By Vincent Clarke May 13, 2016 Comments Off
New York Wine Regions

Located in the single largest wine grape-growing region east of the Rocky Mountains, Lake Erie Wine Country extends for an approximate 50 miles starting at Silver Creek, in Chautauqua County, New York to the Erie County town of Harborcreek. That small expanse is home to more than 25 wineries, both commercial and estate, with vineyards growing a variety of American and French vinifera varieties. A large concentration of concord is used in the production of wines, as well as commercial and artisan juices, jams, and jellies.

Lake Erie Wine—the Beginnings

Lake Erie’s southern shore has a long and proud grape-growing and winemaking heritage. Its story begins with the area’s unique geological history. During the Ice Age, massive glaciers made their descent from the north. Along the way, they gouged out huge trenches that were rich with Canadian soil, boulders, and rocks. As the temperature began to climb, the glaciers receded and filled those trenches with glacial melt-off that today forms the Great Lakes. The glaciers also left in their wake ridges of rich, fertile soil along the shores of Lake Erie.

The glacial ridges in the area create an ideal growing situation for wine grapes, not to mention numerous species of fruit trees. The twofold advantage of rich, clean lake water and the gravel loam that allows for superior drainage merge with the moderate temperatures of the spring and autumn months to create a growing environment that is nearly perfect for a wide spectrum of grape varieties. Over the past 50 years, many of the area’s vineyards have been replanted with premium grape varieties that include a mix of both European and French-American vinifera varieties. In fact, some of the winery owners in this region actually pioneered many of the successful techniques that are still used with great success today.

It was the New York Farm Winery Act of 1976 that allowed smaller vineyards to establish their own wineries, with an annual limit of 50,000 gallons of wine production. The passing of this state law was the beginning of a chateau industry in the state, and led to the further production of wines that can stand up against practically any others in the world, in terms of overall quality and flavor.

Lake Erie Wine Country is a wonderful source of varietals to satisfy all palates, whether one prefers its native Labruscas, with their exceptional fruity qualities, or the more complex French-American and Euro-style varieties. All of the wines produced here have a real uniqueness and diversity to them that draws the enthusiasm of even the most discerning consumers and connoisseurs throughout the world.

Niagara Escarpment

The Niagara Escarpment is a World Biosphere Reserve, so recognized by UNESCO. It is home to the most prominent topography in southern Ontario, stretching into New York State, where it is home to the famed Niagara Wine Trail. It is also the focal point of three appellations. Those appellations share the same deposits of fossil-rich sedimentary soils that help grow and nurture the vines planted there. The Niagara Escarpment supports a strong ecosystem that is home to many species of fish, birds, reptiles, mammals, and flora. Its landscape includes 37 unique types of orchids, all of which grow in the wild.

Beginning below the Niagara Escarpment ridge, the benchlands cut their way across the Niagara Peninsula. There are a large number of northern-facing slopes, which give the appellation its unique character, and the topography has a range of interesting features. The steep cliffs and double-bench topography of Twenty Mile Bench and the rolling hills of the east Short Hills Bench create both picturesque landscapes and optimal growing conditions.

The streams and tributaries that flow throughout the area produce headwaters that rise up from the Escarpment. They wind their way through the land and, in turn, create a number of  slopes. That topographical makeup is a vital part of the process of winemaking, as it creates a natural source of groundwater and provides ideal natural drainage during the spring thaw.

Niagara Terroir

The soils in the Escarpment are highly variable and consist of both rich clay loam and water-stratified clay. The majority of the area’s soils run deep, and are both well drained and possessing of excellent water-holding capability. Combine that with the ground water that flows from its base during the drier summer months, and one is left with soil that provides a steady supply of moisture to the vines planted there for the duration of the growing season. The steep slopes, in turn, provide an excellent system of natural drainage. The mineral flavor of many of the bench wines produced in this region is the result of the fossil-rich sedimentary soil that dominates the area.

Niagara Climate

The benchland area is sheltered from prevailing strong southwesterly winds and gets the advantage of the lake breezes, which reflect off the escarpment ridge. With its higher elevation, the local temperatures tend to warm gradually throughout the spring months. This encourages later bud-bursts and helps greatly lessen the risk of frost. In the fall months, the Escarpment slopes lock in the warm lake air, allowing for a longer season for grapes to fully mature.

The Niagara Wine Trail

Situated on the U.S. side of the Escarpment, the Niagara Wine Trail is home to a number of quaint wineries that offer a diverse selection of wines to satisfy a broad range of tastes. In this area, the high rainfall amounts coupled with the rich fertile soil of the Escarpment create very favorable growing conditions for the local vineyards. Here, visitors enjoy a variety of wine tours, festivals, and events that are held throughout the year, offering a singularly impressive wine tasting experience, even for the seasoned wine connoisseur.

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Vincent Clarke

Vincent Clarke

With a true passion for wine, Vincent Clarke brings a fresh perspective to everything related to vinography. Whether it is discovering a new wine or uncovering a favourite old vintage, Vincent takes readers through a sensory experience in the world of wine.

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