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Western New York: The Niagara Wine Trail

January 22nd, 2009-- by Jim Hofman

As any wine lover knows, that next great bottle of wine can come from any of the world’s great wine producing regions.

Wine and grape growing have long been a part of New York State.  New York is consistently in the top 10 states in terms of grape growing and wine production, and boasts well over 100 wineries.  Wine trails abound here, from Long Island to the beautiful Finger Lakes, and many more.  Most of the state’s climate and topography are ideally suited to grape growing, and wine production has been thriving since the 1800’s.

Western New York is an especially ideal area for wine lovers, as the proximity to two Great Lakes creates a perfect microclimate for wine grapes.  The Niagara Wine Trail, just minutes from Niagara Falls and only 1/2 hour from Buffalo, boasts 12 wineries that offer a welcoming introduction to New York wine.

Niagara Wine Trail

The Niagara Wine Trail is very convenient to both Buffalo and Niagara Falls.  From downtown Buffalo, it’s less than 1/2 hour to the main cluster of wineries, situated just west of the small village of Lockport, NY.  Just take Route 425 north from Buffalo and follow the winery signs.

There are 12 wineries on the trail, 11 of which are right in Niagara County. Even if you don’t have the opportunity to visit all 12, take the time to enjoy the pleasant short drive from Buffalo or Niagara Falls to see one or two.  This is agriculture country, a haven for fruit growing.  There’s a sense of serenity here, with rolling breezes off Lake Ontario just a few miles north.

The wineries here celebrate the passion of winemaking, and you’ll be in luck if the wine trail is hosting an event while you visit. You’ll find everything from Cabernet Sauvignons, Merlots, Pinot Noirs, Rieslings, dessert wines, and fruit wines.  Of particular note, almost all the wineries use grapes and fruit from the immediate area.

The Wineries

Let’s get to know each of the 12 wineries …

  • Vizcarra Vineyards:  This is a great family destination, with two outdoor patios with vineyard and sunset views, and U-Pick opportunities from onsite orchards.  The vineyard itself is part of Becker Farms, a well known attraction in this area. There’s a full selection of reds, whites, and specialty fruit wines here.  We enjoyed the crisp Rusty’s Riesling and the sweet Barreled Over Niagara, made from the Niagara grape common in the region.
  • Eveningside Vineyards:  Eveningside is a family farm winery (complete with gorgeous red barn!) specializing in Chardonnays, Rieslings, and Cabernet Franc.  We particularly recommend the 2007 Riesling, an excellent example of the style, and the Crofton Blush, a semi sweet offering that’s ideal for summer sipping.
  • Honeymoon Trail Winery:  Having the perfect name for a winery in the Niagara Falls area, Honeymoon Trail offers a beautiful setting to sample their wines.  Try the rich spicy Cabernet Franc and the White Lace, a blend of Riesling and Cayuga White.  We also took home two bottles of Just Peachy, a crisp and fruity wine made with New York grown peaches.
  • Warm Lake Estate:  Pinot Noir is the name of the game at Warm Lake Estate.  Wine Spectator consistently praises the Pinot Noir, rating it the best of its kind in New York.  Their expansive vineyard, hosting exclusively Pinot Noir grapes, is viewable from the outside deck.
  • Arrowhead Spring Vineyards:  This alluring family farm winery has a wide array of grapes in its vineyard, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Malbec, and Chardonnay, all of which do well in the Niagara region.  The result is some of the more spectacular wine we enjoyed on this trip. We loved the smooth, buttery 2006 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay in particular.
  • Niagara Landing Wine Cellars:  One of the older wineries in the region, Niagara Landing offers over two dozen wine selections along with an inviting gift shop with artwork from local artists. Go for the House White, a fruity blend, and the red Baco Noir, one of the most complex berry and spice reds we’ve had.  Also of note, we found the prices here to be a great bargain.
  • Spring Lake Winery:  The vineyard at Spring Lake Winery is part of the peaceful 78 acre site, complete with an 8 acre lake and numerous walking paths.  We enjoyed an invigorating 2 mile hike through the property before ending at the Tuscan style tasting room, where we dove in and tried the Gewurztraminer, with its bouquet of apricot and banana.  If you visit, be sure to ask about their Wine Train excursions, a cooperative effort between the winery and a local railroad museum.
  • Chiappone Wine Cellars:  Located on a beautiful farm setting near the small town of Newfane, Chiappone Wine Cellars has a long tradition of winemaking over three generations.  We thought the whites were the stars here, in particular the Morning Star, a dry but fruity Riesling that has won numerous wine awards.
  • Schulze Vineyards and Winery:  Just a stone’s throw from the shores of Lake Ontario, Schulze Vineyards and Winery is situated on 120 acres of beautiful farm land.  When you visit here, you’ll literally experience the fresh aroma of grapes and Lake Ontario at the same time. In their vineyard, current plantings include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Catawba, Vidal, Niagara, and Riesling.
  • Freedom Run Winery:  Freedom Run Winery is family owned and operated, with fragrant orchards surrounding the new tasting room.  When we visited, 11 wines were available.  We thought the Manning Manor Blanc was superb, a blend of Cayuga White and Vidal Blanc, making for a pleasant and mildly sweet taste.  Before you leave, be sure to see the various works of glass and pottery art, handmade by one of Freedom Run’s owners and available for purchase via their website.
  • Leonard Oakes Estate Winery: This brand new winery is the only Niagara Wine Trail member outside of Niagara County, as it’s just over the Orleans County line, just 5 minutes from Vizcarra Vineyards.  Leonard Oakes Estate wines are all produced from grapes grown on site, and are fun and easy to drink.  Try the wonderfully complex Frontenac, with notes of dark fruit like blackberry and plum.
  • The Winery at Marjim Manor:  Finally, we’d like to take you to the shores of Lake Ontario to the gorgeous grounds and setting of The Winery at Marjim Manor.  The winery’s location has an interesting history, serving at various times as a grainery, a home, and even a convent.  Some even say the place is haunted! The wines, though, are very upfront and friendly.  Fruit wines rule the day here, all produced from the owner’s large orchard.  And this is truly a spectacular location to taste wine and linger, with a commanding view of Lake Ontario.  Be sure to take your time here … the setting and the grounds are stunning.

Planning Your Visit

We divided these winery visits into a three day period, visiting a maximum of four per day.  The best part about this wine trail is the close proximity of the wineries … not only are they an easy drive from one another, but they’re very close to Buffalo as well.  If you are flying to the area, the Buffalo Niagara International Airport has non-stop flights from 18 cities. In Buffalo, for lodging try the top-rated Mansion on Delaware Avenue, the Beau Fleuve B&B Inn, or one of dozens of decent chain hotels in the area.

Author Jim Hofman travels the country and writes frequently for his website, Wine Trails USA. Photos courtesy of Arrowhead Spring Vineyards.

Tags: Jim Hofman · United States - Other

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Leland Mote // Aug 21, 2009 at 8:46 am


    I grow Pinot Noir for Warm Lake Estates in Cambria. They have asked me to find a buyer for my 4 1/2 tons this season as they ae having capacity problems. Please let me know if you ae interested. I will be in NY in 10 days.

  • 2 linda weaver // Aug 28, 2009 at 7:58 pm

    please recommend your most respected 4-6 hour day wine tour with limosine package, thank you.

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