Topic: TN: NiagaraCOOL Wrapup – August 6-7, 2005
Author: Howie Hart
Date: 20050809223618

When we originally decided on a date, I couldn’t have hoped for better weather. Both days were sun shine and blue skies, low humidity and temps in the low 80s. It was a great weekend and I was very privileged to meet in person many wine friends and experience some wonderful wines. I must apologize, as I did not take notes, so I’m relying on my memory.

On Saturday morning, Lee Green, Ed Draves and I picked up Robin at the airport and after we took him to his hotel to check in, we made two stops before heading to NOTL. The first stop was at Premier Liquors in Kenmore, NY, a very large wine retailer in the area and where Ed cut his teeth as a wine newbie and is still employed by them today at one of their other stores. We were given a nice tour of the warehousing area with cases and cases of wines (many in wooden cases that I can only dream of). We browsed the largest selection of New York State wines in New York State and the special, climate controlled, locked, glass doored Reserve Collection room (more wines I can only dream of). After that, we stopped at my house, to drop off my car and I showed the guys my infantile vineyard, which is being ravaged by Japanese beetles and deer (story for another thread).

Me, Robin and Ed Draves in my "vineyard"

The delay in getting over the bridge wasn’t too bad (about 15 minutes) and after a couple wrong turns, we arrived for our 2PM appointment with Konzelmann Estate Winery at 2:10. Paul B and his friends, Chris and Martha from Kitchener, Ontario joined us shortly after, as they were stuck in Toronto construction traffic. Then we were joined by Ken Pelletier from Specialty Cellars, the importer who set the tours up for us. Robin gave a very nice description of Konzelmann in the Wine Advisor and I have little to add. We tasted many of their wines, and is typical of Eastern wines, the whites (they do a good job with Riesling) seemed to outshine the reds. I have enjoyed many Konzelmann wines over the years, as they are sold in the US (about 5 or 6 states) and are always a good QPR. There was construction going on, as they are expanding and adding a large underground cellar. Bruno, with his German accent, was a very charming, host. I invited him to our picnic, but he already had plans. I picked up a bottle of their Sparkling Riesing.

Ed, Bruno and Robin at Konzelmann

Next stop was Stratus. We only made 2 wrong turns getting there, but finally made it. This place was stunning!! As Robin pointed out, if you ever get to NOTL, this is a MUST SEE!

Chris, Martha and Paul B. at Stratus
After the tour, Charles, our guide led us into a room for our private tasting, and this was stunning also. We had several glasses of different sizes (Ravenwood crystal from Poland?) poured for us, and they were all set on a place mat with the names of each wine we were tasting printed under each glass.

Tasting Room at Stratus

I was almost as impressed with the Quebec cheeses we were served as I was with the wines. I preferred the Chardonnay to the Stratus White, but my favorite was the Merlot, and I’m no fan of Merlot. I was going to buy a bottle of it, but I thought $55 Cdn was a bit high, so I settled on a Gamay. I meant to invite Charles to the picnic, but forgot.

Next we made it to Chateau Des Charmes without getting lost! After touring the winery and huge underground cellars, I felt like a wedding crasher as we made our way past the tent on the patio to view the vineyards. Michèle (Communications Director) and Paul Bosc, Jr. (Manager and son of founder) gave us all a geology lesson on the 5 microclimate and soil zones from the Escarpment to the south shore of Lake Ontario. A couple of interesting things I noted was that their vineyards have no ground cover – all growth is plowed under. The other is the presence of the large wind machines located throughout the vineyard, which are used to circulate air to prevent cold damage on extremely cold days.

Robin, Martha, Paul B., Ed, Chris, Paul Bosc, Jr. and Ken in the vineyard at Chateau Des Charmes
After we found our way back into the building, Alan Wolfe, who had just driven in from West Virginia, joined us in the upstairs conference room for another private tasting. We were also joined by Paul Bosc Sr., the founder of the winery. I was thrilled to meet him. Many years ago (mid 70s), I had the opportunity to buy his 10 acre vineyard and house in Niagara County, NY (also along the Escarpment – about 15 miles to the east of Chateau Des Charmes) but I couldn’t talk my wife into it. We had a wonderful tasting and again were treated to more excellent Quebec cheeses. We learned about the special clone of Gamay (Droit?) that Chateau has an international plant patent on. They made a fine wine from it. The Equuleus, which Robin posted on in his Wine Advisor, was indeed exceptional. I remember to extend a picnic invitation to the Boscs.

After that, Paul B. and his friends parted company to head back to Toronto, and the best we could get from Paul B. was “I’ll try and make it to the picnic tomorrow”. We also lost Ken at this point, so I hopped in Alan Wolfe’s car and we followed Ed, Robin and Lee in Ed’s minivan. As had become a pattern by now, we somehow missed the turn onto the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge and were headed towards Niagara Falls, Ont. After a brief consultation stop, Alan and I took the lead and I led us into an awful touristy traffic jam on Clifton Hill before finally finding the Rainbow Bridge. Back in the USA, we headed for my favorite pizza place, La Hacienda, where we all made the best of some local fare of pizza, wings and beer. I found out later that we drove right past an Italian Festival in Niagara Falls’ Little Italy section, where my cousin’s blues band (Junk Yard Dogs) were performing. My son was going to call me about it, but his cell phone batteries were dead. We enjoyed our late dinner and Alan and Robin headed back to their hotel, while Ed dropped off Lee and me.

I got up early Sunday morning to get things ready for the picnic and made a few trips for last minute items (bread, rolls, corn, clams, ice). When my son, his friend and I arrived, Alan and Robin were already waiting for us. I spent most of the day with grilling tongs in one hand and a wine glass in the other. See the FLDG for a posting on NiagaraCOOL foods. I had a lot of help from my sons, Dan and Andy and their friend, Josh. I have to confess that I meant to have things a bit better organized. I meant to have a sign-in sheet, so I could keep track of who attended, but I did remember the name tags. I think we had a total of 33 attendees. I also failed to take any pictures at the picnic. Although I tried many good wines, I neglected to take any notes or provide a list of wines that were present, although I estimate we had over 100. I hope others can chime in here. I tasted all of Alan Wolfe’s Cabin Run Nortons (vertical) and Ice Wine and Late Harvest Vignoles (also vertical) but only one of his Chambourcins (’02 I believe). The Johnson Estate Vidal Ice Wine was exceptional, and Dan Smothergill’s Traminette was very nice – excellent nose and crisp acid. I was also pleased that Michèle and Paul Bosc, Jr. from Chateau Des Charmes showed up. As the day wound down, the stragglers and I finished things off with some nice cold Yuengling Black and Tan and Labatt’s Blue. :^)

All in all, it was a very busy, but memorable weekend with some great wine-people fellowship. Now that I’ve got the first one under my belt, I’ll put NiagaraCOOL ’06 in the back of my mind for now.