LOCKPORT – The Niagara Wine Trail has its first urban winery – the Flight of Five Winery, in the historic Old Lockport City Hall at 2 Pine St. – but its owner is certainly not new to the business.
Jacqueline R. Connelly started Niagara Landing Wine Cellars in Lockport in 1999 with her brother, Peter Smith. She sold her interest in that business last year in order to turn her attention to her new project, Flight of Five, which she recently opened with her husband, Michael Connelly.
Niagara Landing was the first winery on the Niagara Wine Trail and Flight of Five is one of the most recent at No. 18.
Connelly recently shared her thoughts on her new enterprise, the wine business, and on the importance of the wine trail.
How did this new project come about?
This was just a great opportunity. My husband and I are amateur Erie Canal buffs and have spent many years traveling to towns and villages along the canal. He has a degree in fine arts and 15 years ago, he did a pen-and-ink drawing of the Flight of Five (the original Erie Canal Locks in Lockport), based on a photograph, and it’s one of my favorites. Urban wineries on the West Coast are much more common than here. This property we’re in is literally hanging over the locks – it was just an incredible opportunity to combine these two things we’re very interested in.
Do you make your own wines?
We do make our own wines. We source our grapes from local vineyards – they are all from New York State. Our winemaker is David Lindsay of Medina, and he’s a graduate of the Niagara College in Ontario – a very fine school. He has a beautiful product, he has a real finesse. It‘s so balanced and smooth. We’re very pleased.
What type of wines do you offer?
We have five signature wines: we call them Lock 67, 68, 69, 70 and 71, and we serve them in a flight, going from dry to sweet. We have a dry local flight, where we offer a couple of ours and a couple from other vineyards on the trail and we offer a flight of semi-sweet to sweet and do the same thing, using a couple of ours and a couple from other local vineyards, since we only have five wines of our own right now. We will change it to represent different wineries on the trail.
We also promote local foods, such as cheese from local creameries, fruit butters, relishes, candied walnuts and honey. We offer sample plates with wine, which are not meals, but nice appetizers. We are trying to bring in agricultural products from local producers to illustrate what we have here.
Tell me about being the first winery on the Niagara Wine Trail.
We used to talk when we were just two wineries on the trail, and then in a short period of time, we were five. We asked, “Are we competing or is this cooperative marketing? When is this no longer a good thing?” But the New York Wine and Grape Foundation did a study in the Finger Lakes, which is so much better established, and they found that up to around 40 wineries on a trail was very positive. After that, maybe having that many wineries would tend to start taking a little (advantage) away. But we’re not even half-way there on our trail.
What is the advantage to a winery owner in belonging to the Niagara Wine Trail?
It is truly a cooperative spirit. We’ve had other wineries on the trail tell their visitors, “You have to check out Flight of Five.” And I just had a couple stop in here today who had had a strawberry rhubarb wine and couldn’t remember where they got it. I said, “It must be Vizcarra Vineyards (at Becker Farms).” They’re on their way there now.
It’s the power of this group to work together on publicity and have events to draw people in, like “Hallowine” this weekend, which is the trail’s biggest event. The event gives people a chance to have a little sample at a number of wineries. It whets their appetite to come back out on the road and visit the wineries.
You’ve owned a rural winery – what do you expect will change with an urban winery?
This urban setting might just help bring people in for their first time. If you’ve never been in a winery and don’t understand what to do, it might give you pause. But, if you’re walking down the street, it’s really easy to just wander in and look around. This is a fantastic place and some people just come in to see what we’ve done with the building to preserve it. It was the old Lockport City Hall from the 1800s to the 1970s. We only take up half of the main floor.
Has the clientele changed over the span of your years on the Niagara Wine Trail?
We get a lot of traffic from out of town here. We’ve had many people dropping their kids off at college and taking their time going home, spending a few days sightseeing. We have the Lockport Caves here and the locks. We’ve had great support from the city. When we were in Cambria, we had great support there, too.
What do you envision for the future of the local wine industry in Niagara County?
They are experimenting with French-American hybrids at Cornell University and the University of Minnesota to create grapes that will survive our winters.
This is really a nice niche – a comfortable place to be, and it’s attracting young professionals who want to dabble, maybe make some wine, grow their own grapes. It starts out by dabbling, but it takes over your life. These young people have exciting ideas and this is really a cornucopia of wineries here – each different and unique. I see this happening for years to come.
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