05.20.2010  
 

Eastern Winery Start-Ups

From New York to North Carolina, new ventures are opening doors

 
by Jane Firstenfeld
 
Chateau Niagara
 
Vines are ready to plant at Chateau Niagara in Newfane, N.Y.
 
San Rafael, Calif. -- More is better, it seems, at least when it comes to wineries. After our landmark announcement in April proclaiming that the number of North American wineries had topped the 7,000 mark, we’ve made a point of speaking to some of the newest, this time in Eastern seaboard states. More good news: While learning about these operations, we were happy to hear that, from New York to North Carolina, at least, vineyards have not suffered untoward damage over the winter.

New York

Chateau Niagara Winery, along the Niagara Wine Trail in Newfane, opened to the public March 26. After a long search for a suitable site, owners Kathleen and James Baker planted their first Riesling vines in 2006; they now have 5 acres planted to vinifera vines and harvested about 3 tons of their first vintage in 2008. The 2009 vintage was 400 cases, Kathleen Baker told Wines & Vines.

Baker said they will be panting more Gewürztraminer this weekend; “It’s what we’d planted least of, and we’re selling twice as much of that as anything else,” she said. “There’s not a lot available here; we’re the only ones growing it in Niagara County.” She said that this year will be the first for their red varieties, which include Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Blaufrankisch (Lemberger).

Baker noted that the vineyard, about two miles inland from Lake Ontario, benefits from the moderating Lake Effect. Slow-starting in spring, “We’re pretty well protected. Early frost doesn’t do much damage—only a very small amount this year.”

Jim Baker, an aerospace engineer, was looking for what Kathleen termed “an early retirement,” and the couple spent almost a decade looking for that ideal vineyard site. “It’s the one thing you can’t change,” she observed. “You can plant different grapes, do different things with the tasting room, but finding the site was our No. 1 concern.”

Before building the winery, Kathleen worked in tasting rooms at neighboring wineries. The couple added sweat equity to their winery, installing dry wall and tiling.

After the opening, business was better than expected, she said. “We’re part of the Niagara Wine Trail; the other wineries have been wonderful. We’re looking forward to coming into the busy season, June through October.”

Pennsylvania

Unami Ridge Winery in Quakertown will celebrate its grand opening on Memorial Day, according to Jim Jenks, who owns Unami with his wife Kathryn. Jenks planted three acres of Chardonnay, Scheuerebe (a white German cross), Riesling, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon in 2005, and just planted another 300 vines of Scheuerebe.
Delaware wine
 
A dozen breweries and wineries are linked by Delaware's Wine & Ale Trail.
Jenks said he has a domain name but not yet a working website or wine club. He’s bottled about 400 cases and has invited colleagues and neighbors to the opening. “I’m hoping to sell out on Memorial Day,” he said, half-seriously. Unami takes its name from a nearby creek and a Pennsylvania Native American tribe.

Delaware
Not a new winery, but a new marketing tool, The Wine & Ale Trail launched last week, linking 12 wineries and craft breweries between Wilmington and Delmar. Wineries include: Fenwick Wine Cellars, West Fenwick; Nassau Valley Vineyards, Lewes, and Pizzadili Winery, Felton.

Virginia

Preston Ridge opened to the public March 26. Its mailing address is in Martinsville, home to Martinsville Speedway, but the winery is actually in Preston, in a Henry County magisterial district known as “Horse Pasture.
Preston Ridge wine
 
Virginia's new Preston Ridge sells winemaking supplies as well as wine.
 
Owners Lawrence and Lois Penn have .75 acres planted to Merlot at the winery, and they lease another 4 acres of Chardonnay, Riesling, Vidal Blanc, Chambourcin and Cabernet Franc.

Last fall, Penn said, he crushed 5 tons of grapes and another 200 gallons of fresh apple juice. He hopes eventually to increase wine production to 12-15 tons.

Penn plans to sell all his product direct-to-consumers at the tasting room. “We got a lot of foot traffic,” he said. Not only is he near the popular speedway, he’s on busy Route 58. “On opening day we saw 50 or 60 people,” he reported. Preston Ridge also carries a full line of home winemaking and brewing ingredients, equipment kits and supplies and chemicals in the retail store and online.
Cauble Creek Vineyard Muscadine
 
North Carolina's Cauble Creek Vineyard specializes in native Muscadine grapes.
 
North Carolina
Cauble Creek Vineyard is a family-owned estate winery in Salisbury, in the Piedmont region. Owner Bill Yost planted 8 acres to native American Muscadine grapes in 2006, and now has 9 acres of planted vineyard on the 36-acre site.

Yost, who was painting his new winery this morning, plans to open to the public in June “or, let’s be realistic, July.” He’ll sell his first vintage of 830 cases direct to tasting room visitors. He said that the 2009-10 winter caused no damage, but he is still seeing some effects from the notorious Easter Freeze of 2007, which killed or damaged about 75 of his 2,200 vines.

Please send news of new or upcoming wine industry ventures to edit@winesandvines.com.
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