By Bryan Calandrelli, Niagara Escarpment Editor
The Niagara River is the natural border that divides Western New York and Ontario. When you stand at some points along the river and look west, you can’t help but notice how close we are to our Canadian neighbors. It’s becoming more and more evident that this border will get even closer as Niagara USA wineries look to carry on the momentum of Ontario’s successful wine industry, and in some cases, look to import what makes them so successful.
Perhaps the most obvious evidence that Niagara USA wineries are capitalizing off of Ontario’s achievement is ice wine. Local wineries are seeing a great deal of tourist traffic in search of this decadent dessert wine. As of today, three wineries are growing and producing estate grown ice wines that rival those across the river and they have been extremely well received by the public.
Other local wineries with young vineyards that can’t necessarily let their grapes hang into winter are not letting that stop them from producing quality ice wines though. A commercial winery license, as opposed to a farm winery license, allows them to purchase juice from grapes from Ontario pressed according to the VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance) standard. The average tasting room guest doesn’t seem to mind the non-estate ice wines and it looks like more and more wineries will be buying from across the border.
Does this bother me as a wine geek? Yes and no.
Do I personally want to be pouring ice wine from Ontario in a tasting room? No.
But as far as the average tasting room drinker is concerned, I think that as long as the winery is up front about where the grapes are grown, I don’t think it really matters. I do see it putting more pressure on the producers of estate-grown ice wine to brand their wines as such, and present as much information in the form of photos, videos and stories from their own harvest to compete with the other wines in the market.
Will this trend stop with ice wine? Probably not. There is a huge demand for local Niagara vinifera grapes and not enough local grapes to go around. Many wineries already supplement with Finger Lakes, Chautauqua or Long island grapes, but I’ve heard some buzz that Ontario may become another source.
At first this didn’t sit well with me, although as time went on I realized that if wineries were going to source from outside the county, at least Ontario fruit will resemble what we grow here. The geology and climate are so similar that you’d be hard pressed to identify the origin of two well-made wines in a blind tasting.
The Niagara Escarpment AVA here shares much in common with the Beamsville Bench area of Ontario, as do the Canadian lakeshore sub-appellations with the Niagara County lakeshore of Lake Ontario. I think that winemakers here will benefit from using Canadian grapes as they become accustomed to the similarities in terroir, and more importantly how to showcase it in their wines.
I’ve barely scratched the surface of this topic. I hope to get around to discussing how the current customs laws and border practices affect wine traffic and sales. I want to also tackle how Niagara Ontario’s ever-increasing exposure will affect our corner of New York.
I might even speculate on the importance of Paul Hobbs now consulting for Stratus Winery in Niagara on the Lake. Until then I am satisfied with the thought of the NYCR’s readers trying any Niagara wine, whether it be from New York or Ontario.