a recurring theme in talking to people about him.
“I know we’re eulogizing Herbert, but let’s not forget the role that Mrs. Konzelmann played. I can remember very vividly, she was at every wine show right by his side for many, many, many years and then eventually, his kids, Claudia, and eventually third generation with Fabian. I ended up being friends with three generations of their family.”
Andrea Kaiser, whose father Karl was another NOTL wine influencer and founder of Reif Estates, said she remembers Konzelmann as a gentle friend who was always smiling.
“It’s always a big loss for the industry to lose another pioneer, quite truly,” she said.
“I think about all of the people who put Canadian wines on the map. Definitely Herbert is one of those. It’s really sad obviously for the industry but also sad for the people who have known him and worked with him.”
She too remembers the early days of NOTL wineries, when the Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake group, of which she is now chair, used to be referred to as the “Group of Seven.”
“And Konzelmann was one of them, along with Chateau des Charmes, Iniskillin, Reif, Marynissen, Pillitteri – all those families that believed there was something different that could happen with Canadian wine.”
She said the wine industry wouldn’t be the same without pioneers like Konzelmann.
“It’s a sad day for the industry. I’m glad I got to know him. I’m glad that he was a part of our community. He was a wonderful man, a great man, his family is amazing. And I’m just really sorry for their loss.”
Andrew Niven, marketing director for Konzelmann Estate Winery, worked closely with Herbert, who even in his last years would spend his days in the office or the vineyards.
Niven echoed others' thoughts about Herbert’s lasting impact on Canadian wines, but also remembers him for his strong work ethic and his appreciation for the smaller things in life.
“He didn’t slow down as he got older. He was always around. He loved being on the tractor in the vineyard and he loved being part of harvest, which ironically, he managed to get his last harvest out before passing,” Niven said.
He said he doesn’t think Konzelmann saw his job as work.
“He always would tell people he had a wine heart and instead of blood flowing through his veins, it was wine. He woke up in the morning, was excited to come to work. He’d have a hard time leaving work because he loved it so much.”
In his spare time, Herbert was an avid hunter, Niven said.
“He wouldn’t just go hunting … he would fly into remote areas. He would then canoe or bike into very remote areas, and then it would just be him and an instructor. He just liked being alone and being in nature.”
It was on one of his hunting trips when he first heard about Niagara and its potential as a growing community.
He ended up falling in love with the area and moving to NOTL with his wife Gudrun and started making wine.
“He packed up everything he bought. He packed up the grafted wine vine, he brought everything to here in Niagara and then he started making wine,” Niven said.
“And this is 35 years ago and it slowly grew into what it is now.”
His daughter Claudia thanked the community for its outpouring of support since her father's death.
“I have not only lost a father, but a best friend, confidant and role model. My father was a man of faith who cared deeply for his friends, community, co-workers and most of all family,” she said.
He lived a great life and fully involved himself in the winery, “not because he had to, but because he truly loved to. I am so thankful for his life lessons and the unconventional love he spread to everyone he met,” she said.
” He was a devoted husband (to Gudrun for 57 years), caring father, grandfather and great grandfather – and someone who we will never forget.”