By Julia Burke, Niagara Escarpment Correspondent

Photo courtesy of Victorianbourg Estate

Victoria-and-dan-pic Dan Hogue is just a tad stressed out when I call asking when
I can sample his wines. “Can we do it next week?” he asks breathlessly, his
cordial, down-to-earth voice as friendly as ever as he reminds me that “this
week is a little… crazy.”

I can’t say I blame him. He has a brand-new winery to
open, and he’s planning on participating in the Niagara Wine Trail Holiday
event – which is tomorrow.

Last week, when I stopped by his property in Wilson, NY, which overlooks Lake Ontario, I chatted with Hogue in his temporary tasting room.
Floorboards were exposed, nothing was finished, and the space was nowhere near
ready – but Hogue was optimistic, and if his work over the last few years on
what will become Victorianbourg Estate Winery is any indication, he’s well-suited
to daunting tasks.

The “temporary tasting room” he’s scrambling to finish pales
in comparison to the staggering mansion behind it that will soon house
Victorianbourg’s tasting room and reception area. Hogue built it while managing
his fledgling ten-acre vineyard, making wine and maintaining the nursery
business that he took over when he purchased the property. “The building was
designed and intended to be a focal point for the winery,” Hogue says.

no question the mansion, and the massive lakefront property surrounding it,
will ensure Victorianbourg’s status as a showcase winery in the region.

Hogue’s background is unique to the wine trail community: he
was originally a cattle farmer in Kansas. But, starting a winery was a lifelong
dream. He’s been honing his skills as an amateur winemaker for over 30
years. I

So, in 2005 Hogue and his wife decided to make their dream a reality. “We
were originally looking at the Finger Lakes, and happened to read an article
that identified Niagara USA as the area with the biggest potential for growing
vinifera wine grapes. I had never been to Niagara County, so I said, ‘let’s
drive up and check it out!’ We bought the nursery here and started planting
grapes with the plan of opening a winery – which we’re finally going to do next
week!” It’s an even more impressive accomplishment considering that the Hogues
did everything themselves, from designing and building the house to grafting
the rootstock to making the wine.

A farmer first and foremost, Hogue has an obvious passion
for viticulture as he discusses his plantings and soil types. “My first love is
the vineyard,” says Hogue. “If it got to the point where I could choose between
running the winery and running the vineyard, my inclination would be to hire a
winemaker and solely focus on the vineyard.” Dominic Carisetti, who works with
several wineries in Niagara, currently acts as consulting winemaker, helping
Hogue with the transition from home winemaking to a large-scale production. 

Hogue’s vineyard consists of ten acres of no-nonsense
grapes. “Riesling, pinot noir, pinot grigio, and chardonnay are primarily what
we have planted, totaling eight acres,” he says. “We also have merlot, cabernet
franc, and experimental plantings of chambourcin, seyval blanc, pinot blanc,
and gruner veltliner.”

The single largest planting is pinot noir. “I planted
what I like to drink!” Hogue grins. “We were looking for varieties that would
do well in colder climates. Whether red grapes will ripen well enough here,
time will tell.” The 50-acre property has moderately well-drained sandy clay
soil and a close proximity to the lake, which will offer frost protection. Now
in their fifth year, Hogue’s oldest vines are producing fruit, and he
plans to release three estate wines for the wine trail event tomorrow, including a dry riesling and a merlot-based rosé.

They’ll be greeted with plenty of excitement – after all,
Victorianbourg’s opening is long-awaited and much hyped within the Niagara
community. The winery has been listed in the Niagara Wine Trail brochure and on
the Niagara County map for several months. Eager visitors hoping to taste
Victorianbourg wine and tour the house have been pulling into the driveway all
season; lucky tasters who caught Hogue at the right moment have been able to
taste his wines, but for the most part the inner workings of the new winery
have been as mysterious and enticing as Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.

this anticipation – and Hogue’s tireless efforts – will be rewarded tomorrow when hundreds of tasters will have the opportunity to experience Niagara’s
newest winery.