Discover Wine Country along the Great Lakes Seaway Trail
Ask any wine connoisseur or vineyard owner what makes a region good for growing grapes and producing wine and they’ll probably tell you “it’s the terroir.” The French term ‘terroir’ refers to the growing conditions resulting from the combination of soils and climate that give a wine its unique qualities. Along the Great Lakes Seaway Trail, the glacial geologic past and the effects of the Great Lakes on the local climate have created conditions that favor vigorous growth of grapes and other fruits.
The Great Lakes Seaway Trail is home to three federally designated American Viticultural Areas. These areas are designated wine grape-growing regions that have distinctive growing conditions such as climate, soil, elevation, and physical features. In addition to the Lake Erie, Niagara Escarpment, and Finger Lakes AVA’s found along the Great Lakes Seaway Trail, there are many wineries located outside of the traditional officially designated wine regions, notably along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.
Lake Erie Wine Country
Along the southern shore of Lake Erie, the well-drained gravel-loam soils and the moderating effect of the lake on spring and fall temperatures combine to create the ideal growing environment for grapes. Lake Erie Wine Country, as it is known, is the largest Concord grape growing region in the world and the second largest grape growing region overall in the United States outside of California’s Napa Valley.
Aside from outstanding wine, the abundance of Concord grapes makes this the largest grape juice producing area in America. Not surprisingly, here you’ll find the headquarters of the National Grape Cooperative Association which owns Welch Foods. If you’ve seen the recent Welch’s commercials showing where their grapes come from – it’s right here along the Great Lakes Seaway Trail.
As you travel along the Great Lakes Seaway Trail here, you will find yourself surrounded by vineyards with exquisite views of Lake Erie. Many wineries are located right along the byway, with others just a short distance from the Seaway Trail. Be sure to reserve plenty of time to explore the dozens of wineries found in Lake Erie Wine Country.
Between Niagara Falls and Rochester, another geological structure’s impact contributes to the favorable grape growing conditions. The Niagara Escarpment is a limestone ridge that runs for more than 650 miles through the Great Lakes region. It begins near Rochester and continues west through southern Ontario, Lake Huron, the upper peninsula of Michigan, and ends in eastern Wisconsin.
The vines in this grape growing region are protected by the Niagara Escarpment to the south and the
waters of the Niagara River to the west and Lake Ontario to the north. Air warmed by the Great Lakes is held by the escarpment and protects the land from drastic temperature changes.
Unique to the Niagara Escarpment in New York is that it has a moderate degree of slope which provides more protection for the grapes from the cold air which “drains” down the gently sloping land to lower elevations.
You’ll find several wineries along the Great Lakes Seaway Trail between Rochester and Niagara Falls, and more than a dozen that are connected by the Niagara Wine Trail.
Taste of the Finger Lakes
The Finger Lakes Region is the largest wine growing region in New York. Similar to the Great Lakes, the deep Finger Lakes have a moderating effect on the climate keeping the temperature mild relative to surrounding areas and preventing early season frost. Many of the vineyards here are planted on the steep hillsides that slope toward the lakes which helps provide the vines with good drainage, better sun exposure, and a reduced risk of frost.
To experience the wines of the Finger Lakes, head south from the Great Lakes Seaway Trail and take
a trip around Cayuga Lake on the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail.
Lake Ontario & St. Lawrence River Wineries
Outside of the federally designated American Viticultural Areas, many of the wineries in New York are found along the Great Lakes Seaway Trail and the shores of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. Due to the moderating effect of these large bodies of water, this rapidly growing wine region is thriving and producing high-quality grapes and wines.
East of Rochester, follow the Lake Ontario Wine Trail to visit boutique wineries as well as bountiful farm markets. In northern New York, check out the Thousand Islands-Seaway Wine Trail. In addition to the five wine trails found along the Great Lakes Seaway Trail, there are many individual wineries offering their own unique wines for you to savor.
Plan your trip on the Great Lakes Seaway Trail and you’ll be sure to discover why this region is a world-class wine destination!
Ice Wine – A Sweet Northern Treat
Ice wine, as the name implies, is produced from grapes that have been frozen while still on the vine. During the freezing process, much of the water evaporates, leaving a very concentrated juice. This dehydration concentrates the grape’s sugars and flavors, and this is what gives the wine its character and flavor.
Natural ice wines require a hard freeze to occur after the grapes are ripe. Grapes may hang on the vine for several months following the normal harvest, and if a freeze does not come quickly enough the grapes may rot and the crop would be lost. If the freeze is too severe, no juice can be extracted.
Ice wine grapes are hand-picked, and the high sugar level means the fermentation process may take months to complete. Because of the lower yield and difficulty of processing, ice wines are typically more expensive than table wines.
The Great Lakes Seaway Trail region with its northern climate is ideal for producing ice wine. Travel the Great Lakes Seaway Trail to our fabulous collection of wineries to taste them for yourself!