The Niagara Wine Trail continues to expand. Two more wineries near Rochester have joined the trail, bringing the membership to 20 establishments.
Schwenk Wine Cellars in Kent, Orleans County, joined recently, while Lake Ontario Winery in Hilton, Monroe County, joined in October.
Both were able to join the Niagara Wine Trail thanks to legislation signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in the fall, extending the trail into Monroe and Orleans counties. A winery must be located within five miles of the wine trail in order to have designating signs. New signs for the entire trail, which has been split into Ridge and Lake sections, are expected this spring.
“Some studies say that the exposure you get from being on a wine trail almost doubles the business you would have if you were trying to do it on your own,” said David N. Bower Jr., owner/operator of Lake Ontario Winery.
“When you’re on a wine trail, you work as a group and can get more things accomplished and really get yourself out there,” Bower added. “It’s huge for me to be part of the Niagara Wine Trail.”
Lake Ontario Winery also operates a satellite tasting room in Webster, a northeastern suburb of Rochester. It is part of the Lake Ontario Wine Trail, located east of Rochester.
Cathy and Paul Schwenk own Schwenk Wine Cellars. It is the second Orleans County winery to become part of the Niagara Wine Trail, joining Leonard Oakes Estate Winery in Medina.
“Hopefully, this will help us expand and reach new clients who haven’t heard of us before,” said Cathy Schwenk. “Many people don’t want to go all the way to the Finger Lakes Wine Trail (southeast of Rochester). There are quite a few different things to do right here.
“People have heard of Niagara Falls, but there are so many other things to do here,” said Schwenk. “In the summer, we have the tourists, and in the fall, we have people out looking at the leaves and enjoying harvests at the farms. This is becoming a destination area.”
Each of the 20 wineries on the trail has established its own niche, so that it doesn’t so much compete with the other establishments as complement them.
Schwenk said her winery offers “German-style recipes handed down by family,” which sets her wines apart. She said the Riesling and cherry wines are particularly popular.
“We also have holiday wines that are very popular, especially our Santa’s Secret, which we now do year-round,” she added.
“My husband has been making wine all of his life,” she said. “His great-grandparents were from Germany, and he made wine with his father and grandfather. We opened our tasting room six years ago, but we were a winery before that.”
Schwenk has vineyards in Kent, the Dunkirk/Fredonia area and in the Finger Lakes.
“We take the grapes from all three (areas) and crush, press and process them here in the fall,” she said.
Bower, of Lake Ontario Winery, also grew up making wine and serves as his business’ winemaker, with help from his son, David Bower III, a graduate of Cornell University. He currently teaches the winemaking side of viticulture at Surry Community College in Dobson, N.C. Bower’s daughter, Emily, is also part of the family business, as is his father, founder David Bower Sr.
The senior Bower purchased Mayer’s Cider Mill in Rochester in 1962. The family expanded beyond cider and grape juice to include make-your-own beer and wine supplies and began on-premises winemaking with the purchase of Vino Corp. in 1982.
The family established the Lake Ontario Winery in 2002 and maintains an 89-acre spread that includes vines from viniferous to hybrid to native American varieties, all produced and bottled on site.
The winery includes themed tasting rooms. One features the Pirate Lagoon line of wines, a nod to the local pirate legends gleaned from the winery’s proximity to Lake Ontario. The Bowers opened their Bistro in 2008, offering gourmet meals to accompany their wide selection of wines, and they created an 1812 Bicentennial Peace Garden in 2012.
They host a variety of events, from weddings to festivals, and will open Mayer’s Antique Apple Cidery in the next few weeks, offering seven hard ciders.
Next on the Bower family agenda is the “Lake Ontario Brewing Company,” set to open by the end of the year.
Bower said he’s been in the business all his life and watched as the popularity of wineries grew in Canada, long before they picked up on the American side of the Niagara River.
“The timing wasn’t right yet to get the recognition here, but there’s an explosion here now,” Bower said. “We realized that we can grow viniferous grapes here – we have the second-longest growing period (next to Long Island). We’re in a great spot. We’re very fortunate.”
Bower said his family has worked hard to “offer the little extra things” to make its winery attractive for people to stay awhile. He said customers might like to take a walk through the garden or enjoy a slice of its popular “apple pizza” at the Bistro.
“We try hard to make this a destination,” he said.
Lake Ontario Winery is located at 1593 Hamlin-Parma Town Line Road, Hilton, while Schwenk Wine Cellars is at 1456 Bills Road, Kent. Both will participate in the next wine trail event, “Be Mine With Wine,” Feb. 14-16, which will feature wine samplings paired with chocolate from local chocolatiers.
Visit www.niagarawinetrail.org for more details.