If you had taken the Niagara Wine Trail tour several summers ago, the entrance to the Arrowhead Spring Vineyards would have presented an unexpected image:
Lots of shiny CDs protecting the precious wine-yielding grapes.
In a former life, the CDs were beta versions of programs that Robin Ross, co-owner of the winery, tested as part of her job. She had so many, it wasn’t until last year when she finally ran out, so now they’ve been replaced by more mundane strips of shiny foil to keep away the birds who threaten the grape harvest.
There are sixteen vineyards along with Niagara Wine Trail, all within easy driving distance of one another in scenic upstate New York. We visited two in Lockport, New York, on our Niagara Falls vacation in August, a trip that also included visits to the Niagara Falls Power Vista and Niagara Falls State Park. We also walked the streets of historic Lewiston, New York, and had dinner at a fabulous farm-to-table restaurant there, Carmelo’s. (It says something about the restaurant that I’m still craving their arugula salad and I usually hate salads. It was that good. As good as dessert. Honest.)
But before Lewiston, we sampled wine and talked to the owners of the Lockport vineyards. Keeping away birds and other pests from the grapes is one of their biggest challenges, according to Ross and her husband, Duncan, co-owners of Arrowhead. The gleaming CDs and shiny foil are one method. Another is piping in sounds to scare off the birds, and yet another is a type of scarecrow. None work all the time for a long period of time, so they have to switch off methods. It’s one of the ways running a vineyard requires constant vigilance and work far beyond simply growing the grapes.
The vineyards on the wine trail are generally open for tasting in the summer. It costs from $4-$5 for 4-5 samples. We tasted wines at Arrowhead and the Eveningside Vineyards, which were within five minutes drive of each other. As you can see from the photo above, the grapes grow well, though these won’t be bottled for drinking this year.
For Duncan Ross, the Arrowhead vineyard is the result of a lifelong interest in wine-making. In 2002, after his wine won several awards at the Indy International Wine Competition, the couple become serious about opening a vineyard. Duncan still works as technology management consultant and Robin, who worked for 20 years in the software industry, is home with the vineyard and their three children.
Robin showed off their storage room underneath their store, where the wine is being aged in various types of wood barrels, and those massive barrels are only a small part of what it takes to create wine, beginning with the grapes and ending with bottles. Like most farming, much of the hardest work is unseen.
Eveningside, like Arrowhead, is a relative recent vineyard, as their first wines were released in 2004, but the vineyard had been first conceived in 2000. Owner Randy Biehl purchased 21 acres in 2001 and converted a barn on the property to their tasting room. It’s a beautiful site with the grapes right near the barn, as you can see from the photo of their grapes above.
Biehl said they just began hosting weddings this year and plan to host more and, on the day we visited, it seemed a very romantic spot. We purchased a bottle of their Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 and a bottle of 2008 Estate Syrah from Arrowhead. My husband, who has a good palate, pronounced both bottles excellent.
After the wine tastings, we headed to Lewiston for the evening and were entertained at their summer jazz festival. The music was top notch, but I must admit my husband was more interested in the antique book store, Bob’s Olde Books, on their main street. He was eyeing an antique complete set of the works of Sir Walter Scott for $1,000. We settled for a print of colonial Fanueil Hall instead.
For those planning a visit to the greater Niagara Falls area, I highly recommend the Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce as a resource. Jennifer Pauly, the President, met us at the Eveningside Vineyard and was not only helpful about what to do in the areas well-versed in the history of region.
So, overall, is the area worth visiting alone or with the family? I would definitely say ‘yes.’ We were only there three days and could easily have stretched our visit into a week. The Falls themselves and the attractions in the state park will take up about two days, a trip to the Power Vista another day, and the wine trail and Lewiston could easily occupy two more days. And we didn’t have a chance to visit the Aquarium of Niagara or Whirlpool State Park. And there’s also the Seneca Niagara Casino and Hotel and, of course, there’s the bridge over to Niagara Falls, Canada.
Photos by Corrina Lawson.