Enjoy great wine … great vistas, food & entertainment along the lake
By Margaret McCormick
When people think of Lake Ontario as a summer destination, they tend to think camping, hiking, climbing, boating, swimming, fishing and other activities.
There’s so much to see and do and experience on the smallest of the Great Lakes you’ll want to drink it all in. And that includes sampling locally produced wine, hard cider and spirits.
You might be familiar with the Finger Lakes and the wine trails that circle the major lakes. North of the Finger Lakes and a bit off the beaten path is the Lake Ontario Wine Trail, which includes parts of Cayuga County and Wayne County and a sliver of Monroe County, not far from Rochester.
The region’s climate and soil are said to produce some of the finest fruit in New York state, including grapes and apples. And a corps of enthusiastic producers is taking that fruit from the farm to the bottle, can and glass.
Audrey Allen, tasting room manager and a partner at JD Wine Cellars in Macedon, says the Lake Ontario Wine Trail was created in 2010 to showcase the region’s growers and producers — and to drive visitors to them. Back then, she says, it was common to hear people say things like: “I had no idea grapes were grown up here. I thought they were only grown in Finger Lakes.’’
The trail has grown from five early members to 10 this year: six wineries, three cideries (including one that’s also a distillery) and one brewery. DisBatch Brewing Company is Wayne County’s first microbrewery.
Following is a look at three of the Lake Ontario region’s makers of adult beverages. Plan a daytrip — or better still — consider staying a night or two.
Colloca Estate Winery
Life’s a beach in Fair Haven, on the southern shore of Lake Ontario. And it’s always “wine o’clock’’ in the Cayuga County community, thanks to one of its main attractions, award-winning Colloca Estate Winery.
Winery founder and CEO Chris Colloca grew up in Oswego and attended college in Ithaca, which helped to plant the seed for his love of wine. The chiropractor planted his first vinifera grapes in 2010, establishing the Lake Effect Vineyard, and the Colloca Estate tasting room opened in 2014. The 103-acre property overlooking Little Sodus Bay has expanded to include an outdoor pavilion and outdoor wine bar with a wood-fired kitchen. The Colloca event center will host 60 weddings this summer. During the summer months, guests arrive by boat or by car and bands take the stage five days a week.
Colloca Estate Winery specializes in cool climate wines, like riesling (three styles), chardonnay and pinot noir, using grapes grown on site and purchased from Finger Lakes and Lake Ontario growers. More than 10,000 people visited the property last year. Colloca thinks that’s because of its sweeping, park-like setting and his open invitation to explore it: “Come for the wine, stay for the day.’’
“One of the reasons people come here is because people know they can really enjoy the property,’’ Colloca says. “They can lay a blanket down and have a bottle of wine and watch the sailboats and they can see how wine is made and not just be exposed to a tasting room.’’
Colloca Estate hosts several big events each summer, including a Fourth of July celebration with fireworks over the bay and the Paella on the Bay-a festival (July 14) that’s part of Fair Haven’s annual BayFest. The Lake Ontario Food, Wine and Jazz Festival (Sept. 3) brings together members of the Lake Ontario Wine Trail, who set up at the event. Mark your calendars.
JD Wine Cellars
Long Acre Farms in Macedon (Wayne County) is home to the longest-running corn maze in New York state, the Amazing Maize Maze, which opens each year in August. It’s also home to JD Wine Cellars, a winery and tasting room. That makes the “agri-tainment’’ destination double the pleasure.
JD Wine Cellars, a sister business of the farm, opened in 2010, the same year the Lake Ontario Wine Trail was established. Partner and winemaker Audrey Allen says her parents wanted a value-added project to generate business year-round and turned to grapes and wine. The winery specializes in white, red and fruit wines. Marquette grapes are grown on a half-acre of the farm, but most grapes and other fruits used for their wines are sourced from the Finger Lakes and other Wayne County growers.
Popular white wines made on site include unoaked Chardonnay, Riesling, Traminette, and Cow Town, a lightly oaked Chardonnay inspired by Allen’s time living in Western Australia. Trilogy, a blend of Cabernet Franc and Blaufränkisch, is a house-favorite red wine.
“The winery fully supports our farm,’’ Allen says. “It has been a wonderful addition.’’
Adults will find a tasting room and can also enjoy a glass or flight of wines outside. There is a fee to sample wines. There’s also a farm market and ice cream shop. For children, there are two play areas. There’s an admission fee to access The Back 40 activity area.
Embark Craft Ciderworks
Lagoner Farms is a fifth-generation farm well-known in the greater Rochester area for its produce, including apples. When the family was looking to diversify its farm and farm market operations, Jacob “Jake” Lagoner saw an opportunity to get into the hard cider business. He had dabbled in making wine and beer at home and visited several hard cider makers in Michigan and New England and was “blown away’’ by the complexity of flavors.
Sister business Embark Craft Ciderworks came to fruition in 2015. “The name Embark came from the fact that we were starting a new journey — embarking on a new venture — and we wanted our customers to embark on a journey with us to explore [hard] cider,’’ Lagoner said in an email.
Wayne County is one of the top apple-producing districts in New York state and the Lagoner family has been growing apples in Williamson for more than a century. Customer favorites at Embark include flagships like The Batch, a semi-sweet cider made with Macintosh, Empire, Ida Red and Jonagold apples, and seasonal offerings like Strawberry Rhubarb, Apple Pie, and Imperial Blizzard, a winter warmer made with a blend of heirloom apples, cherries and sugar plums, all grown at Lagoner Farms. For those who like dryer, more complex ciders, the choices include The Heirloom, made with a blend of seven heirloom apples, and The Pippin, a limited-release semi-dry cider made with three varieties of heirloom Pippin apples, plus Rome Beauty.
The tasting room at Embark is open daily during the warm weather months and Friday, Saturday and Sunday year-round. An expanded taproom menu is planned for this year, along with plenty of events, including an outdoor concert series.
Margaret McCormick is a food writer and food blogger in Syracuse.