Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Legend in his Own Right –John Marynissen 1925-2009

John came to Canada in 1952 with his wife Adriana by his side. Johannes (John) Marynissen was born in the Netherlands; had spent some hard years during World War II working in a German Munitions factory; and had lived in the underground for the final years of the war. The same year that John and Adriana wed, they decided to find adventure and a new life in Canada. So, they made their way here for a new life of exciting possibilities and new beginnings.

When they came to Canada, they had less than $100 but John and Adriana made their way to the Niagara region; saw the potential in the land; settled here; and never looked back. John’s first job was picking fruit at a local farm. A few years later they purchased the farm where the winery now stands.

John Marynissen was a true pioneer in the Ontario wine industry. When people told him it could not be done, he set about to prove that it could. He was always ready to push the limits of what was perceived to be possible with grape growing and nothing could be more visible than when John decided to plant Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in his vineyards, becoming the first to plant the grape anywhere in Canada – back in 1978. That same year, John was honoured with the title of Grape King due to his numerous years of planting and growing grapes which were sold to the local wineries that were opening and flourishing. Aside from growing grapes for the local wineries, John was spending some of his free time – not that there was much of that – trying his hand at winemaking.

His early years as an amateur winemaker saw him winning multiple awards and, in 1990, after much convincing by family and friends, John, with the help of his family, opened Marynissen Estates Winery. Although it would have been fairly easy for John to expand the business due to the very high demand for his quality red wines, he made the conscious decision to keep the operation small and focus on quality. That decision has paid off for them in the long run. The winery will be celebrating it’s 20th anniversary next year and has become known as a must visit winery when you are looking for great Cabernet Sauvignon – which, in theory, should not have survived the cold temperatures of Ontario – as well as a variety of other great wines.

Aside from a variety of awards won during his amateur winemaking years, John went on to win the Cuvee award for Best Red Wine in 1996 and 1997, the first Grapes for Humanity award by Tony Aspler and the Ontario Wine Society’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Perhaps the best way to sum up who John Marynissen was came from wine writer Shari Darling on the news of his passing. “I love and loved John. What I love most was his humility and brilliant simplicity in making such high quality wine. He was such a major contribution in building our confidence in the realm of Ontario’s ability to create world class reds. I will miss him. He is part of our terroir.”
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