The burgeoning Niagara Wine Trail – which started in 1999 with just two wineries and now features 17 – is poised to grow some more.
The trail was recently given the nod by the State Senate and Assembly to expand into Erie, Orleans and Monroe counties, and the legislation is currently awaiting Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s signature.
The expansion will allow two long-established wineries in Orleans and Monroe counties to join the Niagara Wine Trail, boosting the development of future wineries and tourism businesses in the area. No wineries yet exist along the Niagara Wine Trial in Erie County, but the approval for signage has been secured.
It will also clearly define the wine trail, making it easier for visitors to find.
“We have connected Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Rochester,” said Margo Sue Bittner, owner of The Winery at Marjim Manor in Appleton, which joined the Wine Trail back in 2004 as the fourth winery.
“We had 5,000 customers that first year,” she recalled. “We had over 40,000 visitors last year.”
The two new trails created under auspices of the new bill will be named the Niagara Wine Trail Ridge and the Niagara Wine Trail Lake, but both routes will continue to be branded as the Niagara Wine Trail. The ridge route will extend along Route 104 east, from Niagara Falls to Route 390 in Rochester. The lake route starts where the I-290 and Route 62 meet in Amherst, travels along 62 to Route 425 north to Lake Ontario, along Route 18 east to the Niagara County/Orleans County line and drops south to Route 104.
Bittner and Wendy Oakes-Wilson, whose family owns Leonard Oakes Estate Winery in Medina, traveled to Albany several times to lobby the state representatives for passage of this bill.
“We’ve been working on this for over two years,” Bittner said. “I’m sure the governor will sign this as soon as he possibly can.
“We met with the state Department of Transportation, and they were absolutely wonderful,” she added. “They developed a framework for us to develop signage across the state. The Niagara Wine Trail won a grant in 2011 – the first year they were issued – from the Regional Economical Development Council and will now use that grant money to install the new signs. It has all dove-tailed. And all of the wineries that still need to purchase signs will be able to get them as part of the matching grant.”
Bittner said the Niagara Wine Trail had earlier been approached by the Lake Ontario Winery and Vineyard in Hilton and Schwenk Wine Cellars in Kent to join the trail but were not permitted to do so. Once the governor signs this legislation into law, they will be eligible for membership.