2009 NiagaraCOOL Weekend
The 5th annual NiagaraCOOL weekend started off on Friday night when I picked up John Fiola at the airport. A few hours later, James & Jeanette Roscoe arrived by car and met us at a local bar, where I had to bribe the bartender to re-open the kitchen so Jeanette could get her chicken wing fix. With the wings we drank draft beer and listened to the Junk Yard Dogs, my cousin’s blues band, who also played at my birthday party the week before. The next morning, we met at my house, along with Joan Weisman, a member of the local AWS chapter and our great tour guide, Ed Draves. The six of us rode in Ed’s minivan. This year’s tour was for Niagara County, NY wines. The history of wineries and grape growing here goes back a long way, but is filled with many false starts and bad influences from outside the area. In reality, Niagara County, NY is exactly the same geology, soil and climate as the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario, where there are over 140 wineries, yet 11 years ago there were zero wineries on the US side of the river. Things have changed and we now boast about 11 wineries open and 2-3 in the planning stages. Before I go any further, I must confess that I did not take any notes all weekend, so this is all pretty much from memory. John Fiola carried a pen and notebook with him all weekend, so I’m going to rely on him for any corrections and omissions.
Our first stop was Leonard Oakes Winery http://www.lynoakenfarms.com/loew/
in Lyndonville, which is actually east of Niagara County in Orleans County. At their retail outlet, we met Jonathan Oakes, who is a fourth generation fruit farmer and great grandson of Leonard Oakes, who started the farm, raising mostly apples and cherries for 140 years. The winery is only 1 year old, so they are still learning. Jonathan graduated from Niagara College, Ontario, studying winemaking and viticulture. He led us to the winery and vineyards, which are located about 5 miles away. As the weather was great, there was a tasting station set up in the vineyard, where we tasted several whites. Jonathan explained that they started planting grapes about 5 years ago after pulling out some old apple orchards. They weren’t sure what varieties would work so they have plots of several varieties of vinefera and hybrid grapes growing. All the white hybrids we tasted were 2008, had been recently bottled and may still have been in a bit of bottle shock and had a bit of spritz, they were impressive nonetheless. The Traminette was very Gewurtz-like. The Cayuga exhibited the gooseberry aromas usually associated with SB. I’ve never had this in my home made Cayuga, but I think the grapes I use are all harvested much later. Sometimes I get anise in mine. However, my favorite was the Vignoles, which was very Riesling like, finished off-dry. In the winery we did tastings from the SS tanks. For reds, they use oak staves in the tanks for flavor and have no barrels yet, but this may change in the future. The Chambourcin seemed a bit short on the finish and not very well rounded. The Noiret, on the other hand, had a much better mouthfeel and a strong aroma of black pepper. I think a blend of those two grapes would work better than either one on it’s own. Next came the Frontenac. I was anxious to try this cold climate grape, which was developed in MN. Although they won a double gold for their 2007 at the Finger Lakes International Competition, I found the 2008 to be disappointment. It was thin and acidic and only seemed to hit one spot on my tongue. Even though the grape can ripen to high brix levels (24 +), it is cursed with both high pH and total acid levels, creating problems for wine makers. The Cab Franc, on the other hand, was very nice and I will be looking to pick up a bottle or two when it is released.
Next, we moved back to Niagara County and Freedom Run Winery http://www.freedomrunwinery.com/
. This is another family winery, started by the Manning Family, which opened 2 years ago. They grow almost all their own grapes on a site that has one of the few Southward facing slopes on the Escarpment. It is a beautiful winery, with a floor to roof glass wall separating the tasting room from the winery. Curt and Bryan had prepared for our visit by setting up a very nice lunch of sausages, cheeses, fruit and crackers in the winery. We started with samples of 2008 whites from the tanks, with a very nice Estate Riesling, an un-oaked Estate Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. Next we had their estate Pinot Noir, which was nice. Good acidity, medium color and typical PN fruit. We also tasted a PN made from grapes grown by Don DeMaison, an old friend of mine, and the source of the PN I made this past Fall. Very similar to the Estate version, but lighter in color. Their Estate Cabernet (2/3 Sauvignon, 1/3 Franc) was excellent, which many may think surprising, as 2008 was not a very good growing year for this area, but it seems that the later ripening grapes did better than the earlier ripening ones, like PN, which faced rain during the harvest.
Our next stop was Niagara Landings Wine Cellars http://www.niagaralanding.com/
. This is the oldest operating winery in Niagara County, although they have gone through two name changes, once due to a partnership dissolving and the other because a California winery already had proprietary rights to the name Cambria, which is the township where the winery is located. Being fairly well established, I believe they do the bulk of their business with native and hybrid varieties grown on their property while buying vineferas from Lake Erie growers. I was a bit disappointed here. Their Riesling, Chardonnay, Cab Franc and Cab Sauv were all sound wines, but nothing that made me say “Wow! Good Stuff!”. Their Steamer Steuben was very similar to my home made Steuben, but a bit sweeter.
