Enjoying Dad’s day on the Niagara Wine Trail


The Winery at Marjim Manor

The Foodie:

When I was a kid, I always used to get the Girl Scout calendar. I think I used to sell them and my mother bought several from me.

Anyway, my birthday is in June and I would always look forward to the picture on my birthday month. My cousin’s was in the spring and she always got some sort of pretty flowers.

All I could think was “surely, it is not another cow”… but, inevitably, it was because every good Girl Scout knows that June is dairy month.

The Niagara Wine Trail knows it, too. June 17 to 19 was a celebration of wine and cheese. My husband and I had the good fortune to visit a few wineries on Father’s Day before the call of the golf ball was too loud to resist.

Our first stop was The Winery at Marjim Manor and we had a brief conversation with Margo Sue Bittner. If you ever have a spare minute, be sure you visit this pretty place and have a chat with Margo Sue. She’s so engaging and knowledgeable that I had to force myself to actually go and taste the wine and move on to the next venue.

MSB says a good wine is one you like and to trust your palate. I learned that you do not ferment fruit wine. She said grapes are smart (can age for years) and fruit is stupid (it only takes months to create good fruit wine). I was so into her wine I never even saw the paired cheese.

We tried Jewel in the Crown (a sweet wine with a hint of apricot), Applely Ever After (made with eight kinds of apples), True Blue (a big yeast smell, smooth taste and not as much blueberry taste as I expected) and our favorite, The Cat’s Meow. It is like Pinot Grigio but a little drier. We purchased several bottles.

The next stop was the new Black Willow Winery. Owner Cindy Chamberlain was a gracious hostess explaining that they would be buying vines in the next three months. The concept for the vineyard began three years ago and during that time she spent two and a half years becoming a viticulturist (received a degree in winemaking). There are beautiful wood doors with the sleigh bells from the door of their home.

The wine from Black Willow is a lesson in contrast. Considered medium-sweet, Bare Cat Blush was actually a pleasant sweet rather than the tongue-smacking I expected. The Mead (honey wine) Odin’s Nectar is a beautiful golden color, but wasn’t pleasing to my palate. Perhaps you need to acquire a taste for it — like ice wine. A dry-medium Cabernet Franc was a beautiful color with a bit of a dry smack at the end. The Chardonnay is lightly oaked and I did taste the vanilla as suggested on their menu. The Trilogy Red (blend) was good and the Trilogy White was outstanding. It’s a combination of Cayuga White, Gewurztraminer and Riesling grapes. This was my next purchase.

Her wine was paired with Yancey’s XXX sharp white cheddar cheese. This was a nice cheese with the drier white wines.

The last stop in our sipping adventure was Chateau Niagara. Jim and Kathy Baker are interesting and fun. The winery opened in 2006. Of their 31 acres, five and a half are planted. Jim explained that because California wines have more sugar, they also have more alcohol. They showed me a map which highlighted why the Niagara region is perfect for winemaking. It took them a long time to find the perfect property. The goal is the longest frost free season as possible. In New York State, there’s a very small area with greater than 220 days. The area where Chateau Niagara is located actually has 235 frost-free days. As we tasted down their menu (you must go in order because there definitely is a method to their madness) we were treated to Jim’s stand-up routine as he explained with great passion and knowledge how each wine is unique.

The Chardonnay is lovely, aged only days in oak. Jim says any less time and he would just show the grapes a picture of oak! The Riesling apparently is a grape that likes it here. Niagara is the perfect climate. The wine had a little smack at the end and a very food finish. I enjoyed the wine for several moments after I set down my glass. The Gewurztraminer was my favorite and actually has the smell of Riesling. The Cayuga White has sugar that masks flavors. Jim told us to pair it with something sour like sauerkraut. I must admit it was the first time someone actually suggested pairing a wine with sauerkraut. Who knew?

The tasting of A La Mode (could not be called apple pie because there are actually no apples in this wine) was the most dramatic. The wine comes in a bottle similar to ice wine, long and thin. It is decidedly sweet but not off-putting. Jim had us taste the wine, wait a moment then taste the Yancey’s Double Cream Cheddar. Once we tasted this very smooth cheese we were to sip the wine again, noticing the slight change. Next he had us eat a buttery cracker and sip again. He explained the cracker was like the crust of the apple pie. Sure enough, the wine had a slightly different taste yet again.

If you visit any of these wineries I would love to hear what you think of the wines below the falls. Cheers!