Black Willow” is the name of our farm. We raise a few goats and make a little cheese. The farm is named for the huge, ancient black willow trees that grow behind our house. It’s a very peaceful “natural” area.
Imagine our surprise, on leaving the Renaissance Faire, to see a booth advertising “Black Willow Winery”, and offering tastings. Our first thought was that with the name “Black Willow”, there folks must be ok, so we introduced ourselves. We were greeted warmly by John Little and chatted while tasting their wines and their excellent meads.
This year was the third time we’d encountered them at the Faire, and determined that we should meet these fine folks at their family owned and operated Lake Ontario Winery.
Being a Finger Lakes native, I had become a bit of a snob about Finger Lakes wine, and almost completely unaware of the wine trails in western New York. Black Willow Winery is about 20 miles east of Niagara Falls within an effortless walk of Lake Ontario, and part of the Niagara Wine Trail. It is a fair hike from Lansing – it took us 3 plus hours to get home – but very worth the trip.
I’m not so much of a snob any more. Just sayin’…
We arrived at the winery in the early afternoon. The storefront was all decked out for Halloween with cheery spiders, webs, pumpkins and all the stuff that says, “Good Time Inside”. Greeted by Ashley, one of the extended family who work at the winery, we felt like friends that just hadn’t met yet. She is an outgoing young lady and enthusiastic about the winery.
My first surprise was the variety of products they had for sale; wine and mead of course, but Artisan oils, vinegars and designer chocolates that appeared to be miniature works of edible art. I couldn’t taste everything, but the chocolates are high on my list next time.
The center of the tasting room is set up like a lounge for enjoying the wine and quiet conversation, surrounded by the whimsical chaach that shows the delightful sense of humor of the proprietor.
The wines are good too – this is, after all, a winery – and a meadery. A few bottles of their Reisling followed us home. Reislings seem to pick up the attitude of the winemaker, and Black Willow’s Semi Dry is serious with an aftertaste of playfulness; a feeling that keeps revealing itself to you even after it has left your pallet with memories of gentle fruit flavors.
“Odin’s Nectar” is the smoothest mead I’ve ever tasted. Not flavored by anything but the honey, it is best served warm and feels like a snuggly blanket from the inside out. Their other meads have flavorings and are best served chilled, like Valkyrie’s Lure with peach and cinnamon. Yes, both followed us home as well.
Black Willow Winery is the ongoing dream and passion of Cynthia West-Chamberlain and Michael D. Chamberlain, and is only 7 years old. For such a relatively new winery to have won awards such as New York’s Meadery of the year, and gold medals in state, national and international competitions speak to the enthusiasm and attention to detail that the owners and staff pay to their product.
Their nephew John Little gave me the “backstage tour”, explained both the history and the future growth plans. For instance, they used to use exclusively local honey, but the producers couldn’t keep up with Black Willow’s demand, so most of their honey now comes from larger producers in PA. The Diamond grapes are grown at the winery, with other varieties coming from the finger lakes and other regions within the state.
Recently they have begun hosting and catering celebrations at the winery which can be formal and elegant, or casual and intimate at their impressive fire area backed with boulder sized stones. It’s a beautiful place to enjoy the mead and gaze at the fire.
I’ve just touched the surface of Black Willow Winery’s operation and offerings. You need to see it for yourself. Make a day trip to Niagara Falls and visit a winery or two (or three) on your way home. But make SURE that Black Willow is on your list. It is a bit of a trip, but is very much “Within Reach”!
5565 West Lake Road
Burt, NY 14028