By HOWARD BALABAN
Niagara Gazette — What the Napa Valley is to California, the Niagara Wine Trail could soon be to New York.
With 18 wineries, including a cidery, the trail stretches from Niagara to Monroe County, with Orleans County — putting the Medina Railroad Museum right near its center.
This fall, the Niagara Wine Trail is working collaboratively with the Medina Railroad Museum, and will continue to work with it for more events in 2014, Gustafson said. Both groups are excited about the partnership.
Brianna Byrne, a media representative for a number of museum rail excursions, said one publication has labeled the trail as “one of the most exciting places to be in the next 20 years.”
“This whole area seems like an untapped resource,” Byrne said. “The trail itself is expanding. It used to just be in Niagara, but now it’s in Orleans and there are plans to expand into Monroe.”
Byrne said the potential is there for people to make a whole weekend out of a trail visit.
“Lots of people go to Niagara Falls for a day, but with the Trail they can make plans for the whole weekend,” Byrne noted. “Down the road we could do a longer train excursion that connects us with the Falls.”
Shane Gustafson, who is the interim chair of marketing on the Niagara Wine Trail, said state legislation has passed to extend the trail out to Route 390 near Rochester. The expansion, which she said “just need’s a signature by the governor for approval,” will make the trail roughly 90 miles long, and likely will include a number of new and unique wineries.
“This is a good region for growing grapes,” she said. “The temperature profiles, the climate of the region, and the land value are all good.”
The nearest densely populated wine region is the Finger Lakes, but Gustafson said the Niagara Wine Trail is “younger” and is closer to both Buffalo and Rochester, and has the ability to draw visitors from across the Canadian border.
Gustafson added that the Niagara Wine Trail has a distinct personality at each of its wineries.
“Some specialize in sweet wines, some in fruits, and one has a brewery, and there are a couple farms,” she said. “Every winery has a unique, individual personality, and there’s not any one kind of large company running anything … it’s all families.”
And they've got a train.
The Medina Railroad Museum has hosted wine tasting trains for the past several years. This year, Byrne said, it spruced them up and created the Niagara Wine Trail Winery Trains. A total of four excursions will have run by the time they are done for the fall, and the trip is a two-hour leisurely ride from Medina to Lockport and back.
According to information provided by the museum, each train features the wines of two wineries from the trail, with a variety of wines to sample to please those who prefer reds or whites, sweet or dry. Hors d’oeuvres are also served on board, with first class passengers able to sit at tables and partake in a little bit extra in terms of comfort and food. The last Niagara Wine Trail Winery Train runs on Oct. 5.
Each train runs from about 1 to 3 p.m., and afterward the participating wineries and some local businesses become vendors at the museum, showcasing their wares in an attempt to draw visitors to the downtown area.
Zelazny said the train ride offers a “nice blend” of both education and entertainment. “There’s a lot of history here in Medina and with the train itself,” she said. “And the ride is a relaxing, enjoyable way to get to know the wineries in the area.”
Gustafson also pointed out that some regional community colleges have also started getting in on the Niagara Wine Trail’s growth. She said Niagara County Community College has a culinary institute and has started creating a program dealing with winery management and wine making, something she said she believes came from the current boom of the trail.IF YOU GO • WHAT: Niagara Wine Trail winery train • WHEN: 1 p.m. Oct. 5 • WHERE: Medina Railroad Museum, 530 West Ave., Medina • COST: $55 first class, $45 coach • INFO: www.railroadmuseum.net