There’s a new grape king in Niagara-on-the-Lake — and his name is Erwin Wiens.
The Grape Growers of Ontario and Farm Credit Canada announced Wiens as the 66th grape king on Tuesday.
He succeeds last year’s grape king, Ben Froese, who also is from NOTL.
The person chosen each year acts as an ambassador for the province’s grape growing industry and attends functions across the country on its behalf.
“It’s representing the organization at the different festivals and events (and) also representing the organization at the government level,” said Wiens.
Wiens was nominated by his peers for the title, which is an honour in itself, he said.
“Being recognized by my colleagues, by all my peers, and all my friends as the grape king — it just overjoyed me,” Wiens told The Lake Report Tuesday afternoon.
In addition to his new title, he also is deputy lord mayor of Niagara-on-the-Lake and sits on many municipal and regional committees.
Wiens said none of this would have happened without his wife, Dorothy Soo-Wiens, and his four daughters, Brianna, MacKenzie, Taylor and Jessica.
Dorothy was never a farm girl, he noted, and was brought into farm life through Wiens.
Together, they own 120 acres in Niagara-on-the-Lake, producing high-quality grapes like Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Merlot.
“She’s embraced it. And my kids embraced it. And they went through all the highs and the lows,” he said.
He joked that Dorothy should be the grape queen and he the grape prince.
The grape king is a “long standing tradition” that started in 1956 with just a cape and a crown, but has evolved to the signature jacket worn with the chains of office, said Debbie Zimmerman, chief executive officer for the Grape Growers of Ontario.
“That’s sort of a piece of the puzzle that a lot of people don’t understand, but the chain of office is very reflective of a mayor’s chain of office where it has all of the grape kings who have been in the role since the organization started,” she said.
She added that the name grape king is gender neutral and three women have won it in the past. Its role “is to remind people of what we do as growers.”
She noted that every bottle of wine starts in the vineyard.
“What would we be if we didn’t have the grape and wine industry?” she said.
“So it’s telling the growers’ story — there is the end production, which is wine, but you don’t have good wine without great grapes,” she added.
Each nominee’s farm was inspected by a panel of expert judges from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and the University of Guelph.
The judges assess the nominees’ vineyards through a number of criteria including diseases, insects, weed control, soil management and the quality of the vineyard.
Along with assessing the farm, the grower is interviewed, which allows the judges to get a sense of their knowledge in the industry.
Wiens said there’s a lot of tough questions by experts.
“Which is great because metal sharpens metal. I love having those conversations,” he said.
Wiens said he feels lucky to be a part of this.
“Anytime I can do anything to advance the industry, it makes me so happy to do it.”
Wiens’s duties will start this weekend at the Invitational Grape Stomp on Sept. 17 at Montebello Park in St. Catharines and continue on Sept. 23 in the annual Grande Parade at the Niagara Grape and Wine Festival.
Somer Slobodian, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report