Our last winery of the day was Warm Lake Estate http://www.warmlakeestate.com/
. This is a very unique winery because they only grow and Pinot Noir and nothing else. They are the largest grower of Pinot East of the Rocky Mountains, with over 40 acres, nestled at the top ridge of the Escarpment. The first plantings were 10 years ago and they have been expanding ever since. I’ve known Mike Von Heckler since well before he embarked on this enterprise, and he is one fascinating character. He is the managing partner and winemaker and his enthusiasm for what he is doing is contagious. From the tasting room he led us to the winery, where he talked our ears off for an hour and a half, explaining in minute detail, the soil and climate variations in different parts of the vineyard, clonal variety, the variations in oak from the different French forests and so on. While he was talking, we tasted from barrels, noting all the different variables mentioned in the previous sentence. His philosophy is to ferment all his wines the same, but kept separate, so the differences in the vineyards and clones can stand out, each exhibiting different characteristics. He then blends to achieve what becomes the top label, Warm Lake Estate, selling for about $35/bottle. There is also another top label designation, made from his first plantings and is designated as “Oldest Vines” ($39). It was truly fascinating to note all the subtle differences and then to taste the final blend to see how they all worked together. The remainder of the production is make other blends or single vineyard releases, which are given the second label designation of Mountain Road. However, these are by no means second class wines and are excellent in their own right and a great QPR, selling for less than $20. Halfway through this barrel tasting, we were joined by Mark Svereika, his wife and young daughter.
After a mad dash back home to change clothes and grab bottles of wine, we arrived on time for our 5:30 reservation for dinner at Shimshack’s Restaurant, overlooking the Escarpment, with a beautiful view of Lake Ontario and the Toronto skyline in the distance. We did a BYOB and Mike Von Heckler was waiting for us when we arrived, with a few of his wines in hand, including the 2007 Warm Lake Estate Oldest Vines
. His wines were enjoyed throughout the dinner. I brought the only white wine to dinner, which was 2007 Stone Wolf Pinot Gris
. I first tasted this wine before it was released, when Linda Lindsay brought a bottle to MOCOOL last summer. With good acidity and spiciness, it was an excellent, food friendly wine that I enjoyed with my bread, soup and salad. With my prime rib were two nice reds. The first was 2005 Ravines Meritage
that the Roscoes bought at the winery during the NiagaraCOOL tour in 2007. This is a nicely structured wine and is drinking well now. Next was 1990 Paolo Scavino, Bric del Fiasc Borolo
that Mark brought – slight bricking, a bit of sediment, but still good fruit on the nose, soft tannins and a full, long finish. For dessert, I had apple pie with a slice of cheddar melted on top. Yum!
The Sunday Picnic
was threatened with rain, but since there was no wind, the 25 or so who gathered were all in good shape under the shelter. In addition to munchoids and desserts brought by those attending, the menu consisted of:
Cucumber & tomato salad
Veggie platter (carrots, celery, olives, pickles)
Beans & greens soup
The wine theme for this year’s event was Burgundy and New World variants. I spent most of the day tending the cooking, so I constantly wandered back and forth to the wine table to taste the latest bottle that was opened. I did not taste every wine there, nor did I take notes, but some of the wines were outstanding, and I hope John and Ed will chime in here. From what I understand, there was only one corked wine, which, unfortunately, was a 1996 En Caillerets 1er Cru Volnay
. The first wine I had was Dampier NV Champagne
that we used to toast Jeanette Roscoe’s 50th Birthday. Nice bubbly! There were several off-theme wines, but the only ones I tasted were two Gewurtztraminers that Ed Draves brought for a blind tasting challenge. The challenge was to tell which was from the Finger Lakes and which was from a “famous” Gewurtz growing region and record your guess. As it turned out, Ed pulled a fast one on us, as they were both 2007 Red Newt Cellars
, but one was Curry Creek Vineyard
and the other was Sawmill Creek Vineyard
. Only one person guessed they were both from the Finger Lakes. Both were excellent and did taste different. Regarding the theme wines, I believe we had about 21 reds (Burgundy/Pinot) and about 6 whites (Chablis/Chardonnay). In addition to a few of my home made wines that I brought along for curiosity sake, I brought two OR Pinots that I picked up on my West Coast trip in May. The 1999 Bernard Machado La Cantera Vineyard Pinot Noir
was great – medium red, cherry, berries and spice – long full finish. 2002 Lindsay Williamette Valley Pinot Noir
was also very good – a bit deeper color and classic Pinot nose and a long full finish. My WOTD was 1999 Chambolle-Musigny – Domaine Herve Sigaut
– absolutely stunning – big complex nose, medium garnet, very long and full finish. This was followed closely by 2001 Santenay – Jean Noel Gagnard, Clos de Tavannes Premier Cru
– John Fiola brought this wine – very complex, earthiness, good acid balance and a very long finish. There were many others I tasted, from Burgundy, Italy, Argentina, New Zealand, Ontario, New York and California. A surprise was 2005 Millbrook Pinot Noir
from the Hudson Valley, which was tasted blind (the bottle was wrapped in foil). It exhibited all the right PN characteristics and in fit well with many of the other fine wines present. The 2005 Knightsdale Mendicino County Pinot Noir
seemed to taste more like California than Pinot. Like wise, the 2003 Domaine Marquis D’Angerville Volnay
also tasted like California. The Pinots from Italy and Argentina both seemed monochromatic and quite simple – fruit with no complexity. When I went to Oregon in May, I discovered that I really, really love Pinot Noir and this weekend confirmed just that. It was another great NiagaraCOOL weekend with great folks and great wines.