Changes Come to Niagara Wine Trail
Lawmakers approve expansion in upstate New York to capitalize on region's tourism potential
Wendy Oakes Wilson, the trail association’s treasurer as well as the president and co-owner of Leonard Oakes Estate Winery in Medina, told Wines & Vines the group never thought changing the trail would have taken so long.
In New York, both arms of the state legislature need to approve wine trail designations and the official highway signage that goes with them. In 2011, the group received economic development grant funding for new signs, and Wilson said the timing seemed right for a quick change to expand the trail by adding two new member wineries.
The bill to make the change passed through the senate but never made it out of committee in the assembly, a pattern that recurred in two subsequent legislative sessions. What seemed like a simple process suddenly became much more involved. “It did take longer than we ever imagined,” Wilson said.
At issue was a policy at the department of transportation that dictated all member wineries needed to be within five miles of the trail.
On the lobbying trail
Wilson and other leaders of the trail made regular trips to Albany to meet with lawmakers and transportation officials about the proposed change and put a little pressure on them to approve it. Their efforts finally were successful last week, and now the bill just needs the final approval from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Jim Trezise, president of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation, praised the change in his regular newsletter. “If indeed ‘patience is a virtue,’ then our friends on the Niagara Wine Trail are some of the most virtuous people I know,” he wrote. “This will make it easier and more convenient for wine country visitors to navigate the large and fast-growing trail, bringing more business and benefits to the overall area.”
Trezise told Wines & Vines that wine trails help encourage tourists to make the trip to rural parts of the state. “As I often say, one winery is a local curiosity; 10 wineries comprise a destination,” he said. “The wine trails bring thousands of tourists to the rural area where they’re located, contributing to the local economy and tax base.”
Margo Sue Bittner, owner of The Winery at Marjim Manor in Appleton, N.Y., said the Niagara-area wine country “has grown in leaps and bounds.” She said her winery was the fourth to join the association in 2004. In that first year 5,000 people visited the winery, she said, adding that in 2012 the winery attracted 40,000 visitors.
Those customers have hailed from every state in the United States and from six continents. Bittner said the trail signs are instrumental in helping tourists navigate the region. “Even in this world of smart phones and GPS devices, people still look at the scenery. Seeing that familiar green grape sign with an arrow brings many people right to our doors,” she said. “As a result our businesses can thrive, which in turn helps our local and state economy.”
Two trails linking cities
The Niagara trail will essentially be split into one section running along Lake Ontario’s southern shore, known as the Niagara Wine Trail Lake, and another section running parallel further inland called Niagara Wine Trail Ridge. The trails link the cities of Niagara Falls and Rochester.
“This new configuration will make it easier for tourists and visitors to find our wineries,” N.Y. state Sen. George Maziarz said in a statement released by his office. “Signage, literature and other tourism-promotion materials need to be updated to reflect the wineries in existence now and new wineries that are springing up almost every year.”
Wilson said the trail association and its events help convince visitors to Niagara Falls to stay a little longer and explore the wine country, sprinkling their tourism dollars among not only wineries but bed and breakfasts, restaurants and local shops. “Now we have something that can be a cohesive motivator,” Wilson said of the new trail.
She told Wines & Vines she’s glad they were able to communicate to lawmakers the value of the potential economic development of New York’s wine industry. “The fact we went after this tooth and nail helps other wine trails as well,” she said.
The region is located along the southern shore of Lake Ontario near Niagara Falls and Buffalo, N.Y. Wineries in the area produce a range of vinifera wines including Riesling, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.
Wilson said the area seems best suited for cold-climate varieties. Chardonnay and Riesling do particularly well, and some of the new cultivars like the hybrid Frontenac appear particularly well suited for the Niagara area.
The trail association includes 17 wineries. When the change is official it will be joined by the two targeted for the initial expansion, and Wilson said she believes two others will join soon. Revenue gained from trail events goes into advertising and marketing to promote the area’s wines. She said the trail has a marketing budget of around $200,000. “We’re putting that money right back into advertising to bring more people to the area.”