WESTFIELD – The Grape Discovery Center on Route 20 in Westfield will open for visitors May 25.
The new center has been a project of the Concord Grape Belt Heritage Association, which promotes grape growing, the grape industry and the history and culture of Concord grapes in Chautauqua County.
Made possible through a $1 million upstate New York Economic Development grant and several other funding sources, the renovated building is about one mile west of Route 394 in Westfield. The Heritage Association has been working through phases of construction and now features three areas in the large building that was a former car dealership. The construction began in 2008.
Andrew Dufresne is the executive director of the Heritage Group. A former Cornell Cooperative Extension director in Chautauqua County, he has been promoting the grape industry for many years and is excited about opening the center to the public.
He said the May 25 date is a “soft opening” for the center, which will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. A larger, grand opening with a ceremony will be planned for late summer.
The well-lighted spacious building features areas where people can learn about the long history of the Concord grape.
The Chautauqua County area and neighboring Pennsylvania vineyards boast the largest Concord grape-growing area in the world, according to Dufresne. He said more than 30,000 acres in the area are devoted to Concord vineyards. He said the secret to the grape variety’s success is a combination of climate and soil. Some other varieties, including some more popular for wine, have also been established in the region.
Welch’s, the food company founded in Westfield, and other local juice producers use tons of concentrated grape juice from the local vineyards yearly to make jam, jelly and grape juice. Dufresne said the recent publicity about the health value of Concord grape products has helped the industry.
Welch’s has been producing Concord grape products from the area since the 1890s, and local farmers believe that the local vines may go back even further, to about 150 years ago.
For the summer, center visitors can sample wines from 24 local wineries and gather information about the vineyards in the area. It is also available for gatherings of up to 50 people.