Stories of Place: The Lake Erie Wine Belt, Expanding Your View of the World!
When I was dating my husband (which seems like eons ago) I was treated to some wonderful homegrown produce and fruit. One of the things I most enjoyed was their concord grapes, grown at the back of their large yard. Four rows, each 200 feet long, according to my husband’s memory, separating the lawn from the rest of the huge vegetable garden. My own memories concur with his.
Although my in-laws did not live in what is now known as the Lake Erie Wine Belt, they did live in the same region, close enough to Lake Erie in what’s known as the Southtowns of the Buffalo area. As a master gardener, I am sure this exposed their grapes to a similar micro-climate as that which is received further south along the wine belt proper.
The Lake Erie wine belt runs from Silver Creek, New York to Harborcreek, Pennsylvania over a 50 mile stretch of land set apart from, but near, the shore of this great lake. Soil type, acidity, elevation, and moderation of temperature as well as weather due to the Lake Erie Escarpment and proximity to the lake itself contribute to the success of this grape-growing region (Cornell CALS website).
Did you know that this region is the LARGEST U.S. grape-growing region east of the Rocky Mountains? According to the Lake Erie Wine Country Website, it is! And, after driving through it this past week, I have no doubt that this is correct. Over 30,000 acres of grape here are dedicated to making wine!
The majority of grape varieties that are grown in the Lake Erie Wine Belt are concord grapes. Historically, the concord grape came to Western New York from Concord, Massachusetts in the 1870s. It is a variety native to North America and first cultivated in 1849 from wild seedlings found outside of the Boston area.
Have you ever tasted a concord grape?! Again, taking you back to my in-law’s harvest, these grapes are round, deep purple, and very tasty! They “pop” out of their skins when you attempt to chew them. Being a seeded variety, I always tried to spit out the seeds as politely as possible! My husband remembers selling their grapes at the roadside with an honesty box. And, we both remember drinking the homemade concord grape juice that was canned by his parents. It was delicious.
Today, my preferred adult beverage is a glass of wine. Over the years, I’ve transitioned from white wine to red, and I typically like a dry or semi-dry wine, nothing sweet or “grape-juice-like.” However, driving through the Lake Erie Wine Belt and seeing the snow-covered vines made me wonder what wine made with concord grapes would taste like.
Before this area became known for wine, the concord grapes were grown and processed for grape juice and jam. This was first done by none other than Dr. Thomas Welch and his son, Charles, in the late 1800s. Sound familiar? Yes, it is that “Welch’s!” Today, there is still a small Welch’s facility in Westfield, New York, located in the heart of the grape belt. But, a larger Welch’s plant is just down the road in North East, (the name of the town, not location) Pennsylvania. The backroads near North East was where we were able to recently see on our travels row upon row of grapes covered by a blanket of snow.
My husband and I plan a trip back to New York to visit my parents again in the spring. Hopefully, by then, we’ll be able to visit a few of the wineries in the Lake Erie Wine Belt and have a taste of wine made with the concord grape. In the meantime, I plan to look for a bottle to sample here in Wisconsin. Sadly, I doubt I’ll find it though.
I’m sure this post will surprise some. Very often our view of the world is skewed by allegiance to where we live. While hometown pride is fine, it is important to know and recognize that there’s a great big world out there….sometimes just down the road!
Additional resources, other than those linked in this blog post, are the following:
https://minnetonkaorchards.com/ ( history of the concord grape and uses).