By Joyce M. Miles
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — The Flight of Five Winery and local food emporium will be launched at Old City Hall this spring.
Experienced wine maker Jackie Connelly, a former owner of Niagara Landing Wine Cellars, and her husband Michael are opening the full-scale “urban” winery on the upper floor of 2 Pine St., literally a stone’s throw from the famous canal locks of the same name, Mrs. Connelly told the US&J on Wednesday.
The Flight of Five Winery is termed an urban winery simply because “it’s not out in a pastoral setting ... and there are no vineyards attached,” Connelly said. Grapes and juice will be purchased from other wineries, which is standard practice in the industry, she added.
Inside the iconic Old City Hall, Connelly intends to set up her wine making operation — tanks, a laboratory, et cetera — so that it’s all visible to customers from a tasting area.
She’s having a tasting bar custom-made to look like a canal lock. This is where tasting flights of wine will be offered, in fives.
Only New York State wines will be served at the Flight of Five Winery, Connelly said.
Packaged local foods, such as cheese and chocolate, will be sold in the winery and/or served with wine tastings. Julie Blackman, a sixth-generation operator of Blackman Homestead Farm in Cambria, is advising the selection and supplying some of the foods. She is a co-operator of the Farmers & Artisans local food market in Williamsville.
Connelly envisions her winery as a “regional endeavor” that simultaneously encourages and benefits from agri-tourism and heritage tourism. With its opening, the Niagara Wine Trail will be extended into the City of Lockport, more specifically into the heart of the Lock City. The cross-promotional possibilities are thrilling, she said.
“It’s a unique opportunity to be right there at the locks with so many tourists. We will help promote the Niagara Wine Trail and welcome more visitors from (the trail) at the same time,” Connolly said.
Add in 2 Pine St.’s historic look and location, and “it all fits together so perfectly,” she said.
The Connellys are hoping to develop five wines under their label in time for the winery opening, which is tentatively set for Memorial Day weekend.
Mrs. Connelly said they’ll be named for old Erie Canal locks 67 through 71 which are, yes, you guessed it, the Flight of Five locks.
“This was Mayor (Michael) Tucker’s suggestion, and it was too good to resist,” she said.
Tucker and R. Charles Bell, president of Greater Lockport Development Corporation, worked late last year to recruit The Flight of Five Winery to Old City Hall, private property owned by Geise Properties LLC/dentist Scott Geise. They did so after the GLDC board of directors declined Connelly’s purchase offer for 79-81 Canal St. on a split vote.
When Tucker spoke last fall of GLDC’s “painful” choice between two equally “spectacular” business plans for the Canal Street property, the options were Lake Effect Ice Cream or the winery.
To keep an embarrassment of riches from being an embarrassing loss, development executives hit the bricks downtown to find an alternative site for the winery.
Geise wasn’t open to selling Old City Hall, but his willingness to lease a portion to the winery kept it alive in the city. According to Tucker, there was no other available real estate downtown where the concept would work.
By putting the winery and Old City Hall together, the city also is encouraging preservation of a treasured historic property, Bell said. The long-vacant building needs a lot of rehab, and Geise now has a financial incentive to get it done.
The City of Lockport will contribute $50,000 toward capital costs of developing The Flight of Five Winery.
The money will be a grant to the winery from an old bed tax account, set up by the Common Council in the early 1990s to fund tourism development, and all-but forgotten.
According to Bell, an ad hoc bed tax committee charged with managing the money hasn’t met in years. Some of the agencies given a seat on the committee, such as the Eastern Niagara Chamber of Commerce, don’t even exist anymore.
Since 2002, the fund has been taking in about $7,500 a year from the city bed tax kitty and now contains $50,000.
The Council on Wednesday voted to re-establish the bed tax committee, with members including the mayor, the city treasurer, an alderman, and one representative each from GLDC, the Tourism Task Force, the Niagara County Legislature and the community.
It also approved the grant to the Flight of Five Winery/Local Food Emporium, subject to the bed tax committee’s review and approval.
The Connellys are investing $75,000 cash in winery development, according to Bell.