By Bryan Calandrelli, Regional Editor

Niagara Wine Country USA is in the middle of its most significant — and exciting — harvest to date. Never before has their been this many vineyards producing vinifera, hybrid and native grapes for wine.

My first glimpse of this year’s crush was at Schulze Vineyards & Winery, where owner Martin Schulze was in the middle of crushing cabernet franc grown by one of the region’s newest vinifera growers, his longtime friend Kimball Paterson. Schulze usually produces a nouveau-style cabernet franc along with his reserve dry, so it should be fascinating to taste his estate-grown lakeshore grapes (which are still hanging) along side this year’s Niagara Escarpment-grown cabernet franc. Schulze also harvested its vidal a few weeks ago for their estate sparkling wine, the only method champenoise wine made in the region.

Freedom Run Winery finished its pinot noir harvest last weekend with brix levels well above typical levels. The estate’s Stonehaus Vineyard pinot noir came in at 24 brix with a pH around 3.30. Talking to Freedom Run’s cellar master (and lover of red Burgundy) Kurt Guba, I got the impression that he is more excited about the triage batch that came in around 22 brix.

Chateau Niagara, one of the newest wineries in the region, brought in its chardonnay, merlot, riesling and pinot noir over the last two weeks. Other than some complaints of raccoon and other animal damage to their crop, owners Jim and Kathy Baker seemed thrilled to get their first estate-grown reds in production.

Lenn_harvest02 With what I believe to be the most diverse planting in terms of varieties, Leonard Oakes’s 2010 harvest is in full swing as well.

Although I don’t know the details of what and when, I know winemaker Jonathan Oakes (pictured at right) has been hard at work crushing grapes from his estate vineyard. Lending his experience this year at Schulze Vineyards, Jonathan is one of the busiest guys in the region.

Speaking of busy, Arrowhead Spring has been hard at work crushing some of the 50 tons they expect to process this season. They started with eight tons of Niagara Escarpment pinot noir purchased from Leland’s Vineyard, a vineyard that was originally intended to supplement Warm Lake Estate’s production.

Last weekend Arrowhead pulled their estate chardonnay and they plan on picking their merlot by the end of this week. They will also add Finger Lakes grapes to their production this year with some gewürztraminer, pinot noir, merlot and cabernet franc on the way.

Randy Biehl of Eveningside Vineyards described this growing season as “the vintage of the decade” to me last weekend. He has yet to pull any of his estate-grown chardonnay, cabernet franc or riesling but is eyeing this week for the chardonnay.

It’s great to see so many growers having a successful early season, especially after a challenging 2009 vintage. It’s also a good sign that there’s no shortage of wineries to buy up local grapes from new growers in the region. And ultimately it’s great that demand is so high that Niagara wineries still have to source from Ontario and the Finger Lakes to keep up with their customers thirst for locally made wine.