By Rick VanSickle
It has emerged slowly but surely from the flat lands of Niagara’s portion of the Lake Ontario shoreline between Vineland and Beamsville.
Just off the North Service Road, the sign is now a familiar sight from the QEW: “Niagara Atlantis Wines,” painted in stark white on apple red letters stretching across the width of the big, shiny building that promises quite the experience inside.
It is the brainchild of John Kocsis (top photo), a multi-million-dollar project that has thrown more than one curveball at the grape grower in past could of years. But on July 1, Kocsis and his family are throwing opening the doors to one and all to experience the Atlantis Niagara winery with wine and cider tastings, a barbecue and plenty of Kocsis’s favourite rock and roll music playing all day long.
There is no doubt Kocsis has pumped a lot of money into Atlantis Niagara. The wraparound patio alone seats up to 500 people, and the interior, with 8,000 square feet of space, is equally impressive with a huge island bar that cost upward of $100,000 alone.
Throughout the tasting room there are Atlantis-themed furnishings (a lot of palm tree decorations!) and expensive LED lights that illuminate the bar (and pond outside) at night. Kocsis has installed state-of-the-art speakers and large wide-screen HD TVs around the inside of the facility that will show and play a steady diet of whatever music the occasion calls for.
Kocsis has also proudly hung a series of black and white photos of his family, who immigrated to Canada from Hungary in 1956 during the Hungarian revolution.
In 1969, the Kocsis family purchased the home farm, which was 15 acres. Since then, the family expanded to over 100 acres on five separate locations, including two parcels on Lake Ontario, one of which now sits Atlantis Niagara.
Kocsis bought the 18-acre site where Atlantis stands in 2010 and the property next door, which is just over 21 acres.
It turned out to be a smart decision as Kocsis lost 85% of vines he had planted over 80 acres in the in the brutal winters of 2014-15 at the original property and vineyards in Lincoln-Lakeshore.
“It was so heart-wrenching,” said Kocsis, who was selling mostly icewine grapes and making icewine himself under the Atlantis Niagara label and exporting most of the wines. “We almost lost everything — twice,” he says.
Kocsis eventually pulled out all the vines and is selling the original vineyards, which will leave him with just the lakeshore properties to plant some grapes and cherries.
In the meantime, Kocsis has plenty of icewines and late harvest wines to pour for his opening on July 1. He has also been busy buying plums, peaches, strawberries, pears and apples that he has (or will) make into the sweeter style of wines and cider he enjoys making and selling to consumers.
He says the apple ciders are particularly promising and has ramped up production on iced and late harvest ciders.
When fully operational, Kocsis will have 20 different icewines and late harvest wines, 10 fruit wines, one iced cider and a late harvest cider for guests to try and buy.
Kocsis’s plans don’t stop at a winery/cidery — he envisions music concerts, festivals, car shows and other events on the property that he says is large enough to host up to 20,000 people outdoors. “We have the place for it, we have the parking,” he says. Instead of Woodstock, we’re going to have Winestock.” He’s also built a helicopter pad big enough for three choppers at a time.
Kocsis says he doesn’t know yet what to expect on July 1 when the doors open for his “soft” launch, he doesn’t even know if he’ll have the licence he needs to sell wines by then, but, no matter what, there will be wines to taste, “likely” free tastings, and plenty of reasons to check out Niagara’s newest winery.
I tried a few ciders that Kocsis intends on having on hand for the opening. Here’s what I liked:
Niagara Atlantis Afterglow 2015 ($40 for 375 mL) — A very nice cider here with a nose of baked apple and honeycomb. There is richness on the palate with apple pie, golden honey, and some balancing acidity on the finish.
Niagara Atlantis Candy Apple Ice Cider 2015 ($100 for 375 mL) — Kocsis says this sweet ice cider could emerge as his “flagship” wine. It shows a deep golden colour in the glass with an impressive nose of sweet Mac apple, spice, and wild honey notes. On the palate, it has lovely texture and range of baked apple notes, subtle roasted almonds, acacia honey and a clean, fresh finish. Pretty special cider.