Historically, when a film receives Academy Award attention, its box office receipts and word-of-mouth buzz increase as more and more people decide to see what all the fuss is about. The folks at the Black Willow Winery no doubt will be happy about that in the case of the movie “Still Alice,” for which Julianne Moore recently won the “Best Actress” Oscar.
A bottle of Black Willow’s Classic Diamond, in its signature blue bottle, is prominently displayed during a dinner scene featuring Moore and Alec Baldwin, and Kristin Stewart who plays their daughter. Moore is seen pouring a glass of the wine as the family eats.
Black Willow is a family-owned boutique winery in Niagara County. While it makes a variety of unusual wines, its “movie star” product is a very New York-y one. The Diamond grape was developed in the 1880s in New York State, a cross between Concord and Iona grapes which themselves are New York in origin.
The Iona was developed in the Newburgh, Orange County, area as a mid-19th Century hybrid by a local dentist, Dr. C.W. Grant, according to WinesNY.com. He had purchased an island in the Hudson River near Peekskill, which he named Iona Island. Unfortunately, the Iona hybrid was too delicate for successful growth and he dropped his grape business in 1900.
As to the hardy Concord grape, Ephraim Wales Bull developed it in 1849 on his farm outside Concord, MA, where he planted some 22,000 seedlings, according to the Concord Grape Association (CGA), before he had produced the ideal grape. In 1853, he put his first bunches before the public and came away with a prize at the Boston Horticultural Society Exhibition. As the CGA notes, “From these early arbors, fame of Mr. Bull’s Concord grape spread world-wide, bringing him up to $1,000 a cutting, but he died a relatively poor man. The inscription on his tombstone states, ‘He sowed, others reaped’.”
The first unfermented grape juice known to be processed in the U.S. was by dentist Thomas Welch, of Vineland, NJ, in 1869. The CGA history says “Dr. Welch, his wife and 17-year old son Charles gathered 40 pounds of Concord grapes from the trellis in front of their house. In their kitchen, they cooked the grapes for a few minutes, squeezed the juice out through cloth bags, and poured the world’s first processed fresh fruit juice into twelve quart bottles on the kitchen table. To preserve the juice, Dr. Welch stoppered the bottles with cork and wax and boiled them in water hoping to kill any yeast in the juice to prevent fermentation. Dr. Welch’s process was a success, and his application of Louis Pasteur’s theory of pasteurization to preserve fresh grape juice pioneered the industry of canned and bottled fruit juices in America. This first juice was used on the Communion table in the local Methodist church for sacramental purposes, and most of the first orders for grape juice came from churches for Communion.”
In 1896, Welch transferred his juice operations to Watkins Glen, then to Westfield the following year, and by 1897 was processing 300 tons of grapes per year, creating the Concord foundation of much of New York’s grape cultivation and production.
Jim Trezise, president of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation, who brought the movie item to my notice, says, “Diamond is a very interesting wine which several New York wineries make consistently well, as reflected by the numerous gold medals won in major competitions. Years ago, I had to explain to my fellow [California] judges what to expect from a Diamond wine, but that’s no longer necessary because they know it and love it.”Several years ago, the Goose Watch Diamond won ‘Best White Wine’ at the big Riverside [CA] wine competition, beating well over a thousand Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and other wines, mostly from California, and there’s nearly always a Diamond in the final sweepstakes rounds of most other judgings.”
Black Willow Winery is owned by Cynthia West-Chamberlain and Michael D. Chamberlain. In addition to 10 wines, they make three types of mead and a line of vinegars and olive oils. The facility sits on a 43-acre site located at 5565 West Lake Road in Burt, on the south shore of Lake Ontario, in the heart of the Niagara Wine Trail USA. Phone: 716-439-1982. Hours: Through March 31, noon to 6 p.m. Sunday-Monday, noon to 6 p.,m. Thursday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, closed Tuesday-Wednesday except for reserved tastings.