The land located between the Niagara Escarpment and Lake Ontario in Niagara county has a unique “micro-climate” that is perfect for growing grapes for wine. The area is actually designated the Niagara Escarpment American Viticulture Area, which means that it is an area that grows grapes specific to that area. With its location on the Niagara Escarpment, warm air comes off Lake Ontario, hits the cliff and then goes back towards the lake, giving the area a longer growing season.
Over the past eight years numerous wineries has sprung up in this region, forming two separate wine trails under one organization. The Niagara Wine Trail
runs along Lake Ontario, while the Niagara Escarpment Trail follows Route 104. Since these wineries are within an hour drive of metro Buffalo, you can easily visit all of them in one day. They make a perfect destination to get away from holiday stress and a great place to take out-of-town visitors.
Several months ago, my husband and I took part in one of the wine trail’s monthly themed weekends. At this particular event, Wines and Dines, we each got a commemorative glass plus sample of foods made with wine at each winery, along with wine samples, of course.
We began our wine trail journey at Niagara Landing Wine Cellar in Cambria, which Jackie Connelly opened eight years ago; the first winery to join the wine trail. They specialize in wines made from native Labrusca grapes and European vinifera varieties. Some of their wines include Misty Niagara, a sweet refreshing white, and Boxer Blush, a semi-sweet blush wine that has a picture of Sir Arthur, a boxer dog who can often be seen greeting guests in the tasting room. Niagara Landing also offers winemaking seminars and home winemaker workshops each spring, with their winemaker, Domenic Carisetti.
Our next stop was at Honeymoon Trail Winery, also in Cambria, which Garry and Lori Hoover opened two years ago. Garry, who was formerly in the transportation and trucking industry, is a self-taught winemaker.
Some of their wines include Honeymoon Sweet, a sweet red wine made with Concord grapes and a semi-dry Cayuga White. Their best-seller, Pink Catawba, is a semi-sweet wine which took double gold in the 2007 Finger Lakes International Wine competition. Their tasting room has a fireplace and wood accented walls and they have a meeting room available to rent for events like showers, meetings and parties.
Our next stop was at Warm Lake Estate, which has 45 acres of Pinot Noir grapes, the largest planting of Pinot Noir east of the Rocky Mountains. They will be planting another ten acres next year. They only make Pinot Noir wine, including Warm Lakes Niagara Escarpment, Mountain Road Niagara Escarpment and Glace Noir Niagara Escarpment.
Wine Spectator Magazine has rated Warm Lake’s Pinot Noir the best in New York State. The winery also won best in show for their 2003 Pinot Noir at the Boston Wine Expo, the largest consumer event in the nation.
According to assistant winemaker, Kurt Guba, the location and soil, which is clay over limestone, is the same as Burgundy, France, so you can grow grapes to produce a similar wine.
Our next stop was a much smaller operation. Eveningside Vineyards, owned and operated by Randy and Karen Biehl. It is located in a small red barn behind their home. Since they trained at Cave Spring Cellars in Niagara-on-the-Lake, their wines are more like the wines you’d find in the Niagara peninsula of Canada, rather than the other Niagara County wineries.
Their wines include a Chardonnay, Riesling, rose and cabernet. The Biehl’s both have full-time jobs elsewhere, so they are only open on weekends during the summer and fall, and during wine trail events the rest of the year.
We then headed to Freedom Run Winery in Lockport, which opened this past February. Their large, light and airy tasting room features unique hand-blown glass plates, created by Florida artist, Chuck Boux, placed on the front of the tasting bar. There is also pottery and other items made by local artists, including Sean Manning, who is one of the winery’s owners.
Sandy Manning, who also co-owns the winery with her husband, Larry, poured several wines for us to taste, including their unique Manning Manor Reserve, a dry white wine made from Niagara grapes. Usually wine made from the Niagara grape is a sweet wine. Their semi-dry Riesling was also very good. According to Sandy, it’s a wine that’s popular with everyone’s palate.
Spring Lake Winery, also in Lockport, is set way back from the road, so watch for their sign and follow the winding driveway. Three generations of the Varallo family are involved in the winery’s operation. Dr. Nick Varallo, a physician in family practice during the week, has been making wine with his father ever since he was a kid. Nick had 75 acres of land, which originally he was just going to build a house on, but he ended up building the winery instead. His sons, Dominic and Rico, oversee the day-today operations of the winery.
A patio on the back of the winery, which people can rent to host events, overlooks an eight acre spring-fed lake, surrounded by a walking trail, which is nice in the warmer weather. A gift shop is located in a small cottage near the lake. Some of their wines include a white syrah, merlot and gewurz traminer.
Vizcarra Vineyards at Becker Farms was out next stop. While I’ve been to Becker Farms many times chaperoning school field trips, I’ve never had the opportunity to visit their tasting room before. I sat down with Mindy and Oscar Vizcarra and over a glass of their blueberry wine they told me how they happened to start the winery.
