The Wineries of Lake Erie
All the info on the area's wine regions on both the south and north shores, from Ontario to Ohio.
Lake Erie North Shore & Pelee Island
When the great glacial lakes retreated, the north shore of Lake Erie remained submerged, letting the waves smooth out the landscape and depositing a deep layer of sandy loam and gravel. The sunniest region of Ontario, it also has the longest growing season. The combination of sun, quick warming of the lake and southwesterly breezes support excellent ripening conditions. The result is grapes that offer a delicious balance between sweetness and acidity for more full-bodied wine.
The numbers: On the same latitude as Tuscany, this growing wine region has 17 local vineyards and about 170 acres under cultivation.
The grapes: Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon are reminiscent of Bordeaux, while Pelee Island’s Chardonnay and Pinot Noir offer a taste of the Burgundy region.
Don’t miss: Heading up to Windsor to walk along the riverfront trail, taking in both the view and the Windsor Sculpture Park.
Best wines: Viewpointe’s Auxerrois is delicious and versatile with food. Also check out Colchester Ridge Estate Winery’s Meritage.
How to tour: The flat countryside is ideal for renting bikes, and small-group driving tours are also available. See your options here.
More information: Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island
Several glacial events eroded and shaped Niagara into a diverse growing region. Niagara has six climate zones, from sheltered slopes to shore vineyards, moderated by lake breezes circulated around the limestone bluffs of the Niagara Escarpment. The complex soil composition and continental climate produce 32 thriving varietals. Bench wines flourish on the escarpment, while early springs and frequent high temperatures and a range of soils in the lake region provide excellent growing conditions.
The numbers: 13,600 acres under cultivation make the peninsula the largest planted viticultural area of Canada, with more than 80 wineries.
The grapes: Riesling, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir.
Best wines: Flat Rock Cellars’ Twisted — a blend of Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay — is the expert’s choice, and its Riddled won Sparkling Wine of the Year in the All Canadian Wine Championships.
How to tour: Both bike and passenger tours are offered through Niagara Wine Tours International.
Don’t miss: Upper Canada Cheese Co.’s artisanal delights, including award-winning cheeses made with fresh Guernsey milk.
More information: Tourism Niagara
Generations of families have harvested hundreds of acres of grapes each year in Ashtabula because of ideal microclimate growing conditions. During the ice age, this region was a glacial beach. The sandy, loamy soil that remains provides nutrients and drainage ideal for growing grapes while the warm lake breezes extend the growing season into fall. Today, 65 percent of all grapes in Ohio are grown in Ashtabula County.
By the numbers: Thirty miles of Lake Erie shoreline, 32 wineries, five historic downtown shopping districts.
The grapes: Viniferas and French-American hybrids give this unique growing region the feel of Napa Valley.
Best wines: The Ohio Department of Agriculture recognized Kosicek Vineyards Vidal Blanc Ice Wine as one of the best wines in the state.
How to tour: The Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake offers a wine shuttle to and from area wineries for $50 a person.
Don’t miss: Along with visiting wineries, take time for a self-guided driving tour of Ashtabula County’s 18 covered bridges. Don’t miss the Smolen-Gulf Bridge, which measures 613 feet long and is the longest covered bridge in the United States.
More info: Ashtabula County Convention & Visitors Bureau
Lake Erie Wine Country in Pennsylvania and New York
During the Ice Age, glaciers gouged great trenches that left behind ridges of fertile soil and gravel ideal for grape growing. Now, vineyards are so dense in this region that visitors can smell the ripe grapes as they drive through wine country during harvest season. In all, there are 30,000 acres of grape vineyards in the 45 miles between North East, Pennsylvania, and Silver Creek, New York, making this the largest grape-growing region east of the Rockies.
By the numbers: 20 wineries, 50 miles of Lake Erie shoreline combined in Chautauqua County, New York and Erie County, Pennsylvania.
The grapes: About 90% of the vineyards are planted with Concord grapes, which are used by companies such as Welch’s to make grape juice. But in the past 50 years many more diverse varieties of wine grapes have been planted in the region, including Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
Best wines: The region is known in particular for its white wines and ice wines. And don’t miss out on a chance to try fresh grape juice.
How to tour: See the vineyards up close when you visit the region’s wineries by bicycle. Plan your own trip or join a Lake Country Bike tour.
Don’t miss: Take in a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution in New York or relax at Presque Isle State Park in Pennsylvania.
More info: Lake Erie Wine Country
Lake Erie Shores & Islands
Lake Erie’s coastline and islands offer excellent soil and climate for cultivating grapes. In summer, lake breezes cool the vineyards, while in fall and early winter, the lake keeps the coldest temperatures at bay. Its notable snow production acts as a crop protection blanket. The result: spectacular wines.
By the numbers: Eighteen wineries on two islands and the shore.
The grapes: Concord and Catawba grapes are the classics, but new European varieties have been introduced as winemakers moved beyond the traditional grapes grown in the area.
Best wines: Sweet and fruity, Pink Catawba from Heineman’s Winery in Put-in-Bay is always also a crowd favorite.
How to tour: For a full list of area wineries and a wine trail map, visit Ohio Wine Producers.
Don’t miss: Taking a guided tour of the world’s largest geode, called Crystal Cave, at Heineman’s Winery.
More info: Shores and Islands Ohio
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