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A Niagara County man's journey from the engineering world to the vineyard

A Niagara County man's journey from the engineering world to the vineyard

NEWFANE, N.Y. — You know the saying, it ain't rocket science? Well in Jim Baker's case, it was, for many years, but now he focuses on science by the glass, as an engineer of the vineyard. 

"I was in charge of all the structural and thermal analysis of all the rocket engines." 

Jim Baker worked in the aerospace defense world his entire career, starting with an internship at Sierra Research.

Sierra, Viatran, Ultrascan, and Moog, are just a few of the stops in Jim's illustrious career that spanned 4 decades and includes 5 patents, and some very impressive projects. "We did design the propulsion system for the Galileo system, which is the European version of GPS."

But Jim's journey has brought him back down to earth and enjoying the fruits of a life well-lived. 

"This is a love story, and I say if life's not a love story, then you're not doing it right." This is a love story that began with a date set up by a mutual friend. Jim met Kathy and knew she was his future. "We've been married 39 years. She's from Jamestown, I'm from here." Here being Niagara County. After graduating from Barker High School he went to Alfred, got his bachelor's from Buff State, and his master's degree from Niagara University.

"I used to visit her while we were dating and they had wineries in the Jamestown area open, and not up here at the time, you know, 40 years ago. So we used to go and visit the wineries as a date. We were young and in love and the air was full of romance. While we were falling in love with each other, we fell in love with the whole lifestyle of food and wine." 

They always dreamed of growing their own grapes and making their own wine. As their love grew, their dreams became reality.

"We looked for about 10 years until we found this spot and we knew this was it when we found it." 

The perfect spot, the perfect environment, and in 2006 Chateau Niagara was born. 31 acres of prime farmland on the banks of 18 Mile Creek in Newfane and began growing high-quality wine grapes. What's known as the king, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, and Merlot, are just the beginning of an impressive list. But for many years, it was a hobby, or a side gig until very recently. 

"So I was farmer, vintner, engineer. and I did that for a long time. I retired only 2 years ago."

All of those skills come together in an incredible way. Jim describes himself as both right and left-brained, so he can embrace the technical and the creative aspects of the craft. He brings both sides into his wine-making, but as technically savvy as he is, his approach to life is quite simple. 

I asked Jim what he is the most proud of. His response? 

"The love of my wife, the love of my family, that's always number one."

As you can plainly see, Jim and Kathy live by the motto, "Love, like a fine wine, gets better with age."

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