Mindy’s family has been operating Becker Farms since 1894, so they have been fruit farmers for a long time. Oscar had visited some farm wineries in New York State, as well as some in Napa Valley, California and in Italy. He saw that a lot of fruit farmers were getting into winemaking and that it really wasn’t that difficult to do.
“We had all this fruit around us,” commented Mindy. “It’s another use of our crops, since there is always excess fruit.” Since they don’t have a lot of space for winemaking, they are a boutique winery that specializes in easy to taste fruit wines. “Our blueberry and raspberry wines taste just like you are eating the fruit,” said Mindy.
Our next stop was at Marjim Manor in Appleton, which probably has the most charming buildings of all the wineries on the trail. The white mansion, which has 100 windows, was originally built in 1834 as a private residence. From 1933 to 1993, it was a religious convent. Margo Sue Bitner bought the building and opened the winery in 2004. It is one of only two women owned wineries in the state.
Bitner took delight in explaining each of her 28 wines. Each one has a unique name that relates to this history of the house. For example, Thursday Afternoon at Three, a grape-peach wine, refers to one of the ghost stories associated with the house. As the story goes, one Thursday afternoon at 3 pm, the original owner, Shubal Merritt, accidentally shot his son to death. After that, every Thursday afternoon at 3 pm, the locked French doors of that room would burst open. Several other deaths occurred in the house on Thursday afternoons at 3 pm.
We also visited Schulze Vineyards and Winery in Burt, which opened its doors in May. Ann and Martin Schulze have 45 acres of vineyards on their property. They specialize in sparking wines, as well as several other varieties of wines. Some of the wines we tasted were their Thirty Mile Point Niagara Wine, which tastes like fresh picked Niagara grapes, and their semi-dry Vidal Blanc.
Another stop on the trail is Chiappone Cellars Winery in Newfane, the most award-winning winery in Niagara County. Owner Tom Chiappone, a wine chemist and encologist who opened the winery 8 years ago, makes 23 different varieties of wine. In addition, Tom is also a member of the Niagara County Sheriff Mounted Patrol. Tom’s family has been making wine for 172 years; he has his great grandfather’s original wine press on display in front of the winery.
His winery, which opened eight years ago, is the only one in Niagara County that has a full lab set up; he can run 128 different evaluations on his wine, bringing each wine to the highest quality before they are released. One of his most popular wines is Niagara.
Leonard Oakes Estates Winery in Medina and Arrowhead Springs Winery in Lockport will be opening up in 2008. Leonard Oakes will specialize in hand-crafted white and red wines, along with sparkling and still ciders. They currently have a farm stand/gift shop where they sell baked goods, apples grown on their Lyndonville farm and local made gourmet foods.
One of the wine trail’s upcoming events includes Mardi Gras which will be held on January 26-27. For $20 per person, visitors receive a wine glass and a wrist band. “All your tastings are free for the weekend as long as you have the glass and wristband,” said Margo Sue Bittner of Marjim Manor. “We usually pass out beads and trinkets. We also have special foods, since people give up things for Lent; we try to have the treats they’ll be giving up as one last fling.”
Other events coming up include Be Mine With Wine on February 9-10 and a St. Patrick’s Celebration on March 15-16.
Niagara Wine trail www.niagarawinetrail.org
Niagara Landing (716-433-8405, www.niagaralanding.org) 4434 Van Dusen Rd., Cambria
Honeymoon Trail (716-438-3255; www.honeymoontrailwinery.com) 4120 Ridge Rd., Cambria
Warm Lake Estates (716-731-5900; www.warmlakeestate.com) 3868 Lower Mountain Rd., Lockport
Eveningside Vineyards (716-867-2415; www.eveningside.com) 4794 Lower Mountain Rd., Cambria
Freedom Run (716-433-4136; www.freedomrunwinery.com) 5138 Lower Mountain Rd., Lockport
Spring Lake Estates (716-439-5253; www.springlakewinery.com) 7373 Rochester Rd. (Rt. 31) Lockport
Vizcarra Vineyards (716-772-2211; www.beckerfarms.com) 3760 Quaker Rd., Gasport
The Winery at Marjim Manor (716-778-7001; www.marjimmanor.com) 7171 E. Lake Rd, Appleton
Schulze Vineyards and Winery (716- 778-8090; www.schulzewines.com) 2090 Coomer Rd., Burt
Chiappone Cellars Winery (716-433-9463; www.chiapponecellarswinery.com ) 3401 Murphy Rd. (off Rt. 104) Newfane.
Leonard Oakes Estates (585-798-1060; www.oakeswinery.com) 10609 Ridge Rd. (Rt. 104) Medina.
Arrowhead Spring Winery (716-434-8030) 4746 Town Line Road, Lockport.