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"Cheers Mate!"
Canadian Engineer Brings Home His Own Australian-Made Wines

John Bringas, P.Eng., remembers at age four going to the dirt-floor shed behind his maternal grandfather's Windsor, Ontario, home. There, like so many of his fellow Italian immigrants, his grandfather Luigi "Gigi" Zorzit, made his "vino puro". At such a tender age, John may not have fallen in love with wine but he certainly became mesmerized by winemaking.

The fascination with winemaking stayed with him and perhaps it should have matured into pursuit of a chemical engineering degree at university. Instead, John Bringas earned a diploma in metallurgical technology from Ryerson Polytechnic and a degree in engineering materials from the University of Windsor. He then moved to Edmonton in 1978 to join a consulting firm. In 1982, Mr. Bringas founded Codes and Standards Training Inc., the firm he still heads and which delivers professional development courses. He also runs a technical publishing house, CASTI Publishing Inc. and has authored several metals and materials guide books. They include the CASTI Metals Black Book, which has sold more than 20,000 copies in 80 countries.

Meanwhile, the lessons and attention to detail learned at grandpa's knee became useful as Mr. Bringas joined the thousands of Canadians who make wine as a hobby. When he built a new Edmonton home, he even added a room especially for making and storing wine. Mr. Bringas enjoyed sharing his wines with friends, family and colleagues. However, a 1997 business trip to Adelaide, South Australia, set him down a path that would carry winemaking beyond the realm of a hobby.

Though already aware of Australia's wines, once there, Mr. Bringas became much more attuned to the range and subtlety of Down Under wines, particularly those from around Adelaide, the country's unofficial wine capital.

He had occasion to make repeated business trips to Australia, usually spending several months there each year. Through business contacts and by touring the wine regions, Mr. Bringas met many Australian growers and wine producers, including the legendary viticulturist Peter Lehmann.

With a if-you-can't-beat-'em-join-'em attitude, Mr. Bringas decided two years ago to shift beyond being a connoisseur to becoming a producer of Australian wines.

Using meticulously selected, hand-picked grapes from the Adelaide Plains, McLaren Vale and Baroota regions, Mr. Bringas is producing full-bodied red wines, in the Adelaide area, that have the spicy taste the Canadian engineer was after.

"I love wines that have texture ? so that when I taste them, I feel I can chew them."

Based on his experience producing similar wines in his Canadian home with California zinfandel grapes, Mr. Bringas believes this will appeal to Canadian palates.

He hopes Canadians will share an enthusiasm and taste for his Aussie wines (which retail between $30-$40 a bottle) enough to justify increasing his production when next March's grape crop ripens.

"As far as I know, I am the only Canadian making wine in Australia and exporting it exclusively to Canada."

The first vintage produced in 2001 by Gigi International Wines Inc. goes on sale only in Alberta this fall.

"Next year, we're looking toward exporting to other provinces," says Mr. Bringas, who has been able to link one of his other hobbies, bird watching, with his wine venture. Gigi bottles aren't only a taste treat; they're also a colourful sight thanks to the four Australian birds, the Kookaburra, Rosella, Cockatiel and Galah after which the three shiraz wines and one blend are named. Adelaide-area artist Sandra Roe painted the colourful illustrations that grace the labels.

If you haven't guessed it, the Gigi brand honours the memory of Grandpa Gigi and his dedication to producing a wine worthy of old-world standards.

And would Gigi Zorzit, who died in 1975, approve? His grandson thinks so, suggesting: "I think first he would laugh, and ask 'Can I taste it?' Then he would smile from ear to ear. That would be enough approval for me."

  Gigi International Wines Inc., 2007