By Julia Burke, Niagara Escarpment Correspondent
It’s exciting to find a great selection of New York wines in a shop. But a wine store devoted entirely to New York State? Carl Schmitter, owner of Chateau Buffalo in Buffalo, NY, is proving that it can work.
Now in its fourth year, Chateau Buffalo, located in the city’s hip, offbeat Hertel Avenue neighborhood, focuses exclusively on wines from Long Island, the Hudson Valley, the Finger Lakes, the Niagara Escarpment, and Chautauqua. Without favoring a particularly region, Chateau Buffalo’s selection simply offers what Schmitter considers to be the best of New York.
“The market was there, and I wanted to do something with local products,” Schmitter explains. “Wine and food go together. Wine should be a part of the local food movement. There’s still a stigma about New York wine that has to be overcome, and with the constant increase in the quality of the wines that we’re seeing out of New York, that should disappear.”
Schmitter loves to convert skeptics, often by handing them a glass at his tasting events. “It still exists in a lot of people’s heads that New York wines are either overpriced or they don’t offer good value, or they can’t make good reds, that sort of thing. That’s one of the reasons I opened this – to try and change people’s perceptions a little bit.”
Schmitter visits the Finger Lakes regularly, has visited numerous Long Island wineries, and is a frequent presence in the Niagara Escarpment wine region. “I try to stay on top of new wineries opening up; I work with distributors but also with wineries that self-distribute.” The store has sections for major varietals including cabernet franc and pinot noir, a wall of fine dessert wines, and often a “featured region” on display.
He also carries a good selection of Pride of New York foods and his own Dancing Buffalo wine and hard cider made from locally grown apples. Free wine tastings and “Meet the Winemaker” evenings, which have recently featured winemakers from Damiani, Ravines, and Arrowhead Spring.
When it comes to turning folks on to New York reds, Schmitter explains, “I like to try and steer them towards pinot noir. I think we do some really great pinot noir here in New York. The blends are also nice.” And, with a Pinot Noir selection that includes Long Island, the Finger Lakes, and Niagara Escarpment, customers are sure to find the right bottle.
I remember years ago, when I was just starting to learn about wine, I wandered into the shop and asked Schmitter if there was any good pinot noir from New York. I remember his face lighting up like a Christmas tree as he described each of the pinots he carries and helped me pick out a bottle to take home. That passion for spreading the word about New York wine, paired with a well-chosen selection, is what keeps Schmitter’s customers coming back.
For Schmitter, offering wines from all regions of New York with fairly equal attention given to all is a no-brainer. Chateau Buffalo is currently the only wine shop selling exclusively New York wine in the state. “Interest in New York wine has been pretty constant,” he says. “There’s a low profit margin on wine in retail, and it helps that we make some of our own wine here.” Thanks to his Dancing Buffalo wine and cider offerings, Schmitter can participate in tasting events, farmers markets and festivals, filling a unique role in the Niagara wine scene – and acting as an invaluable ally for local wineries by promoting their best wines and advocating the local mindset.
Schmitter’s selection of Long Island wines is particularly interesting to Western New York wine geeks who can’t find bottles like Paumanok Chenin Blanc or Osprey’s Dominion Pinot Noir at many of the mainstream wine shops. Asked about his favorite Long Island producers, Schmitter mentions Channing Daughters Winery in Bridgehampton. “They really are trying to make the best wine that they can. They really do most of their winemaking in the vineyard, and they’re somebody to really watch – they’re producing some fabulous wines.” He also lists Bedell, Osprey’s Dominion, Pellegrini, and Wolffer as favorites.
When selecting wines, it’s clear Schmitter is fascinated by offbeat varieties and styles. I asked him about his favorite examples of lesser-known grapes in the state. “Schulze’s Siegfried Riesling has always been a curiosity to me – I think that’s pretty cool,” he says of the northern Niagara County winery. “Lemberger, too, shows some really good potential in the Finger Lakes.” He also names Rkatsitelli and sauvignon blanc from Long Island as interesting examples.
It’s clear that in many parts of the state, stores and restaurants are moving toward better selections of local wine. Chateau Buffalo is leading the way, promoting New York by carrying simply the best of what the state has to offer, no matter what the grape or region.