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Wineries, restaurants discuss promotional pairings

The owners of Lockport's top restaurants and most of Niagara County's wineries met Tuesday to discuss a promotional idea hatched by Town Supervisor Marc R. Smith.
The Town Hall meeting resulted in a tentative consensus that efforts should be focused on unveiling "Flight of Five Gourmet Meals" on Sept. 29 and 30, the same weekend the Niagara Wine Trail is offering a Harvest Festival promotion.

The meals will match specialties of the restaurants with suitable Niagara County wines. The name of the promotion refers to the original Erie Canal locks, the Flight of Five, now slated for restoration.

Margo S. Bittner, the owner of the Winery at Marjim Manor, suggested winery workers could be present at the restaurants to talk about the wine and pairings.
"If we have something we can market to, we can have a big push to bring people to Niagara County on a certain day," said Peter Calieri, owner of the Village Eatery.
"That's a big topic for visitors to the Wine Trail -- 'Where can we go and what can we eat?' " said Michael VonHeckler, owner of Warm Lake Estates, a Cambria winery specializing in Pinot Noir.
Smith said his idea was inspired by a promotion in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., in which restaurants featured Niagara Peninsula wines specially chosen to match each course of a five-course meal.
"I really don't know wines, but if I go in there and they've picked the wines for me, it takes the stress out of it. I never knew food could taste so good," Smith said.
Eric Bernardi, who works in marketing and promotions for Spring Lake Winery in Lockport, said a scaled-down menu of reduced-size portions paired with local wines might work to enable visitors to try more than one restaurant during the promotion weekend.
VonHeckler said it is useful for restaurant menus to suggest wines for each entree. Many people "are intimidated by food and wine pairings," he said. "When you guide the people through it, it raises their comfort zone."
Smith said he has dropped his original notion of requiring each participating restaurant to serve a certain menu in a certain way. "We'll play on the strengths of the restaurants," he said.
There was general agreement that more restaurants need to be listed in Wine Trail brochures, which VonHeckler said have triggered increased business from tourists since being placed in racks at Niagara Falls.
The group agreed to meet again at 2 p.m. Tuesday in Town Hall to compare menus and wine lists.
Restaurants taking part Tuesday were the Village Eatery, Garlock's, Danny Sheehan's Steak House, Cammarata's, Thaxton's Dinner House, DeFlippo's and One-Eyed Jacks. Wineries were Marjim Manor, Niagara Landing, Vizcarra Vineyards, Schulze Vineyards, Warm Lake and Spring Lake.


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