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Jan. 26, 2021 | Tuesday
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Dr. Joseph Pohorly was a passionate winemaker, builder and innovator 
Dr. Joseph Pohorly, who earned his PhD at age 70, in the barrel cellar at Joseph’s Estates Wines, just one of his many lifetime endeavours. SUPPLIED

There aren’t many local pies that Dr. Joseph Pohorly didn’t have his fingers in.

Pohorly, who died peacefully this past week at age 88, was a teacher, professional engineer, grape and tenderfruit grower, entrepreneur, hotelier, winemaker and product innovator, during his long and well-recognized career. 

The Lake Report contacted his younger-brother-by-14-years, Frank Pohorly, who along with his wife Susan, and their son Stephen, farm a total of 53 acres of tenderfruit and grapes in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Frank was out on the farm, leaving Susan to pass his remembrances of Joe on: “Frank most remembers how much talent Joe had, particularly in anything artistic,” said Susan. “He loved drawing and photography.”

The two siblings were so far apart in age, they never really connected in business. “Joe was into wine. We were into farming.”

However, they did connect over a truck they purchased for use by both their businesses. “One side said Frank and Joe Pohorly and the other side was Joe and Frank Pohorly,” Susan’s voice smiles as she remembers.

Although Pohorly is perhaps best known for Joseph’s Estates Wines, which he founded in Virgil in 1996, the industry celebrates him for opening one of Ontario’s first cottage wineries, Newark Wines, in 1979 and later creating Canada’s first commercial ice wine in 1983. 

Pohorly’s business story continued.

In 1983, Newark Wines became Hillebrand Wines, with new investors. In 1986, Pohorly sold his Hillebrand interest to design, build and operate the Colonel Butler Inn. After 10 years in the hotel business, he sold the hotel to return to his first love, winemaking, opening Joseph’s Estate Wines in 1996.

If that’s not enough, in 2002, at age 70, Pohorly earned his PhD in environmental engineering from Columbus University for his research and development of processes to extract grape seed oil from the grape seeds and skins that are generated during the winemaking process.

Armed with this knowledge, Pohorly started Joseph’s Natural Products, a company to make and sell this innovative health product.

Niagara-on-the-Lake Coun. Erwin Wiens, a fellow grape grower, knew Pohorly for many years.

“I sold in him grapes when he owned Joseph’s,” said Wiens. “He was so easy to work with. And he did the engineering for my dad’s barn back in the early '90s.

“He was a real pioneer in the industry.”

Pohorly sold the winery in 2014 but continued to act as a winery and engineering consultant, and president of the grape seed oil company.

He served on the Niagara Credit Union (now Meridian Credit Union) for 27 years and received numerous community and industry awards, including most recently the 2018 Niagara Agricultural Lifetime Achievement Award.

He was predeceased by his wife of 50 years, Betty, in 2009. He is survived by two brothers, three daughters and two grandchildren.

Just a day after his uncle Joe died, Michael Pohorly posted a heartfelt tribute to his “road trip partner” on Facebook, from his home in Vancouver.

“He was an inspiration to me as a shining example of pursuing a life where all kinds of endeavours and interests are possible and a reminder that no matter what our age our lives can be lived fully and we can enjoy every moment and never stop learning and challenging ourselves.”

A life well lived.

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