Photo courtesy of Victorianbourg Estate
Dan Hogue is just a tad stressed out when I call asking when I can sample his wines. “Can we do it next week?” he asks breathlessly, his cordial, down-to-earth voice as friendly as ever as he reminds me that “this week is a little… crazy.”
I can’t say I blame him. He has a brand-new winery to open, and he’s planning on participating in the Niagara Wine Trail Holiday event – which is tomorrow.
Last week, when I stopped by his property in Wilson, NY, which overlooks Lake Ontario, I chatted with Hogue in his temporary tasting room. Floorboards were exposed, nothing was finished, and the space was nowhere near ready – but Hogue was optimistic, and if his work over the last few years on what will become Victorianbourg Estate Winery is any indication, he’s well-suited to daunting tasks.
The “temporary tasting room” he’s scrambling to finish pales in comparison to the staggering mansion behind it that will soon house Victorianbourg’s tasting room and reception area. Hogue built it while managing his fledgling ten-acre vineyard, making wine and maintaining the nursery business that he took over when he purchased the property. “The building was designed and intended to be a focal point for the winery,” Hogue says.
There’s no question the mansion, and the massive lakefront property surrounding it, will ensure Victorianbourg’s status as a showcase winery in the region.
Hogue’s background is unique to the wine trail community: he was originally a cattle farmer in Kansas. But, starting a winery was a lifelong dream. He’s been honing his skills as an amateur winemaker for over 30 years. I
So, in 2005 Hogue and his wife decided to make their dream a reality. “We were originally looking at the Finger Lakes, and happened to read an article that identified Niagara USA as the area with the biggest potential for growing vinifera wine grapes. I had never been to Niagara County, so I said, ‘let’s drive up and check it out!’ We bought the nursery here and started planting grapes with the plan of opening a winery – which we’re finally going to do next week!” It’s an even more impressive accomplishment considering that the Hogues did everything themselves, from designing and building the house to grafting the rootstock to making the wine.
A farmer first and foremost, Hogue has an obvious passion for viticulture as he discusses his plantings and soil types. “My first love is the vineyard,” says Hogue. “If it got to the point where I could choose between running the winery and running the vineyard, my inclination would be to hire a winemaker and solely focus on the vineyard.” Dominic Carisetti, who works with several wineries in Niagara, currently acts as consulting winemaker, helping Hogue with the transition from home winemaking to a large-scale production.
Hogue’s vineyard consists of ten acres of no-nonsense grapes. “Riesling, pinot noir, pinot grigio, and chardonnay are primarily what we have planted, totaling eight acres,” he says. “We also have merlot, cabernet franc, and experimental plantings of chambourcin, seyval blanc, pinot blanc, and gruner veltliner.”
The single largest planting is pinot noir. “I planted what I like to drink!” Hogue grins. “We were looking for varieties that would do well in colder climates. Whether red grapes will ripen well enough here, time will tell.” The 50-acre property has moderately well-drained sandy clay soil and a close proximity to the lake, which will offer frost protection. Now in their fifth year, Hogue’s oldest vines are producing fruit, and he plans to release three estate wines for the wine trail event tomorrow, including a dry riesling and a merlot-based rosé.
They’ll be greeted with plenty of excitement – after all, Victorianbourg’s opening is long-awaited and much hyped within the Niagara community. The winery has been listed in the Niagara Wine Trail brochure and on the Niagara County map for several months. Eager visitors hoping to taste Victorianbourg wine and tour the house have been pulling into the driveway all season; lucky tasters who caught Hogue at the right moment have been able to taste his wines, but for the most part the inner workings of the new winery have been as mysterious and enticing as Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.
All this anticipation – and Hogue’s tireless efforts – will be rewarded tomorrow when hundreds of tasters will have the opportunity to experience Niagara’s newest winery.