Our Life’s Work / Meet the Owners

Experience, Integrity… Illuminate

Christopher & Gabriela have a long and credible dedication to the food & wine industry. Spanning over 25 plus years Chris & Gabriela have had the opportunities to flourish at all levels of the food, wine & Hospitality service industry, including being a freelance Food & Wine Writer for multiple publications including Niagara Today!

Leaving Pillitteri Winery in 2005, Chris founded Niagara Vintage Wine Tours as they saw a tremendous need for true industry wine professionals to showcase the Niagara Wine Region in a genuine and professional way. Most wine tour services were very remedial and mainly transportation based with little educational or professional components. “ 10 years ago we felt the industry needed to be changed and that a professional service was needed to allow people to know that the Niagara region created world class wine, but at the same time that the service standards of the region was first class as you embarked in your wine country experience with real winery professionals”.

With a growing young family, his wife Gabriela joined the team, coming from a background in wine herself, having held marketing/public relations position with Pillitteri Estates a renowned local winery. Her exposure to wine began with prior travels to wine regions of Argentina and California and her previous position with one of the countries’ preeminent wine events, the Niagara Wine & Food Classic, relying heavily on her formal event planning training.

Having grown up in Niagara Falls Chris & Gabriela spent the early years learning the trade of quality customer service and standards serving guests from all over the world at various locations in the tourist sector surrounding the Niagara region.

After graduating from Business Marketing at Mohawk College Chris moved to Toronto where he resided for four years, taking advantage of a rare opportunity at 20 years old, he worked his way up to lead waiter at the World Famous Kit- Kat Restaurant in the posh Entertainment district in downtown Toronto, now home to the Toronto International Film Festival, TIFF.

During this time span Chris has had the opportunity to meet and serve many famous people and dignitaries such as Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Jean Chretien, Paul Martin, Kevin Costner, Princess Fergie, Bruce Springsteen, Derek Jeter, Joe Torre, Alan Thick, Michael Burgess and many, many more on a daily basis, as the Kit – Kat Club located across the street from the Princess of Wales Theater. Working alongside restaurateur Al & John Carbone and President of the Sommelier Guild Jose Paradella, it was this experience that created the foundation for the love affair with food, wine and high service standards, which is present in Niagara Vintage Wine tours today!

After four years at the Kit-Kat an opportunity arose at the famous Trattoria di Umberto Restaurant, located in the heart of Whistler Village, BC. Chris worked with one of the world’s first famous Chefs over the past forty years Umberto Menghi. This experience enhanced tremendously his wine knowledge and worldly outlook of the wine and culinary business. The possibilities within the industry prompted Chris to take a six month excursion of the Washington, Oregon and California coast and embark on a journey through these famous wine regions. This experience evoked Chris’ current passion and thirst for wine knowledge.

Returning to British Columbia, Canadian Pacific Hotels was merging with the prestigious Fairmont Hotels. This business venture gave Chris the opportunity he was looking for, to take his service standards and new found wine knowledge to new heights, landing a position at the 5 diamond Wildflower Restaurant in The Fairmont Chateau Whistler Resort. During this time, pre-Olympics the Fairmont Resort won numerous awards for the Best resort in the world. Chris worked extensively in wine sales, and paired gourmet foods with wines from the dining room’s award winning wine list while refining the high service standards implemented by Fairmont Hotels. Over the next five years it was with great opportunity that Chris hosted many famous people, most notably serving the G-8 summit main dinner with the Prime Ministers of the free world, hosted by Colin Powell.

During this time Chris studied wine full time, at the French Culinary School of Dubruille, taught by the International Sommeliers guild Vice President Mark Davidson, while also moonlighting at Araxi Restaurant a James Beard foundation 5 star dining room and one of North Americas best restaurants. After completion of his wine courses Chris took advantage of Fairmont’s transfer opportunities, and landed on the pink shores of Bermuda serving wine in the Newport Room, the Island’s only five star high end restaurant, located in the Southampton Fairmont Hotel, the standards and service at this property was elite, from table side cooking to French service and Waterford Crystal and Sabering Champagne.

The fortunate or unfortunate events of a category 3 hurricane Fabian crippled the Hotel for the next year and the Hotel shut down as there was only half of a 14 story building left, forcing Chris to make his way back home to Niagara Falls. Forced to move back to Niagara Falls, he met his, now wife & and business partner Gabriela. They both now live and work in what is now Canada’s premier wine country destination, Niagara-on-the Lake.

Residing in wine country, Chris was the Winery Experience Manager and staff trainer at the historic Winery of Chateau des Charmes in St David’s. Chris was the first non-family member to be entrusted with this position and was instrumental alongside Suzanne Jenke in creating one of the most successful seasons in the winery’s history at that time. Chateau des Charmes Winery known as the Jewel of the Niagara wine region, has a rich tradition in winemaking and was the second winery in the Niagara region to be granted a winery license, over thirty years ago. It holds old world values and was a great place for Chris to spend two years watching the seasons unfold and the vines grow to life, while sharing in the meticulous ways of quality customer wine service.

Just before starting at Chateau des Charmes, Chris held the 1st Wine Directors position at Niagara Falls’ best fine dining Italian Restaurant, Casa Mia Ristorante. Simultaneously, he opened his own wine consulting company called ME-N-U.

Chris proudly joined Pillitteri Estates Winery, a prestigious Niagara-on-the-Lake family winery as the Winery Experience Manager and staff trainer. Pillitteri Winery is known as the world’s leader in Estate bottled Icewine since 2002 and has won best Ontario winery at the All Canadian Wine Championships with over 700 international awards and is now the best Icewine producers in the world. Christopher’s philosophy at the winery is to first and foremost educate people about the world of wine, while at the same time creating a wine experience that will invoke an emotional attachment to the food and wine industry.

Chris foresees the wine industry turning into the WINE SERVICE INDUSTRY. With his strong service background and work history Chris would like to focus his efforts on offering all potential wine travelers the best interactive, educational & professional wine experience possible, as he would say, “People are looking to be entertained with wine lingo and history by taking a piece of that winery or experience home with them. It’s not just about a winery having bad or good wine anymore, you are guests,” it’s about creating a genuine life experience surrounding food and wine themes, as with food and wine, it brings people together.

We have all traveled far and wide in search of beautiful places to create memories to be cherished.

It is here that that we will share great food and world class wine that has been meticulously prepared with a classic touch and an ageless passion.

The life that breathes in each bottle of wine is waiting to be explored.
In your journey of seeking out rare experiences it is our wish and commitment to be your guide in those special moments.

It is in a bottle of wine that life lives.
It is in the opening of a bottle of wine that life is shared.
Life is short! May the run in your wine be long?

Christopher M. F.
A Wine Smart Owner Operator
Niagara Vintage Wine Tours
The Wine Smart …People !