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The Days of Dandelion Wine
by Charlotte Hsu
See that guy picking dandelions in Delaware Park? He's up to something good.
The wine will be done in six months, maybe—bottled, labeled and ready to sell. But today, on a sun-drenched morning in May, Carl Schmitter is picking dandelions at Delaware Park.
In a clearing between weeping willows and evergreens, he is a lone, stooped figure in a straw hat, an odd apparition. He is dumping fistfuls of canary-yellow flower heads into a bucket set in 8-inch grasses. Behind him, a slice of Hoyt Lake glimmers, blue like the sky and painted with the white reflections of clouds. The ground is wet with yesterday’s rain.
The city rushes on around this pocket of calm. Cars speed down Delaware Avenue a couple dozen yards away. Runners fly by on a nearby footpath. If they register Schmitter’s presence, they betray no sign of it. And they don’t hear his quiet symphony, the snap, snap, snap of breaking stems and the crunch of his sneakers crushing vegetation underfoot.
His other favorite place to gather blossoms is the cemetery. He admits some people might find it creepy—the dandelions from among the graves. But that’s okay, he says: “I have a feeling that the consumer for dandelion wine is going to be a more adventurous type, anyways.”
“I’m very choosy about where I pick,” he adds later. “I’m not going to just go up to a curb somewhere.”
Scouring urban green spaces for the densest dandelion plots is not the kind of adventure the typical vintner would dream up. (The Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy, which manages Delaware Park and other historic lands, discourages users from picking plants, with an exception for official volunteers who help maintain the grounds by removing invasive species.)
But dandelion wine is Schmitter’s style: offbeat. The co-owner of Chateau Buffalo, a Hertel Avenue cellar and tasting room, is an entrepreneur with a predilection for the eccentric. In a big-box age, he wants, it seems, to offer something more interesting.
This is the man who partners with a Hudson Valley distillery and a family farm in Cambria to produce a drink that comes with a whole pear inside the bottle. He also brews the Dancing Buffalo line of beverages, which includes the award-winning Glace de Ballet, an ice wine whose label features a bipedal buffalo sporting a pink tutu and figure skating on an iceberg. He doesn’t like waste, so he is thinking about bottling his creations in the hodgepodge of different-shaped and -colored vessels that customers empty during tastings.
One afternoon this April, Schmitter announced via Facebook that “As I was picking dandelions this morning, I was reminded of Euell Gibbons, who prepared a meal from wild plants he foraged in Central Park.” In response to a suggestion from a friend that he use the weeds for salad or to dress a steak, Schmitter wrote, “The green leaves are the part of the plant commonly used for culinary purposes. Although, I did pop a few flowers into my mouth as I was picking! Call me crazy, but they’re really not too bad. I figure they’re probably full of great nutrients.”
Schmitter explains that dandelion wine fits with the founding philosophy of Chateau Buffalo, which he opened in 2005 and runs with his wife, Suzi Maciejewski. The shop specializes in New York wines, which Schmitter believes aficionados overlook. He sees supporting locally owned businesses as a way of strengthening the region’s economy, and places a premium on connecting with the community. Dandelion wine is as local as it gets—straight from the city.
“I’m getting my raw material here with no real overhead, whereas a vineyard has to pay a lot of attention to producing the grapes,” Schmitter says.
As he squats in a back room of his store, tending to a brew of boiled sugar water and dandelion heads—the concoction smells like chickpeas—he wonders why more commercial winemakers don’t take advantage of the prolific flowers. In a couple days, he will add yeast to the soup and let the mixture ferment into a honey-hued juice, the tiny organisms feeding on the sugar and excreting alcohol.
The final product, transparent and yellow in color, should be ready before the holiday season—spring and sunshine, bottled, on reserve for winter.
For information on dandelion wine contact:
Chateau Buffalo1209 Hertel Ave.
Charlotte Hsu is a freelance contributor to Artvoice. A former reporter for the Las Vegas Sun, she now works in the University at Buffalo’s communications office. She writes about Buffalo at buffalostoryproject.com.blog comments powered by Disqus
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