By Bryan Calandrelli, Niagara Correspondent
When pinpointing the origins of the Niagara Wine Trail, there will always be a few wineries recognized as the granddaddies of the region. Certainly Niagara Landing, formerly Cambria Wine Cellars, will be mentioned as well as the pinot-pushing Warm Lake Estate as the local pioneers. Others have followed their lead, and over the last two years, another handful have popped up. The differences in winemaking style, farming background and overall business strategy is quickly evident when you visit.
Their diversity is most noticeable when you take a look at who's planting what in their vineyards. While some are sticking to their vinifera guns, others look to hybrids and natives to pay the bills, with a few relying heavily on fruit wines. The upside of this is that pretty much there's something for everyone on the trail. The obvious downside is that if you are a vinifera wine drinker, you may be let down in your search for estate grown fine wines.
Luckily the newest vineyards are not only focusing on vinifera but expanding the playing field with varietals that will distinguish them from the others. Currently it seems that the most common plantings include pinot noir, cabernet franc, merlot, riesling and chardonnay. Of the wineries currently open for business, Arrowhead Spring's gamble on syrah is what I think is the most exciting, but it's the new vineyards where the diversity is most evident. Jim and Kathy Baker's West Creek Road vineyard in Newfane includes gewürztraminer, theirs of which is the first planting of that varietal on this side of the border.
Perhaps the most unique overall vineyard selections are those being grown by Don Demason. Don, who's been farming for decades on Lower Mountain Road in Cambria, has planted pinot Gris, lemberger and sauvignon blanc. I think his decision to include sauvignon blanc will be remembered as a groundbreaking step for the grape in the area. I've tasted several Ontario examples and they have been jaw-dropping.
Each of these growers are bringing their own vision to the wine trail. Sure there's a little risk involved, but the payoff is being able to produce a unique bottle of wine -- not to mention becoming pioneers for those varietals on the Niagara Wine Trail. I've made the comparison of the Niagara region with the Loire Valley, in that the range of grape varietals grown is widely diverse. I'm just wondering who's going to be the first to try chenin blanc.