Vlogging Better Know An AVA – Niagara Escarpment.

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

When I decide that I am updating part of the website, I prefer to go all out. And this holds true for our Better Know An AVA pages. As I roll one out with its new improvements I will post here on the main page with a vlog. Bear with me as I am learning how to put this together, though I think I managed to pull this off.

Firelands Wines

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

So after all that discussion of the Ohio and the Firelands, did I finally get around to tasting any wine? Of course I did!

Firelands Tasting RoomI began with the Pinot Grigio, currently the most popular wine according to the ladies in the tasting room. I could taste green apple and grass. It was a little less crisp than some of the pinot grigios than I have had in the past, but this is a good thing… Sometimes, those wines get too bitey and for some reason that makes the hinge of my jaw hurt. (I never said that logic was my strong suit).

Next up was the Riesling. This was advertised as tasting of apples but I thought it had more of a honeyed flavor that reminded me of pears. This is made in what I consider a more traditional style, in that it was semi-sweet. I love the new modern dry Rieslings as well, but there is something to be said for the full, fruity and floral tones of the traditional method.

I even sampled the Gewurztraminer which I had tasted with Henry Bishop, Rory and Kevin (albeit not the same vintage). It is still an excellent blend of tropical fruits and rose petals. The best of two different worlds.

Home Wine Making at FirelandsAdditionally, I tasted both the Pinot Noir (a wine that I have enjoyed from Great Lakes regions, i.e., Niagara Escarpment) and the Cabernet Franc. The Cabernet was herbal and lightly spicy and nicely dry. The Pinot Noir was smoke with anise and cherry.

Additional offerings under the Firelands label include:

Cabernet Sauvignon
Barrel Select Chardonnay
Rose de St. George
Country Estate Red
Walleye White and
Ice Wine

Additional wines from the other Lonz, Inc. labels were available including the Mantey, Dover, Mon Ami and Lonz (from grapes produced on Middle Bass Island). I picked up a Mantey Cream Sherry for my father. He has always been a fan of Ohio sherries and am looking forward to tasting it with it in the near future (most likely Thanksgiving).

Additionally, the winery is a source for homewine makers and sells juice in the autumn (until it runs out).

Over the River and Through the Woods…

To my house this year!

My folks generally handle the Thanksgiving festivities but this year due to work considerations opted to let me and my shiny new kitchen handle the majority of the cooking. Not to be outdone, my father did bring the turkey and the dressing…. because as we have learned from inestimable Alton Brown, stuffing is evil because it both dries out the meat and creates a bacterial time bomb in your oven.

That being said, we had reached the point in the preparations where is was now time to finally select those wines that we would consume with our fowl friend… These were the planned choices and really we stuck to them pretty closely. Although I think we were much more in a mood for red wine and ended up drinking 2004 Warm Lakes Estate Pinot Noir in addition to the Hilton Clay in lieu of the Flora Springs. Our friend, Richard would be horrified, but in the end we will enjoy that Chardonnay so I say no harm, no foul on that choice.

My folks enjoyed the Gruet Brut and initially thought that it was a French wine. They were stunned to find that it came from New Mexico and more pleased that I managed to find that particular bottle for about $13.00 at WDC. The pinot noirs, on the other hand we had found together when out on our adventures on the Escarpment. This was our opportunity to taste them side by side again and this time get my mother’s opinion (as she kindly took charge of the girls that day). Over all the 2004 was preferred to the Hilton Clay but we enjoyed both…

After dinner as we enjoyed the maple cream pie, we tasted a number of lovely wines… A Port from Niagara Landing which tasted of Concord grapes, a R.L. Buller Tawny Port and Lustau Solera Reserva Rare Cream Sherry .

Niagara Regurgitated

I know, I know… you are getting sick of my description of this trip. Well, I don’t usually travel so far and get to drink new wines, so please bear with me…

Freedom Run was named for its proximity to Canada which meant freedom for slaves escaping the south via the Underground Railroad. Indeed many of the older homes in the nearby towns and villages have hidden rooms in their basements for the purpose of aiding the escape of slaves. This stop on the tour was unique. There was a huge pack of cousins there and the winery was owned by a friend of my cousin, John (Buddy). So we got the VIP treatment.

Freedom Run was by far the most visitor friendly (if you are over 12), having a spacious and comfortable tasting room. Complete with leathers sofas and chairs and bars decorated with blown glass flowers in the style of Dale Chihuly (made by winery co-owner, Sean Manning).

