Canadian icewine pioneer Donald Ziraldo, co-founder of Niagara winemaker Inniskillin Wines says although he used to travel the world 200 days a year “on a 24/7 wheel” it was hard to call what he did work.
Having left the company in 2006, Ziraldo sits on a variety of boards and pursues his own winemaking interests. He was recently made an honorary citizen of his parent’s hometown of Fagagna in Friuli, Italy and as a tribute to them planted a Picolit vineyard: a Picolit wine will be in the LCBO’s Vintages next spring. The LCBO also carries his Equifera Icewine by Donald Ziraldo.
You’re always on the go – where have you traveled recently?
I was in Portugal doing the harvest at Senhora do Convento which is property I manage for a Canadian mining company but the nice part about it is it has a 12th century monastery on it and a brand new winery. And then we went to London, England.
How much time do you spend there?
I go back and forth because it’s become a project that I’ve become very challenged by. This one sort of caught my attention because it’s my field – it’s a great challenge to bring back Port and Portugal is a fascinating country.
My passion is skiing and I have a place in Aspen so I’ve wandered all over the world skiing over the years but Aspen is my go-to destination for a vacation and I try to turn off the business even though I still sell icewine (laughing) on the gondola.
I guess there are places I haven’t been…the only country I have not visited is India.
We were also going to go to Egypt but due to the circumstances we opted not to go.
Where in India would you like to go?
I’m not really sure. I’m quite fascinated by the country. In my opinion, I think that they might be a better, I’ll call business partner, than China. I’ve been to China, tried China – it’s been an interesting experience
Wine tourism oddly enough, probably, I’ll say was invented by the North Americans. We’re blessed we’re near Niagara Falls. I was just at a tourism conference where I spoke about Flora Niagara which is going to be a $ 300-$ 400 million dollar floral exhibition that was last in Thailand and the Netherlands and a very large component of it will be culinary tourism, so the wine tourism/culinary tourism they’re almost synonymous. Of course Niagara has become a great destination, I’m going to promote that because it’s my backyard.
Napa and Niagara.
Now in Europe they’re very traditional and they look at it as agriturismo; they package it as staying in old estates and they’re done an amazing job of that. Friuli, where I come from, my family is from Venice so Venice is one of my great destinations I love to hang out there. I have a little vineyard project that I went back to (start in) my mom and dad’s hometown. I must say there is always a purpose to my trip I don’t go anywhere without a purpose – that’s pretty much standard.
What is the most unlikely place you’ve visited in relation to where grapes are grown and where wine is made?
In Santorini there are volcanic dishes – they are like large, two metre volcanic rock that are shaped like a bowl and the grapes grow there since the Greeks. So these things literally grow in a two metre circle-shaped bowls (which) was pretty amazing…the grapes are literally crawling along the ground. That was a pretty unique location.
Do you have a must have item when you travel?
My Blackberry. My briefcase (and laptop).
I love to work and read books online and I do a lot of blogging and stuff so I’m sort of attached to a computer. I love working while I’m travelling because I get away from the run-of-the-mill business. When you’re locked in on a plane for 14 hours on your way to Australia or Japan that’s a must have for me to keep busy. I get a lot done because there are no distractions.
Well, my work-out gear for sure. Couple of suits – I travel light, usually do a carry-on bag. I’m Italian so I like clothes but I travel light and it gives me an excuse to buy things especially if I’m in Italy.
What was your worst travel experience?
I’ve had a lot of weird experiences but bad experiences? It’s probably been the opposite because being in the luxury global wine category that we created with the icewine we were very blessed to take this unknown region in Canada and create this luxury brand.
I just made a deal with American Airlines to take the Senhora do Convento port on American Airlines so I’ve always worked with them. I honestly think everybody in North America should go and take lessons from the airlines and everybody else on service in Asia because if you’ve travelled Thai (Airways) or Cathay Pacific, it’s quite extraordinary.
How does travel inspire you?
I think the different cultures – I love it. (But) I love coming home; I really appreciate what we’ve got here. I was very fortunate with the icewine to travel in some pretty elite circles and it was just meeting the people, the cultures, the history. The other thing I do is I really don’t want to talk to any Canadians or Americans when I’m travelling, I purposely go out of my way – I speak Italian and French – so in those countries I get by. But I purposely make it difficult for myself to go and meet the people and the culture so that I get a real sense of the true nature of the country that I’m in. I don’t like being a tourist.