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September 06, 2010


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I still quote Mike Von Heckler's explanation of the Escarpment to my customers and students. Mike could talk Escarpment for hours and keep an audience riveted. I'll miss Warm Lake.

Hopefully, the investors will be able to re-form and do something with it. There is 30 acres of Pinot in those weeds.

We remember reading the large article in the Buffalo News some years back, thinking "if you build it they will come." Back in the day, he was the only one. Von Hockler was the one to pique the interest of the masses to the interest level that the Niagara Escarpment wines would soon come to offer. And pique the interest he did! We remember going to the winery to sample all the wines he had lined up along his bar, which introduced and offered red and white wines-the very best of what New York State had to offer at the time- along with opportunities to buy his "futures" of his Estate Grown "Pinot Noir" and promises of upcoming festivals in the vineyards. One thing was certain, the man dreamed big. In the future,I will always draw a correlation to Von Hockler and the growth spurred on by the initial presence of Warm Lake Estates. May whomever buys the vines of his Estate dream big as well.

Love this story, Bryan - Warm Lake's influence on our region is too complicated to overstate, and for that reason this is an important post. Following Warm Lake's reputation is a love/hate experience; the winery put Niagara USA on the map but problems with production consistency clouded perceptions of pinot's future in this region.

Just the other day a customer at the store lamented Warm Lake's demise and sighed, "I guess pinot just doesn't work here." Though I convinced him not to give up on the varietal because of one failed producer, it's not an uncommon observation among local consumers - especially those who were Warm Lake investors.

For his vision and tireless promotion of a region with no initial voice, we owe Mike von Heckler respect, but now it's time to look forward. I'm hoping someone has the energy and expertise to take control of the vineyard and coax that pinot to the greatness that the grape is obviously capable of achieving in Niagara.

My experience with Mike was that he was a jerk of epic proportions.

Will the "new" Warm Lake, or whatever it will be called, involve him?


I'm sorry to hear about your experiences with Warm Lake, I've heard many stories both good and bad.

I'm not sure what his future involvement may be but I assume that the winery will try a new direction in the future.


Thanks for commenting! I hope the area attracts many "big dreamers" in the future. I'm not only talking about wineries, but B&B's, restaurants, farms, ect...

There are several people working in the industry here that got their start at Warm Lake. We all learned a lot in such a short time and we all feel a connection to that dream.

bryan, nice write..so glad to have you in our area, i worked at warm lakes. this was sent to me from a past worker there also, we enjoyed working there, i to took a ride up there one day this past summer and it was sad, the dogs, angel and noir were not there to greet me, the vineyards were overgrown with weeds, it depressed me...it made me sad..but pinot noir didn't keep it afloat., you could'nt tell mike von heckler that he needed more than one wine..it was pinot noir or the highway..the highway won...

Von Heckler was a passable winemaker but a fantastically unpleasant person to be around and a totally incompetent manager - a typical engineer who believed that anything he didn't understand must be easy. I'm sorry to hear that people are conflating his inability to run a business with the Escarpment's ability to produce excellent wine.

Mike Von Heckler was a promoter first, and engineer second. He was not a viticulturist as he tried to use every grape the vines could grow therby lowering the quality of the finished product. He certianly wasn't a manager. Most of the good people he hired left disgustedly; nor was he a marketing man evidenced by the lack of sales and being "taken" by con salesmen. His wineemaking skills were rather poor; having t least two years of wine that went bad; oxidized withyin a year and 1/2 due to high Ph. I just hope someone can revive the vines and put it back in production.

I am always surprised at how many people want to glorify the past even in the face of information to the contrary. If you do 40 bad things and 1 good thing should we focus on the one good thing ? Fools. Fast talking and charming just makes the deception easier to believe. I feel very bad for the investors who must have believed. I wish Leland all the best to bring life back to those vines

Niagara Escarpment wines would have moved forward without Hecklor and those left behind have to explain why he was the way he was. If anything, he has done more damage than good. Just ask those who trusted him with their money

I was an investor and can tell you that we all wanted to believe in Von Heckler and sadly we did. The comment about diversifying the portfolio is on point as well as the price point. I mean who in their right mind is going to pay $40 for New York wine from an area no one has ever heard of? I think its fantastic that other wine enthusiasts are developing the region, but it is abundantly clear that Von Heckler was too idealistic to make this work. I live in So Cal - close to Temecula - it is a region with similar challenges as Niagara, but working together with master wine makers and master marketers, the area is a world class destination. Cheers to you all.

Anyone know if the winery is for sale?

Does anyone know if the winery is for sale. I visited the property the other day. Vineyard completely overrun with weeds and i'm not sure if the vines are even still alive. If they are it would be nice if someone could bring the operation back to life. With the proper winemaker , i really think their product could succeed.

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