Last weekend’s Niagara Wine Trail Wine & Culinary Festival was a chance for the trail to raise money for promotions while extending its bottles to a wine drinking audience that may still be a little shy about stepping foot into an actual winery. The site — Academy Park in Lewiston, NY — seemed like perfect setting to appeal to the summertime festival-going crowds that know the town for its jazz festival, peach festival and the live shows at Artpark Performing Arts Center.

Trismegistus is the winery’s flagship red.

My hope that the event would be a great opportunity for me to catch up with winemakers and owners in the region turned out to be a little less than that since many of them were working in their tasting rooms or vineyards. But, that didn’t stop me from making the rounds in search of what’s new.

One of the owners who was in attendance was Erik Gustafson of Gust of Sun Winery. The winery — one of the newest in the region — has been sourcing grapes, juice and bulk wine to fill out its menu since opening last year. The practice of Niagara wineries buying wine and grapes from the Finger Lakes, Lake Erie and even Long Island is business as usual in a region whose vineyard acreage cannot possibly keep up with the demand seen in tasting rooms.

The winery’s 2010 Cabernet Franc is a welcome addition to the ever-expanding dry red menu in Niagara. Purchased from a winery on the east side of Seneca Lake, this cab franc is true to form, with fleshy sweet red fruit reminiscent of bing cherries and wild blackberries. It’s round, full and has great weight that ultimately leaves a savory dried tobacco flavor on the palate. Apparently this cab franc plays the lead role in their soon to be released 2010 Trismegistus red blend.

The chardonnay on the left has no clothes.

Arrowhead SpringVineyards was showing some new stuff as well in the form of a cheekily labeled Naked Chardonnay with fruit sourced from the Finger Lakes. Its delicate citrus, melon and pineapple nose was especially appealing on a hot summer day and it’s round, sweet fruit on the palate finished nice and crisp.

To be honest, the playful, silly illustration on the label doesn’t do justice to what’s in this bottle. This wine is more proof that winemaker Duncan Ross is serious about quality chardonnay in New York. Along with the Estate Chardonnay and a Reserve Chardonnay, Arrowhead Spring has every style of chardonnay on lockdown.

I get excited when any new vintage of an estate grown wine is released in Niagara so I don’t need to tell you how thrilled I was to taste a Gruner Veltliner from Victorianbourg Wine Estate. Dan Hogue’s vineyard is tucked away somewhere off of Route 18 in Wilson, NY less than a mile from the shore of Lake Ontario.

A very mysterious Niagara grown white wine.

I’ve never actually seen it with my own eyes but I have heard stories from people who have. I’d heard he had some Gruner previously but I had no idea it was already commercially available. Even the label itself doesn’t give you much info because it lacks the vintage and the appellation reads “New York State.”

On the nose, this Gruner Veltliner strays away from typical edgy minerality and green aromas I associate with the variety, and has a more tropical personality of passion-fruit, mango, apple and dried grass aromas. An unusually round structure and perhaps a little sweetness on the palate transform what could be a more polarizing wine into a crowd-pleasing, everyone’s-welcome beverage.

I was not the only one fascinated by this Gruner and as soon as Dan gets back from vacation (also not present on the day I attended) I’m going to get the scoop on what we should expect with this variety in Niagara.