NiagaraBy Bryan Calandrelli, Niagara Correspondent

Lately, it’s been frustrating for me to keep fresh information about Niagara wines flowing to the readers of LENNDEVOURS. I’ve written about a handful of wineries producing dry wines that I’ve been excited about, but I’ve dealt with some trepidation concerning some of the others in the region.

It’s the same feeling you might get when a new girlfriend comes home with you to meet your family. There’s always that one aunt or uncle that you haven’t quite mentioned before everyone meets face to face. Well, it’s about to get awkward as I introduce you to the Niagara region’s Aunt Hybrid and Uncle Vitis Labrusca.

I personally don’t find anything exciting about vitis labrusca, while at the same time, at least 1/3 of the wineries up here have more of these wines than vinifera. I’m sure there are more than a few great ones up here, perhaps the best in the state, but I just don’t know how to judge such things.

The bottom line is that they can be instant profit for these wineries. They can be quickly turned around, don’t require barrels and don’t demand the same attention as their vinifera cousins. When these wineries create a good sweet blend and market it with a catchy name, it can result in instant brand loyalty among its drinkers. I’ve seen wineries scrambling to keep them on the shelves when they’re done right.

Indeed, the sweet producers aren’t losing any momentum. How can they ignore this ability to shave years off the marathon race toward profitability? What do you do if those ubiquitous bus loads and limo trains tend to bring out the sweet drinkers (as is often the case here in Niagara)? Do you start sweetening your Riesling? Do you buy a few tons of Niagara or Catawba to satisfy the demand?

I’m not sure what the answer is yet. I do know that twenty years ago the Ontario government used subsidies to encourage pulling out native grapes and replanting with vinifera. They also formed the VQA (Vintners’ Quality Alliance) to brand and regulate dry wine to boost consumer confidence. And I still see plenty of sweets in the Finger Lakes, but they have so many wineries now, you could spend a week there just stopping at wineries that feature only vinifera.

Like I’ve said in recent posts, the best to come out of the Niagara region may still be in oak, stainless steel or on the vine. Young vinifera vineyards are coming online at an exponential rate, but if you do make it up here and only drink dry wines, be warned that you should do your research to see who’s pouring what. And if you forget to do that, just ask the tasting room employees where you can find what you’re looking for.