By Bryan Calandrelli, Niagara Regional Correspondent
In the spirit of my “Funny Farm” style transition to rural living, I recently co-chaired the 14th Annual Home Winemakers Competition for the Niagara County Fair. This event manages to energize a small group of passionate local winemakers to showcase their skills, and this year we decided to bring in some local wineries to award fruit and grapes to the best in class winners.
Now I know what you’re thinking, how do I get all these glamorous gigs? Okay, maybe you’re not thinking that, but the truth is there’s nothing glam about tasting more than 100 wines that didn’t benefit from the technology and know-how of a professional winemaker. You won’t hear Robert Parker discussing the bizarre flavors of beet, corn and maple sap wines anytime soon either.
The hardest part for myself, Jonathan Oakes of Leonard Oakes Winery, Amanda Vizcarra of Vizcarra Vineyards, Tyler Finley of Schulze Vineyards & Winery and Kurt Guba of Freedom Run Winery was staying focused and finding the well-made wines amongst the diverse range of styles. Of course there were some flawed wines, but the panel tried their best to be constructive in their notes to the participant. In many cases, something as simple as adding tartaric acid early enough or keeping the proper sulfur level can make the difference between a winning wine and one that is lucky to be called a cooking wine.
The best-of-class winners were a semi-dry riesling, an off-dry Geisenheim and a chocolate-raspberry fruit wine, but sometimes it’s the weird entries that are more memorable.
For me a 2004 dry concord was fascinating. It had a touch of oak, some browning from the age and ultimately a dry silky mouth-feel with an unmistakable concord flavor.
Another memorable entry was the first pinot noir I tasted. It had such a great nose that I thought it was a ringer. With aromas of red berry fruit, cedar and a little barnyard, I had pegged it for French pinot noir. As it turns out, it lacked a strong mid-palate, but the nose and finish were strong as can be expected. The guy made it with fruit from his own vines that’s he’s had for almost twenty years. We recommended he bleed off some juice before fermentation next year to fill it out.
The long-term idea behind involving the local wineries with the competition is to make it easier to get local grapes, not frozen must or juice into the hands of aspiring amateur winemakers. We also want the locals to know that there are more options than just Niagara or Concord grapes for their home wines.
Now I just need to find a competition to enter my wines in. I guess there’s some conflict of interest with me judging my own.