Winter Explorations in Niagara Wine Country

Wineries, Medina village offer seasonal fun and festivities

By Katie DeTar

Samples of wines produced by Black Bird Cider Works.
Samples of wines produced by Black Bird Cider Works.

While winter may seem like an unlikely season to explore Western New York, this time of year presents an opportunity to experience the Niagara Wine Trail in a new and unique way. Snow-covered landscapes set the scene to learn about local wines, browse boutique shops and enjoy seasonal special events along routes 18 and 104 in Niagara and Orleans counties. Charming towns and surprising lodging options throughout the region complement a beautiful and delicious getaway to Niagara wine country.

Local Wines

The Niagara Escarpment — a limestone ridge that runs through Western New York and beyond — creates an ideal growing region for apples and grapes. The fruits benefit from the rich soil, and from a microclimate influenced by Lake Ontario, creating more moderate temperatures compared to the surrounding areas. Winemakers at the 22 Niagara Wine Trail member wineries are taking advantage of these growing conditions, similar to those experienced in the famed Burgundy region of France, and creating local wines that are gaining national and international attention.

Ice wine is a regional favorite made famous by Canadian wineries in nearby Ontario. The grapes are allowed to freeze on the vine, and then are quickly harvested in cold winter temperatures, usually in late December or early January. The grapes are then pressed and fermented into a sweet, syrup-thick wine that’s delicious as a dessert. New York state is one of a few select wine regions in the world where the conditions are right for ice wine. At Leonard Oakes Estate Winery in Medina, the vidal blanc ice wine is golden in color, with aromas of peach and honey. Ice wine can be found at a number of wineries along the Niagara Wine Trail and is a great addition to a holiday table or dessert party.

While the region is traditionally known for its Concord and Niagara grapes, local winemakers grow vinifera grapes and produce European-style wine, gaining national accolades. Freedom Run Winery in Lockport is known for its pinot noir, a variety not typically associated with the Niagara region. Recent summers have been hot and dry enough to produce a vibrant grape harvest perfect for bold red wines. Other famed varieties including riesling, pinot gris, chardonnay, cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc are all produced along the Niagara Wine Trail.

A Charming Village along the Wine Trail

Founded in 1832 along the banks of the Erie Canal, the village of Medina is home to well-preserved 19th-century homes, buildings and churches. The once industrial center is undergoing a renaissance, attracting entrepreneurs who are investing in historic preservation and creative business pursuits.

Bryan and Larissa DeGraw opened 810 Meadworks in 2014 after moving to Medina from New Jersey. The couple was attracted to the village’s renewed vibrancy and have since built a successful business around mead, a wine-like beverage fermented from honey. The tasting room, located just off Main Street and open year-round, is cozy and inviting, ideal for enjoying one of their creative mead-based cocktails.

A short walk from the meadery, new village boutiques sell women’s clothing, chocolates, housewares and antiques, while long-standing shops anchor a thriving Main Street. Blissett’s Specialty Shop, in business for more than 70 years, sells formal and bridal wear as well as baby and children’s clothing and accessories. The shop hearkens back to the era of downtown department stores and high-end customer service. Strolling through Rosenkrans Pharmacy and The Book Shoppe, both on Main Street, continues the nostalgic feeling with gifts and books displayed in inviting settings.

Medina is famous for its Medina Sandstone, first quarried during the construction of the Erie Canal in the 1820s. This strong and durable building material was shipped all over the world for use in famous sites including Buckingham Palace and the Brooklyn Bridge. Historic markers note the use of the sandstone locally in churches and buildings throughout the downtown historic district.

Dining & Lodging

Freedom Run Winery in Lockport is known for its pinot noir, a variety not typically associated with the Niagara region. Here a couple samples some of the wines produced by the business.
Freedom Run Winery in Lockport is known for its pinot noir, a variety not typically associated with the Niagara region. Here a couple samples some of the wines produced by the business.

Restaurants along the wine trail focus on seasonal and local produce, taking advantage of the bounty of farm products found throughout the Niagara region. Becker Farms in Gasport is home to a bakery, brewery and winery. Sunday brunch features the farm’s products and pairs well with their house-made wines. The Shamus restaurant in Lockport, blends the comfort or an Irish pub with the cuisine of an upscale bistro. On Main Street in Medina, Zambistro restaurant focuses on crafting house specialties while putting their own spin on classic fine dining.

The Hart House Hotel in Medina offers seven beautifully decorated rooms on the third floor of a historic former shirt factory in the village. Each room reflects one of the many famed customers; the Churchill room appears as an English manor house, while the Bob Hope room has a hint of 1970’s Los Angeles.

For a unique overnight on the shores of Lake Ontario, plan ahead to stay at the 30 Mile Point Lighthouse at Golden Hill State Park in Barker. Reserved through the parks department, the second floor of the lighthouse is a fully furnished, three-bedroom former light keeper’s home, rentable nightly through the winter months.

Seasonal Events

For a romantic outing in February, visit the wineries along the trail for the Be Mine with Wine event, Saturdays and Sundays, Feb. 10-11 and 17-18. One presale ticket covers tastings and chocolate pairings at 10 wineries. Details for all events are available at niagarawinetrail.org.