QUESTION: What’s the hardest part about growing wine in Niagara County?
VonHeckler: The biggest challenge is winter survival for the grapes. Our grapes come from Europe, so they don’t see the winter climate that we do here. You have to do things here like bury the plants completely in soil ... We end up replanting 2, 4, maybe 5 percent of our plants every year, but I’d say that’s pretty standard.
Biehl: Some winters will kill your buds, or kill your vines. But we have the second-mildest winter in New York state here, thanks to Lake Ontario ... Humidity can be a problem, but the trade-off is we don’t have to fight as many insects.
QUESTION: What’s the best, or most unique, part of growing wine in Niagara County?
VonHeckler: The granting from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Trade Bureau that gave us a great distinction, that recognized the Niagara Escarpment as a unique viticultural area, that’s a great thing ... We’ve also got a benign, marginal climate that’s perfect, as far as ripening goes.
Biehl: One of the strongest suits is the diversity along the wine trail. You’ll find fruitier wines, concord wines, fine wines, sweeter wines ... When the weather is nice, too, it’s just beautiful out here, in the summer, in the fall.
QUESTION: What trends or technologies have you seen crop up recently in the wine-making business?
VonHeckler: We picked pinot noir to grow when we started back in 1999, so it was a bit before “Sideways” just happened to put it on the map as an alternative wine ... It’s been great that it got the press that it did.
Biehl: I think we’re seeing something, gravity feeding, that started gaining popularity a few years ago become even more common. Bigger operations use pumps to transfer their wines during their process, but pumps can take out flavor. We’ve been doing gravity feeding for a few years now, but it’s becoming more popular.