On Thursday Oct. 4th, famed Canadian entrepreneur, venture capitalist, author and “Dragon’s Den” star Kevin O’Leary ventured into the LCBO’s flagship Summerhill store for a special appearance to sign bottles of his new line of O’Leary Fine Wines for its official product launch.
What? Wait — Kevin O’Leary? THE Kevin O’Leary? “The Mean One” on the “Dragon’s Den” TV show? The man who has dashed the dreams and crushed the hopes of Canadian entrepreneurs and literally left them crying on national TV? The Dragon so mean he was brought on to the American version of the show called “Shark Tank” to do the same number to poor hapless American saps and single-handedly destroy our image as nice-guy Canadians with our neighbours to the South? The man who was once cornered by a complete stranger in the men’s washroom at Pearson International Airport just so he could tell Kevin he was a complete a**hole to his face?
Yes. That Kevin O’Leary. An accomplished businessman, he is currently the founder and CEO of O’Leary Funds, an investment firm that has amassed more than $1.5 billion in assets — all but unprecedented in the Canadian mutual-fund industry. Oh yeah, he also happens to be a passionate wine lover.
Mr. O’Leary created his wine line in partnership with Niagara’s own Vineland Estates (where iYellow’s own founder Ange Aiello got her start in the wine industry). Vineland Estates President Allan Schmidt — who was in attendance at the event along with his brother, winemaker and Vineland Estates VP Brian Schmidt — informed me of how the partnership came to fruition as a result of a single glass of Vineland Estates wine.
One night Mr. O’Leary was having dinner at celebrity chef Mark McEwan’s One restaurant in Yorkville. Mr. O’Leary was quite taken with a glass of wine he had been served with the meal and the sommelier informed him that it was an exclusive blend made for the restaurant and was not for sale anywhere else.
Mr. O’Leary lamented this and then casually remarked that he should consider getting into the wine business himself. The sommelier told him that if he was serious, the winery that made One’s custom blend was Vineland Estates and they would be a great partner for him if O’Leary wanted him to connect them with each other.
As it turns out, Mr. O’Leary was indeed serious about the venture and made the contact with Vineland Estates . Allan informed me that Vineland was pleasantly surprised by the completely unexpected proposal and that they and O’Leary set out to work immediately on the wine line over the next year, with O’Leary actually choosing the final blends of the wines himself. The O’Leary Cabernet-Merlot and Unoaked Chardonnay were released two months ago to wide acclaim including a recent Best Value in Wine award from the prestigious Intervin international wine awards.