ALBANY — An eastward extension of the Niagara Wine Trail, long sought by wineries in Orleans County, is coming to fruition.
According to legislation approved in both chambers of the state Legislature this week, the boundaries of the existing Niagara Escarpment Wine Trail will be amended, with a newly-designated Niagara Wine Trail Ridge stretching from Niagara Falls to Rochester.
The lengthened trail will include established vineyards like Schwenk Wine Cellars in Kent and Mayers Lake Ontario Winery in Hilton, which area winemakers believe will increase agri-tourism from Rochester and encourage the development of new vineyards.
Paul and Cathy Schwenk hope trail extension will draw more trail-goers to their Bills Road tasting room for glasses of Lake Breeze White and Rogue Society Red in addition to their base of locals, anglers and summer cottagers.
At the very least the designation means Paul won’t have to head out each weekend to put up his own signs on Route 104. Signage promoting the wine region, funded by a 2011 Regional Economic Development Council award, will be installed from Interstate 390 west to Route 62 near the Canadian border.
“We’re hoping it picks up our business,” said Schwenk, who will be busy with the construction of an expanded wine tasting bar and a wedding pavilion this summer. “This can start to get people moving.”
Members of the Niagara Wine Trail, the promotional arm of the two existing trails in Niagara County and western Orleans County, said Thursday they will extend their events and efforts eastward.
“We will market ourselves as one trail,” Winery at Marjim Manor President Margo Sue Bittner said.
The Trail sponsors multiple trail-wide events each year, including a Wine and Cheese event that all 17 member wineries are participating in this weekend. NWT wineries also supply most of the selections at the annual Wine about Winter event in Medina.
Niagara Wine Trail members have pushed for an expansion of their state-designated boundaries in recent years, citing a shared climate and a variety of offerings that would make for a diverse tourist attraction.
“By expanding the trail, it brings together the wines we produce and the grapes we grow into a connected viticulture area,” said Leonard Oakes Estate Winery owner Wendy Oakes Wilson, who is the eastern-most member of the NWT. “I think with all of our agricultural ability, having this tourism engine behind us will have a large economic impact.”
New York Farm Bureau Spokesman Steve Ammerman said lengthening the wine trail will provide surrounding agricultural enterprises with both promotional and direct economic benefits.
“This will bring a lot of spin-off benefits from tourists coming to the area in the farms, markets and restaurants throughout the area,” Ammerman said.
The expansion had passed the State Senate in the past two legislative session before languishing in the Assembly’s Transportation Committee. The bill appeared to be on the same path this year, but lobbying from local winemakers swayed lawmakers.
“I give a lot of credit to the members of Niagara Wine Trail, frankly they embarrassed them (the Assembly) into passing it,” state Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane, said. “I think (the bill’s passage) is an endorsement of agriculture in general, the Niagara Wine Trail and local businesses; and I hope it grows further.”
Assemblyman Steve Hawley, R-Batavia, called the bill’s passage during the final week of the session a “pleasant surprise.” He said the expansion will continue to grow the stature of the western New York wines throughout the state.
“It’s nice to be able to tout our vineyards and see wine from our region take a seat at the table,” Hawley said.