Lake Erie Wine Country is the modern name of an historic wine and grape region on the southern shore of Lake Erie in both Pennsylvania and New York. The wine trail organization, formerly called the “Chautauqua Lake Erie Wine Trail,” was established in 2002, but grapes have been grown in the region since the mid 1800’s. The grape belt boasts more than 30,000 acres of grapes, making it the largest grape-growing region east of the Rocky Mountains. It is the largest Concord grape region in the world.
According to Lake Erie Wine Country executive director and author Julie Ellis, there was a thriving wine industry in the area at the turn of the 20th Century. “There were several wineries in both Erie County, PA and Chautauqua County, NY up until prohibition was enforced in 1920,” Ellis said. “Prohibition destroyed our wine industry. There were no wineries in the area until 1961 when Johnson Estate Winery was opened in 1961 in Westfield, NY. In fact, it was the first Estate Winery in the state. Our modern wine era didn’t really take-off until 1968 when the Pennsylvania Limited Winery Act was passed. Then when New York passed Farm Winery Act in 1975, more wineries started popping up. At that time, they were all small tasting rooms and retail areas which closed by five p.m.”
Today, Lake Erie Wine County boasts 23 unique wineries and hundreds of national and international wine quality awards. The wineries themselves have been evolving over the past few years to include other agricultural beverages such as distilled spirits, hard ciders, and microbrews. “Some of our wineries now provide wine-by-the-glass, seating areas, beautiful gift shops, extended hours, and a great variety of entertainment,” said Ellis. “On any given weekend throughout the year, visitors may find live music, vineyard walks, winemaker’s dinners, or wine and art events. We even have wineries that now provide food. That was unheard of just a few years ago.”
Lake Erie Wine Country is a thriving destination for tourists and wine lovers, and it continues to grow. There is proof in the fact that several wineries are expanding their production and wine tasting areas. “Those who haven’t visited our region in the past couple of years will be pleasantly surprised to see the new facilities, events, beverages, and wine offerings.” said Ellis.
Wine trail events are the perfect opportunity for visitors to tour the picturesque region. Lake Erie Wine Country’s 23 wineries are currently wrapping up the grape harvest and preparing for their two Harvest Celebration Weekends, November 4-6 and November 11-13. Ticket holders will visit 23 participating wineries where they can enjoy a special wine paired with a delicious “harvest” food sample. As in the past, ticket holders will also receive additional tastings, a wine glass, recipe booklet, a $5 voucher and a gift.
Ticket holders will plan their own itinerary, enjoying a self-guided tour to each winery they choose to visit. Tickets are now on sale for the Harvest Celebration Weekends at $35 per person. One ticket is good for either Weekend #1 (November 4-6) or Weekend #2 (November 11-13).
The regular $35 ticket is good for all three days. Advanced-sale ticket purchase is recommended as tickets are limited, and they are usually sold-out before the event begins. They may be purchased online at www.lakeeriewinecountry.org. Designated driver tickets are available for only $20 and include everything except wine. An alternate beverage is provided to designated drivers. The wine region now offers a Friday and/or Sunday only ticket for just $31.
Hours for each of the two Harvest Celebration Weekends are: Friday, noon - 5 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
The food and wine sample pairings for all wineries can be found at www.lakeeriewinecountry.org along with detailed information on the double-weekend event. The website also lists events all year long for all 23 wineries. Wineries are open year-around for tours and tastings.