By Bryan Calandrelli, Niagara Region Editor
I recently made my first visit to the region's newest winery, Black Willow Winery, in Burt. The tasting room for is housed in a newly renovated barn that sits right on Lake Road (Rt. 18) less than a mile from the southern shore of Lake Ontario.
There isn't an adjacent vineyard yet, but with all the orchards surrounding the property, it has the quaint rural feel that you associate with wine country.
Once inside, I was immediately impressed with the crisp and delicate nature of the whites. With grapes sourced from Cayuga Lake, the chardonnay was lightly oaked, with clean citrus and pear aromas. There were subtle toasty notes, but overall, this lived up to it’s billing as a “lightly oaked” wine.
The Trilogy White picked up right where the Chardonnay left off, with clean flavors of tropical fruit and spice. It's a blend of gewurtztraminer, cayuga and riesling and was soft, subdued and balanced. It too was sourced from Cayuga Lake.
The first red I tried was cabernet franc, and though I was ultimately disappointed from an exaggerated push of fruit (likely from some oxidation), the un-oaked black cherry notes will most likely still appeal to many customers who don’t fuss over volatility. The Trilogy Red had a hint of oxidation, thanks in part to the blend consisting of likely the same cabernet franc with Chancellor and cabernet sauvignon,Yet its aroma of bright cherry fruit was reminiscent of Swedish Fish candy.
Just as expected, there were a few native wines on the list and the first was actually pretty restrained. Bare Cat Blush, named after the owner’s love of hairless cats, is a Catawba-based blush that doesn’t venture into “sweet for sweet’s sake” territory. Its aroma is a dead ringer for Pez, and it has just enough grapey flavor to appeal to the native grape lovers.
Black Widow Berry is a blend of concord and blackberry extract. Interestingly enough the tasting room staff encourages you to eat a Junior Mint before tasting it, which goes against any instinct I have but actually works with this 7% RS wine.
But what probably got me most excited was getting to taste the winery’s soon-to-be released meads while owner and winemaker Cynthia Chamberlain showed me the production area. Black Willow’s meads, otherwise known as honey wines, are sourced from local honey and fermented dry. These wines were unlike any I’ve tasted in Niagara.
The Odin Nectar was diluted to 24 brix and fermented dry with aromas that I would normally associate with beer: citrus, pulp and banana. It also reminded me of skin-fermented white-grape wines on the palate.
Chamberlain revealed that this one will be sweetened slightly by adding honey back to the wine before bottling.
Finally, the wine that rocked my palate was an experimental product called Nordic Fire. This mead was made from pepper-infused honey, giving it a pleasant citrus and white pepper nose and red-hot fireball pepper packed flavor on the palate. Chamberlain said that the actual wine should not have as much alcohol as it really brings out the heat but I actually really liked it.
Even though the winery isn’t offering any locally grown wines yet, Chamberlain made clear her intentions of planting vines.
“We’re still determining what we can plant here given that we are so close to the lakeshore, we don’t get the warmth that they get further inland,” she says. “We’d like to plant something different and something we know will ripen.”
No matter what they decide to put in the ground it’s exciting to see a new winery with intentions of making all their wines in house with their own hands, even being as bold to be the first ones to make and sell mead on the trail. As far as location goes, they couldn’t be in a better area. The lakeshore between Wilson and Olcott, NY is beautiful and it’s great to see Black Willow bringing more people out to this area.