Seasonal Sips

Get a taste of the North Country’s finest wine.

(DoNorth/Kayla Tuttle)

As the sound of smooth jazz echoes through her winery, owner Natalie Peck pulls out a bottle of Frontenac Gris and calmly pours the wine into a glass etched with a white compass rose. The sweet aroma of apricot and peach fills the air. Behind Peck, a wooden shelf lined with wine bottles decorates the brick wall. Each bottle is adorned with gold and silver medals from past competitions.

The Champlain Wine Company was established in 2010 by Natalie Peck and her husband, Colin Read. Today they run a shop at 30 City Hall Pl, Plattsburgh, and a vineyard in Mooers, NY, a mile south of the Canadian border. Colin Read purchased the farm in 2004 but the couple moved to Plattsburgh two years later. Read chose to keep the farm and an idea was born.

“It was nothing but acreage,” Peck says. “He had a small plane, and he bought the farm because of the shape of the land. He thought it would make a good runway for his plane.”  

Eventually Read had a change of heart, and the couple looked for creative ways to take advantage of the farm.

“When we were looking to develop our farm, we really hadn’t settled on what we were going to plant,” Peck says. “We just wanted to plant something because we had 40 acres there. I noticed there were some grape vines planted on Route 9 going up north, so I thought about looking into grapes because I thought it would be interesting to see what I could do.”

Curious about grape production, Peck sought advice from a community group that focused on winemaking and attended a workshop hosted by the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County, which discussed the new varieties of grapes. She also researched what type of grapes would be ideal to plant in cold climates. Through this, she came across a breeding program from the University of Minnesota, which consisted of researchers producing hybrid grapes that could survive in below freezing temperatures.

“Our climate limits us in the type of vines that we can plant because of the very cold weather,” Peck says. “Many of these grape varieties are new, like Marquette, St. Croix, St. Pepin, La Crescent. While they are bred to withstand up to negative 30 or 40 degrees, they also have some additionally good characteristics. They are very disease resistant and fairly prolific fruit producers.”

Peck and Read planted five and a half acres of grape seeds from 2008 to 2010. As first-time farmers, they were proud of the progress they made.

“Originally we just wanted to grow and sell the grapes,” Peck says. “But as we got further into it and started talking to more people and learning more about winemaking, we decided to make wine. We knew if you wanted to make wine then you really need to have a tasting room.”

Since their vineyard was located in a remote area, Peck and Read wanted to establish a winery in an area that generated a lot of traffic. Plattsburgh was their pick. The Champlain Wine Company opened in January 2010 at 8 City Hall Pl. After five years, the owners looked for a bigger space and moved their winery down the block to its current location.

The winery offers tastings for wine aficionados and novices alike. The menu covers a wide range of red and white wines with complementary food pairings. Visitors can sample all the featured wines for $10.

The experience begins with Peck pouring a 2-ounce glass of Chardonnay and allowing visitors to smell and taste it. After they share their thoughts on how the wine tastes, Peck brings out a plate of sourdough bread covered in blood orange extra-virgin oil. The pairings are meant to bring out the wine’s distinctive notes. The tasting explores a variety of wines from dry to sweet. Full Sail Blush is the sweetest wine on the menu. Compass Red is the driest.

Full Sail Blush comes from Frontenac and Cayuga grapes and has a sweet berry taste. The wine pairs well with candied ginger and fresh fruit, which adds a warmer taste. Compass Red is made with two-thirds of St. Croix and one-third of Marquette grapes. The red wine has a strong plum and cherry taste. The wine goes well with grilled steak.

The winery also serves sangrias made with white wine, mango, lemonade and fruit juice as well as red wine sorbet, an icy and refreshing treat that’s perfect for hot days.

Each year, Peck enters her wines in the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition and the International Cold Climate Wine Competition to receive professional feedback. Some of the winery’s award-winning wines include Compass Red and Full Sail White, a citrusy white wine made with La Crescent, Prairie Star and St. Pepin grapes.

After creating the winery, the owners wanted to emphasize the importance of supporting people in the community. Today their shop sells locally-made products from beaded jewelry and paintings to maple syrup and chocolate. The owners also allow members of the community to host events and exhibits at the winery for free. On the first Friday of every month, Peck hosts “Meet the Artist,” events that celebrate up-and-coming artists in the area. In April, the winery showcased the works of David Kanietakeron Fadden whose illustrations depict legends from the Mohawk tribe.

“We are a private business, but we want to be very community oriented,” Peck says. “We’re about making wine, but the fact is that we focus on local products and being a resource for the community. We try to be a good partner in the community.”

The Champlain Wine Company is a part of the Adirondack Coast Wine Trail, which stretches 33 miles from Moores down to Morrisonville and is one of the newest wine regions in the nation.

“We enjoy being part of a new enterprise, both in the aspects of growing this area as a wine region and also to be a part of growing the downtown region,” Peck says. “We’ve actually established something that wasn’t here before, and we continue to grow.”

Issue 11: Summer/Fall 2018

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