We however, because we had such a large group were escorted into the wine making facility which is visible but separated from the tasting room. We learned about the individual wines while catching up with cousins. Our tour was led by two of the co-owners of the winery, Larry and Sandra Manning. The wines we tasted were:

  • Cabernet Franc
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Catawba
  • Chardonnay
  • Manning Manor Blanc
  • Manning Manor Reserve (a dry Niagara aged in oak… most unusual)
  • Manning Manor Rose
  • Merlot
  • Niagara
  • Riesling
  • Semi dry Riesling

As we finish the tasting we were then treated to a tour of the wine making facility. We learned how the grapes are crushed and de-stemmed, how the juice is extracted, the need to turn the juice and fruit to extract the highest amount of flavor from the grapes (we even got to participate in the process…), how in larger fermenting vessels the fruit along the top of the barrel may be so strong that it can support the weight of a person, learned about the fermentation process as well as barrel aging.

The camaraderie and family feeling made me enjoy this winery more than all the others on the tour. The Manning’s are planning on restoring a barn on the property to be turned into a champagne house and also for use for community dances and other events. I wish them the best of luck in their endeavors and look forward to ordering more wine from them in the future!

And of course, thanks to my Mom for keeping the Angel and Imelda out of our hair so we could enjoy our tour…

Niagara Revisited

Not to be confused with Brideshead Revisited, since there will be drinking but no palatial English Manor or dottie aristocrats… Instead this is the continuing story of our journey through the Niagara Escarpment AVA.

The next winery that we visited was Warm Lakes Estate. This winery was unusual in that they specialize in pinot noir wines. Their personnel were extremely knowledgeable about how the various elevations, microclimates and geology impacted the vineyard. They were also well informed as to the varieties of food that would accompany their wines, going so far as to supply samples of a spicy barbeque chicken to be tasted with the wine. Additionally vineyard employees brought in grapes fresh from the vines to demonstrate the intrinsic sugar in the fruit.
The wines available at Warm Lakes include:

  • 2004 Warm Lake Estate Niagara Escarpment
  • 2006 Warm Lake Estate Pinot Noir Futures (which can be pre-ordered now for November release)
  • 2004 Mountain Road Niagara Escarpment Pinot
  • 2004 Glace Noir Niagara Escarpment

There were also a small number of older vintages which maybe sold out as of now. These wines demonstrated how changes in soil horizons and microclimate could impact their wines.

After heading down the escarpment, we traveled along the road until we reached Eveningside Vineyard. This was the smallest of the wineries that we visited during the day. They produced only 800 total cases of their assorted wines. Of the wines available for purchase, the Reserve Chardonnay was my favorite. A cabernet franc had previously been available, but was currently sold out. The 2006 was not yet available.

Other wines available included:

  • Chardonnay 2006, unoaked
  • Reserve Chardonnay 2006
  • Vidal Blanc 2006
  • Riesling 2006
  • Mountain Rosé
  • Claret 2004
  • Crofton Blush

The last non-family was further afield… All the way off to Gasport, NY which is where my father grew up. Naturally, it was a must see for us. Vizcarra Vineyards at Becker Farms was unlike any winery that we saw on this tour. The winemaker married into a farming family that owns a prosperous farm stand. And by farmstand, I mean the kind that has pumpkin patches and hayrides all autumn long. So this place was PACKED. Ok, most of the people tasting were probably trying to escape toddlers waiting for pony rides after the train ride around the grounds and that we had to watch for buses as we crossed on the grounds, but we don’t hold their success against them.

This winery had a large assortment of non-grape wines. The tastings were conducted at three separate tasting bars. Being this crowded, we didn’t really get to chat with the employees, but they did provide relevant points about each of the wines and moved the scores of people through efficiently. The wines available included:

  • Berry Patch Pink
  • Becker Blue
  • Perfect Plum
  • Rhuberry
  • Red Creek Raspberry
  • Spiced Apple
  • Apple Cranny
  • Emperor Cherry
  • Joyce’s Joy (Strawberry Rhubarb and Diamond wine)
  • Paso Fino (Cabernet Sauvingon)
  • Quaker Red Rougon
  • Falls Fusion (Vidal Blanc)
  • Rusty’s Riesling
  • Erie Canal Catawba
  • Barrelled Over Niagara
  • Dusty’s Diamond
  • Concord

Whew… how is that for brief tour of that AVA? Ooops… Still one more to go! Proof that a love of wine is a family thing! Stay tuned for our exciting conclusion.

Niagara Redux

How many wineries did Kevin and I (and my Dad) manage to hit before we had to join up with the family?

Two, you say? HA! As if!


How about 5 and then the family wine tour as well.

Now you are probably thinking that we were driving like crazy people throughout the back roads of Western New York high on merlot…. but you would be wrong. The fact is that most of these wineries were fairly close together and the tastings rooms professionally operated which meant that we never got more than a tasting pour.

