An undiscovered corner of America along the southern shore of Lake Erie is home to the largest grape-growing region east of the Rockies. Who knew? The region spans two states and 45 miles of untouched national scenic byways along routes 5 and 20.
More than 30,000 acres of verdant vineyards will come alive this spring, just as they always do, as 21 wineries cultivate the French-American hybrids, European-style vinifera, and fruity, native labruscas that go into their award-winning wines. Some of these farms and vineyards have been in the same families for six generations.
I can't think of a better time to visit, except maybe during harvest time, when the air smells like the inside of a grape jelly jar.
The Chautauqua-Lake Erie Wine Trail will host its spring Wine & Cheese Weekend on Saturday, May 1, and Sunday, May 2, and the entire region is gearing up to greet road trippers, offering B&B overnight packages, gift shop specials, and hometown hospitality.
Flavorful dishes infused with artisan cheeses and wines will be served at each winery during this popular annual gourmet event. From rich soups and elegant pastas to decadent desserts, the chefs and winemakers are paying homage to locally produced food and wine.Â
Yancey's Fancy, maker of New York state's finest hand-crafted cheeses, is supplying the cheese this year from an extensive list, which ranges from aged cheddar with roasted garlic, to peppadew. In March, Yancey's Fancy won the "Best of Show" and a number of other top honors in the world's largest international competition for cheese, so I guess it's safe to call them the "big cheese" when it comes to fromage.
I've had a sneak preview of some of the menus, and I am already drooling over the Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese promised by Liberty Vineyards and Winery, which just won two gold medals in the 2010 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition.
Wine & Cheese Weekend is always a sellout, so organizers advise that you order tickets soon, either online, www.chautauquawinetrail.org, or by phone, toll-free 1-877-326-6561.
Participating wineries along the Chautauqua-Lake Erie Wine Trail include Blueberry Sky Winery, Burch Farms Country Market & Winery, Heritage Wine Cellars, Johnson Estate Winery, Lakeview Wine Cellars, Liberty Vineyards & Winery, Mazza Chautauqua Cellars, Mazza Vineyards, Merritt Estate Winery, Noble Winery, Penn Shore Vineyards, Presque Isle Wine Cellars, Quincy Cellars Winery & Restaurant, Sensory Winery & Art Gallery, South Shore Wine Company, Sparkling Ponds Winery, Vetter Vineyards Winery, Willow Creek Winery, and Woodbury Vineyards.
Wine and Cheese Weekend
WHEN: Sat., and Sun., May 1 & 2, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days.
TICKETS: $35 per person, $60 per couple; Sunday-only tickets $30 per person, $55 per couple; www.chautauquawinetrail.org, toll-free 1-877-326-6561.
WHAT'S INCLUDED: Complimentary gourmet tastings of food and wines at 19 wineries; Gourmet Wine & Cheese Guide listing recipes and wine pairings; commemorative event wine glass and special gift.
HOW TO GET THERE: The Chautauqua-Lake Erie Wine Trail is located on the southern shore of Lake Erie, 40 minutes southwest of Buffalo, 2 hours north of Pittsburgh, and 2 hours east of Cleveland.
WHERE TO STAY: