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November 06, 2009


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Not sure why any NYS winery would bank entirely on riesling knowing how inexpensive consistent versions from the FL are these days.

I guess if a winery is looking at keeping the vast majority of its sales out of the tasting room, then there will always be a demand, but in a wholesale market, seems risky.

Bryan, I don't know these guys at all obviously, but its not like they are ONLY doing riesling. That's just all they are growing.

My question is -- why not buy at least you gewurzt from NY (instead of Cali)?

I'd ask why they don't buy their reds locally...but I'm sure it's a LOT cheaper to get CA juice.

Two points. First, I really dig seeing local producers deciding to grow what they think is best instead of spreading it around haphazardly. Second, like Lenn I'm curious about why they make California wine. I can't imagine purchasing a bottle of wine made from west coast fruit, but I suppose it's a cash-flow thing and there's a market for it. Right?

Lenn, Evan,

Buying Californian grapes is not unheard of in Niagara - whether it's to supplement the wine list with some recognizable reds or to bide time until estate vines mature, a lot of wineries do it - I'm guessing CA juice is indeed available cheaply, and it allows NY wineries to offer high-demand grapes like syrah and zinfandel that really can't grow here. Many locals don't mind buying a bottle made from CA fruit, though customers seem to almost always prefer the idea of estate-grown wine.

I do agree that the gewurz could easily have been purchased from the Finger Lakes, and Dominic Varallo mentioned plans to eventually plant some along with his riesling. All sorts of factors such as personal connections, family preference, finances, etc. can dictate the choice to buy grapes from CA rather than NY around here.

As of now this is the only winery in the area focusing on riesling, so in terms of our local scene they have a sort of a niche, but since so many wineries are doing nice rieslings in addition to other great estate stuff, Varallo will really have to make sure they have an edge in terms of quality if they want to continue with this plan. (A reputation for a great Late Harvest would help with that.) If everyone's striving to make the very best riesling (and other wines, of course) that they can, so much the better for the region.

CA is way cheaper than NYS.

From my experience here the choice to use CA grapes is usually as simple as CA wine being the style the owners like to drink. I know Arrowhead has used some CA fruit with their first reds (sangiovese) and FRW bought some syrah in the past.

Varallo's vineyard is literally planted in a sand pit. It's so different from every other vineyard in the area.

It will be interesting to see how their rieslings compare to those grown on clay/silt or gravel.

I am now 0 for 2 when asking what local winemakers see in Niagara riesling that separates them from FL though Dominic sees us doing more late harvest/ice wine styles.

Julie - I can't help but comment… "and it allows NY wineries to offer high-demand grapes like syrah and zinfandel that really can't grow here."

While Zinfandel would be a stretch for the Niagara Escarpment, Syrah grows wonderfully here (and in Ontario on the western end of the escarpment). From a yield and cold hardiness perspective, it's a bit easier to grow than Merlot. We will be releasing our estate Syrah later this year and I suggest you come on up and try some from the barrel. I understand that several wineries here on the escarpment have begun to import Syrah from Long Island and hot pressed juice from CA... I assume because they have heard how wonderful the flavors are in ours!

Regarding California fruit in use by NY wineries: We used some California fruit in the disaster year of 2005 when NY fruit was ruined/reduced by 1) cold; and 2) a hurricane on Long Island. NY AG & Markets authorized farm wineries to buy certain varieties (vinifera) out of sate and many wineries did this state wide. Many more purchased bulk wine and called it “grapes” because NYA&M made the call rather late in the season. For us this was more expensive than local because we sought out high altitude cooler climate CA fruit grown by people with a focus on the highest quality. The choice for many wineries, including ours, was buying out of state or downsizing their business.

Buying grapes out of state when grapes are not available in state is a different thing than buying grapes out of state because it is less expensive or you think the quality of the fruit is better. There are plenty of grapes grown in CA in the $800 per ton range – particularly central valley (lodi). These typically are used in lower end wines selling for $8 or so a bottle and some NY wineries are using this fruit to come up with wines to compete with Mondavi Woodbridge, Barefoot, etc. Buying finished wine (shiners) out of state and relabeling it is another variation that I have seen cropping up on the NY shelves. The tell tale sign of a shiner purchase is that it has the California appellation listed (Out of state appellations cannot be used on wine produced from out of state grapes unless the state is adjacent to the winery’s state or if it says “for sale in XX State only” on the bottle, which exempts the producer from some federal label requirements).

The Varallo site has wonderful and unique escarpment sandy soil, and because it is enclosed by woods on all sides, bird netting is needed (birds like trees). Once the netting is in place, it does a beautiful job of keeping the birds off for a late harvest. The site is well suited to whites, but may be a bit enclosed for vinifera reds. I think this is a wonderful matching of site to product and I think their estate wines are very well made and reflect the terroir that they have.

Duncan - Thanks for your comments and insight. Was looking forward to Niagara Escarpment winemakers weighing in on this topic.

Can't wait to try your estate syrah when it's available. Perhaps I should have used another example of a warm-weather red, since we'll soon begin to find out what the potential is for syrah around here. I know Sonoma winemakers are producing some very nice cool-climate syrah, so it will be interesting to see how its cultivation (and that of other grapes being planted in Niagara that aren't typically associated with NY) develops.

While the red mainstays on the Ontario Escarpment are Bordeaux blends and Pinot, There are a few wineries on the growing Syrah - Kacaba, Eastdell, Fielding, 20 Bees/Dan Aykroyd, Creekside, Peninsula Ridge (uses Syrah in it's blends), and Wayne Gretzky (blends and ICE).

Jackson-Triggs' 2004 Proprietors Grand Reserve Shiraz won the Rosemount Estate Trophy for the worlds best syrah. Granted, this is a BC wine, but it is still much cooler than Australia.

There is even a winery dabbling with Amarone style wines - drying the grapes a bit before pressing. This is something we are experimenting with here at Arrowhead. Ridgepoint planted Nebbiolo, which is certainly a bold move. There has been so much work done in Ontario and there is so much experimentation and experience that it is a natural place to look for research.

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