Which wineries did we visit?

Honeymoon Trail was the first stop of our tour…And the location where we signed up for the best deal we got the entire weekend… See, the members of the Niagara Wine Trail were celebrating their Harvest Festival. This meant that for the weekend you could purchase a special wristband for $10.oo, get a free tasting glass and then free tastings at the memeber wineries. Naturally we thought this was great!

Honeymoon Trail is a winery that has operated for about a decade. They produce a number of types of grape wines as well as fruit wines as well (Frankly, I view them all as fruit wines as grapes are fruit, but I have heard enough complaints from friends and relatives to stop making this claim… sort of ). One of the wines that we purchased was their dandelion wine which is produced from the flowers of the plant. Having been a girl who often walked around picking dandelions for my mother and offered as gifts at religions shrines I couldn’t resist trying this wine. The taste was unusual but reminded me of summer sunshine.

Other wines that were available at the winery include:

  • Apple
  • Baco Noir
  • Cabernet Franc
  • Cayuga White
  • Chancellor
  • Chardonnay
  • Cherry
  • Concord (Honeymoon’s Over)
  • Coyote
  • Dandelion
  • Diamond
  • Full Moon
  • Honeymoon Sweet
  • Mighty Niagara
  • Peach
  • Pink Catawba
  • Pinot
  • Raspberry
  • Razzleberry
  • Riesling
  • Seyval Blanc
  • Strawberry
  • Vignoles
  • White Lace

The next winery that we visited was the Niagara Landing Wine Cellars. This winery was somewhat smaller than the previous winery and also supports itself as a Welch’s contract grower.

They produce:

  • Chardonnay-semi dry
  • Riesling-semi dry
  • Vidal Blanc-semi dry
  • Cayuga White-semi dry
  • NL House White
  • Siegfried
  • Boxer Blush
  • Misty Niagara
  • Rosebud White
  • Rosebud Peach
  • Merlot
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2005 Dry Steuben
  • 2005 NL House Red
  • 2005 NL House Rosé
  • Captain’s Choice
  • Red Rooster
  • Stearman Steuben
  • Sweet Captain
  • Rosebud Rosé
  • Raspberry Rosebud
  • Port
  • Cranberry Wine
  • Blueberry Wine
  • Cherry Wine
  • Pear Wine (Currently sold out)

Which wineries did we see next? Stay tuned until tomorrow!

The Stephen T. Colbert Memorial: Better Know an AVA

Niagara Escarpment AVA

Yes, I know… in theory we should start with Augusta in Missouri… but there is a method to my madness.

The Niagara Escarpment is the area that I grew up in. At the time of my childhood, the majority of grapes grown were for eating and juice, but there were individuals making wine for their own personal consumption… everyone in the semi-rural area that I grew up with knew someone making wine, whether it was from their own grapes or not. In my case, it was my father, who worked diligently to make his own selections of wine and sherry stored in leftover glass bottles and even Tupperware for any number of years… Where it suffered the warm summers and frigid winters of Western New York.

The Escarpment is a almost ideal as a terroir as the French have defined. The region has shared qualities of elevation, geology, geography, mesoclimate and soil type. These are the defining characteristics of location… From the French perspective, we Americans fail in issues of aspect, vineyard management practice and vinification, but these are less important than place to the ATF or as we refer to it now, the TTB.

An escarpment in general is a transition zone between zones of different geology. The variations in the zones are observed as cliffs that age at their own individual rates. Western New York is unusual in that it is crossed by two separate escarpments, the Onodaga which runs from nearly Albany to Detroit through New York and Southern Ontario approximately 25 miles south of the Niagara

Niagara is more prominent, and runs from Rochester through Niagara County forming the cliff over which Niagara Falls flows through Canada’s Niagara Peninsula and then up through Ontario into Lake Huron, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Lake Michigan, Door County Wisconsin and finally to the Wisconsin-Illinois border.

The Niagara Escarpment AVA was created in 2005. The region has always produced large amounts of fruit including grapes and wineries have existed there since the 19th century. Since the 1990s the number of wineries in the AVA and the surrounding area have increased and include:

The Winery at Marjim Manor

Schulze Vineyards & Winery
Chiappone Cellars Winery
Warm Lake Estate
Niagara Landing Wine Cellars
Spring Lake Winery
Vizcarra Vineyards at Becker Farms
Freedom Run Winery
Eveningside Vineyards
Honeymoon Trail Winery
Arrowhead Spring Vineyard
Chateau Buffalo

Over the weekend, I will hopefully visit as many of these Escarpment wineries as I can fit in while attending my grandmother’s 100th birthday.