The Buffalo News
August 18, 2013
Discover the Concord Grape Belt Region at Newly Opened Visitor’s Center
One of the most common sights you see as you drive in and around the Chautauqua County Village of Westfield, NY, about an hour south of Buffalo, is vineyards, acres and acres of vineyards. That’s not really a surprise considering that this region is one of the oldest and largest Concord grape growing regions in the world.
In 1897, Dr. Thomas Welch, founder of Welch’s Foods, built his first grape juice factory in Westfield and the area became known as “The Grape Juice Capital of the World.” There are currently about 30,000 acres of grapes grown between Silver Creek, NY and Harborcreek, PA and the region is second only to California in grape production.
The best place to learn about the region’s grape growing and agricultural heritage is at the newly opened Grape Discovery Center, located on Route 20 about a mile west of the Village of Westfield. In additional to learning all about the region’s grape growing history, visitors to the center can taste locally produced wines from Lake Erie Wine county as well as purchase regional food specialties and grape-themed gift items.
While the center has been open since Memorial Day weekend, grand opening festivities are planned for September 13th-15th, with the ribbon cutting set for 2:00 pm on Friday September 13th. The exhibit room will officially open to the public and all weekend long visitors to the center will be able to enjoy samples from all the vendors that supply the gift shop, listen to live music on the patio, and see demonstrations about grape production.
The center is the brainchild of the Concord Grape Belt Heritage Association, a not-for-profit corporation established in 2004, with the mission to bring greater recognition to the region. The Concord Grape Belt is a narrow strip of land approximately 60 miles long and between 2 to 6 miles wide located along Lake Erie in both New York and Pennsylvania, The Lake Erie Concord Grape Belt Area, which has the ideal climate for growing grapes, was actually designated New York State’s 19th Heritage Area in 2006 and was the first New York State Heritage Area to have a primary focus on its agricultural heritage.
My daughter and I stopped by the Grape Discovery Center over Memorial Day Weekend to check it out. There are three distinct areas within the center building. The front room serves as a regional welcome center, with information about the Concord Grape Belt, as well as other area tourism information. A large orientation map of the region shows vineyard locations of the 30,000 acres of grapes. Also located in the front room is a gift shop that features many foods made from grapes, such as jams, grape seed oil, and grape juice concentrate, as well as a number of grape themed items, like t-shirts, sweatshirts, and mugs, along with locally made gourmet food items.
One of my favorite items purchased was the 100% Concord grape juice concentrate, which is produced by the local grower’s co-op. This concentrate, when mixed with water, makes a delicious, heart-healthy beverage full of antioxidants. They even have recipes on their website (www.concordgrapejuice.com) to make a variety of foods with the concentrate, like grape sherbet, grape ice cream, and grape dressing. If you can’t make the trek out to the center, the concentrate can be purchased online and also in Buffalo area stores, like the Lexington Co-op and Feel-Rite.
The tasting room, located in the middle portion of the building, features over 60 wines representing all 24 wineries in the region. One can sample a flight of 4 wines for $6, or order a full glass of wine for the same price. Also available are wine slushies and non-alcoholic grape juice slushies, as well as snack food, like cheese, crackers, salsas, and dipping oils, along with baked goods including biscotti and scones. Visitors can enjoy their beverages and snacks inside the tasting room’s cafe or outdoors on the patio that overlooks the surrounding vineyards. For those who just can’t escape technology, free Wi-Fi is available.
The center’s back room features interactive exhibits and displays about grape cultivation and grape production, which is designed to teach visitors about the history as well as the production process of grapes.
Other things to do in Westfield
While you are in the region, take the time to discover some or all of the 24 wineries that are located in Lake Erie Wine Country (formerly referred to as the Chautauqua-Lake Erie Wine Trail). Since the climate and soil are idea for growing wine grapes, it’s no surprise that so many small wineries are located in this region. See www.lakeeriewinecountry.org for a complete list of area wineries.
Upcoming wine-related events include the Americas Grape Country Wine Festival (www.agcwinefestival.com) on August 10th -11th on the grounds of the Chautauqua County Fairgrounds in Dunkirk and the annual Harvest Wine event, sponsored by the wine trail, which takes place in early November.
The Village of Westfield is filled with historic homes built in the early 1800’s. One of the best places to learn about area history is at the McClurg Museum, which houses the collections of the Chautauqua County Historical Society (www.mcclurgmuseum.org). This 16-room mansion, located in Moore Park, was built by James McClurg between 1818 and 1820. A wealthy man, McClurg wanted to provide his family with more stately living conditions than the other area settlers, who lived in log homes. When the last of McClurg’s descendants died, the home was left to the Village of Westfield to be used as a public building.
Westfield also has a farmer’s market taking place on summer Saturdays from 9am-2pm in Moore Park. Almost all of the goods sold are regionally grown or produced.
One of the most scenic areas in Westfield is Barcelona Harbor, located along Lake Erie. The area has a large parking lot, as well as a boat launch and docking facilities. The Barcelona Lighthouse, a 40 foot tall stone lighthouse, was originally commissioned in 1829, and decommissioned in 1859. It is now a private residence, so you can view it from the road or parking area. It was the first public building in the United States to be lit with natural gas.
If you go
Grape Discovery Center, 8305 West Main Road (Route 20) Westfield, 716-326-2003, www.grapediscoverycenter.com. Summer hours Monday-Saturday 10:00 am-5:00pm, Sunday 12:00-5:00 pm.
Take the New York State Thruway (I-90) west to Westfield (exit 60). Turn left on Route 394 and head toward the village of Westfield (approximately 1 mile). To reach the Grape Discovery Center, turn right and Route 20; the center is about a mile west of the village on your left.