Growing up as Niagara County kids, we jumped for joy in the early/mid 2000s when wineries began opening in our neighborhood. Tweaking our wine palette and being able to do something new and fun while on break from college, we have watched each winery open, blossom, and become a sought-after event among Western New Yorkers. If you have not explored the Niagara Wine region, or maybe you’re coming in from the land of far-far-away, trying to think of a fun event for a celebration, or wondering how to hit up numerous wineries while still being safe- this is for you.
A Small Run Down:
When the wine started to flow in Niagara (Orleans) County, there were a handful of stops- today there are 20 wineries you can hit up to experience not only wine but also hard cider, sparkling and ice wine, mead, and beer (at select businesses). Hours vary, but all are open year round and many have events, food, cheese and chocolate pairings, and live music throughout summer.
The Best Way To Experience It (Niagara County Born-n-Raised Style):
School bus. Yep, you read that right. Since day one, we have booked a Ridge Road Express bus (big or small) to tote our groups around. Not a limo, not a party bus. This is how we roll:
When we have taken our city friends and out-of-towners on the tour, their eyebrows raise at the thought of taking a yellow ride in to the wineries. Trust us from years of experience- this is the best way to go. It is inexpensive, you can bring your coolers and food to nosh on all day, the bus drivers know the routes like the back of their hands, and you can open the windows while you sing at the top of your lungs to Iggy Azalea. They’re easy to book and extremely friendly- and it gives you room to stand and stretch. (just be cool and clean up after yourself)
Where Am I Going?:
Anywhere your inner wino desires. The Niagara Wine Trail has an easy-to-navigate website and we suggest printing the trail map so you can decide where you want to go, in what order. We will be honest- it is impossible to hit up all of them in one day. Then again…if you have- we owe you a high five. On average, anywhere from 5-9 wineries have been ideal for a full day of tasting and mingling. This can vary depending on any events at the wineries, how many personal tastings, if you order some tapas, etc etc. The beauty of the bus is you can go at your own pace. Plan on a full day of wine, cheese, and chocolates.
An Example Itinerary:
We’ve lost count how many wine tours we have done with friends, family, and on our own! Each event is a little different, but we can give you a great example of how your day may go (this is based on the ability of touring in our sleep):
Saturday, August 9
Matt’s Birthday, 13 people
Ridge Road Express bus transport
pickup: 11am (wherever everyone meets)
load up coolers & food, depart at 11:30am
noon-6pm, hit up wine itinerary
drop off: 6:30pm (anywhere)
food food food (and a nap)
Tips For Your Wine Tour Day:
- Bring cash. It is easier to pay for tastings with small bills so you can get going. We have used our cards to purchase bottles at the end. We’re cautious and carry $40/person to be safe. Ice wine tastings cost more so plan ahead.
- Think about picking up a Vino Passport. Details here. Order online or call the first winery on your stop to see if they have them. In the long run, this year-long passport can save you some cash.
- Pack your ID- you’ll be asked.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate: swigging water in between wineries will help you last longer and deter that wine headache.
- Check each winery for their hours and tasting costs. You can map out your destinations based on which is the furthest, who opens early, who stays open late, which ones have food in the middle of the day in case you’re REALLY hungry or want to soak up some sun while nibbling, etc…Calling ahead also helps the wineries know your group is coming as well as what time could be best for them (in case of private events or weddings).
A Few Easy Food & Drink Ideas:
On the bus, pack up some essentials:
- water water water
- ice, coolers, sealed containers, paper plates, napkins, cups, straws (easier to drink with on that bumpy road)
- get it started with a pre-made sangria to serve to guests
- cheese & crackers, chocolates, pinwheels, fruit & veggies, pretzels, dips, easy bite-sized treats…
While we encourage you to check out every single Niagara Trail winery, we do have some local must-see hotspots (you know we love that word):
- Freedom Run- for their gorgeous, colorful glass bar…movie night on the patio with the vineyard & fire pit…flat breads & prosciutto skewers.
- Schulze Winery- live music on event nights…wide open tasting room…and you must get the Ruby (sweet wino’s) and Late Harvest Vidal Blanc dessert wine for those warm nights.
- Leonard Oakes- Steampunk Cider & Fuji Apple- need we say more?
- Black Willow- you WILL do the chocolate & wine pairing which gives you too many choices of the delectable artisan beauties from Norman Love Chocolates. (we’re obsessed with the Bacon Brittle)
- Marjim Manor- learn about the haunting history inside this 19th century home, where the Ghost Hunters confirmed its spirits. *brrr, did you feel that???
- Blackbird Cider Works- the multiple award-winning hard cider destination and for those who appreciate a beautiful, peaceful setting- grab some apples to take with you. Say hi to Kristin- one of the cider girls who brews up award after award.
- Spring Lake Winery- beautiful setting & happy hour wine & food tapas pairings run throughout summer, live music.
- Vizcarra Vineyards at Becker Farms- this could be an all-day destination if you want. brewery flights and growlers, winery, cider, food…fall is the time to come here for their haunted hayrides & fall festival.
Whether it is your Mom’s birthday, Bachelorette party, a weekend with friends, your little brother’s 21st, a family reunion, or curiosity about the Niagara Wine Trail- it is easy to do, close by, and a guaranteed good time. Pick your start time and just go with the flow. Take as little or as much time as you want at each and kick back with a glass of vino in the vineyards. You deserve it.