Yours truly with the staff of Schulze Vineyards & Winery at last year's Finger Lakes Wine Festival

By Bryan Calandrelli, Niagara Region Editor

Niagara region wineries don’t often get the chance to pour for large audiences and even if they did, most don’t have the volume of wine that they can just pour away as samples.

Luckily the annual Finger Lakes Wine Festival is open to any New York State winery that wants to brave the crowds and take advantage of the opportunity to hand sell their wines to thousands of eager drinkers in Watkins Glen, NY. This year there are seven Niagara wineries representing the region.

Last year I worked the festival with Schulze Vineyards & Winery and got to see the spectacle unfold from behind the table. Aside from learning how to survive the festival I really got a feel for what people were demanding in terms of varieties.

This year I’m going back to help out Freedom Run Winery with their first trip to the event so I thought I should give the New York Cork Report’s readers some info on what to expect if they are seeking out Niagara wines next weekend.

If you are looking to taste some sweet wines from the region you have should visit Vizcarra Vineyards, Niagara Landing and Honeymoon Trail. Vizcarra is a one-stop shop for farm produce, baked goods, livestock petting, grape and fruit wines, and now, beer, but you can probably expect just wine from them at the festival as I’m not sure the vendor pass covers goats.

Niagara Landing, the oldest winery in the region, makes the whole spectrum of wines from dry to sweet but they are mainly known for the latter, including Rosebud Rosé, which I can only describe as their “Red Cat.” My advice would be to try their baco noir and vidal ice wine.

Honeymoon Trail in my opinion is the sweetest winery of the group and has won more medals than anyone for stuff like Diamond and Niagara. Being that the overwhelming demand is for sweets on the first day of the festival, they will probably be swamped with tasters.

Spring Lake Winery should be interesting as they supplement their estate riesling and late harvest riesling with California-made wines like cabernet sauvignon and merlot. I can vouch for the rieslings and if you just need some velvety tannins and chocolaty reds then you’ll find that in their non-estate offerings.

Leonard Oakes Estate Winery is a must-visit as they are making some of the most dynamic wines in the region from hybrid and vinifera grapes. Their double-gold winning Frontenac will be there as well other solid hybrids like Vignoles, Traminette and their red and white blends. Vinifera lovers should try their cabernet and riesling as they are always elegant and their vidal ice wine I consider one of the best in the state.

Schulze Vineyard & Winery’s lineup of wines is probably the most suited to the festival’s tasting environment.

Who needs Red Cat when they make a sweet red blend called Ruby? This stuff seriously spread through the crowds like a pandemic last year. Their Crackling line of tank-carbonated wines like Niagara and Mon Cheri stand out as unique even in the sea of sweets they are among at this event. Anyone who wants perfectly balanced off dry wines should try their vidal, cab franc rosé and cab franc nouveau. Once again like Niagara Landing and Leonard Oakes, they make an excellent vidal ice wine, so drink up.

Finally if you want to come by and discuss me being a cheerleader of Niagara wines, you can do it in person at the Freedom Run Winery table. I will be pouring a few sweets but mainly dry reds from their estate vineyards. I warned the owners that dry reds aren’t exactly the most popular wines at the festival but the opportunity to get more people to realize that they can be done well in Niagara is reason enough to bring them.

As far as must-trys, the 2008 Estate Pinot Noir (New York Cork Report’s Niagara red wine of the year) is one. I also think that the 2008 Estate Cabernet Franc and Cab-Merlot are worthy of the most finicky palates.

So if you’re heading to the festival, check a few of these places out. I realize Niagara County may not be on your destination list this summer so take advantage of the fact that we are coming to the Finger Lakes. And seriously stop by and see me if you can. I’ll be the one not wearing a toga, not drinking wine out of glass that blinks purple and green and not singing the Red Cat song.