For the past few decades, Buffalo has been the punch line of far too many jokes. Toss out a rustbelt quip and you’ll quickly see locals bristle because they know what you don’t: Buffalo has seen an unprecedented resurgence in recent years. Where there were once desolate districts, Buffalo is now bursting with restaurants, cafes, and clever start-ups revolving around food and wine. Yes – you read that correctly: wine.
As it turns out, Buffalo is just south of an up-and-coming wine region, the Niagara Escarpment AVA. Only an AVA since 2005, the Escarpment has very similar soil and climatic conditions as those of its Canadian neighbor to the north. The Niagara Escarpment, however, is slightly warmer with more moderate growing conditions and that allows a variety of vinifera grapes to thrive. Add in dedicated and innovative winemakers and we have an area that is too interesting to be ignored.
IN THIS GUIDE:
Buffalo, worth exploring on its own, is the best starting to point for your Niagara Escarpment excursion. Head north towards Niagara Falls, but veer east on state routes 31 or 104. From Toronto, the Escarpment is about an hour and a half south, and it’s about seven hours north and west from New York City.
Any way you look at it, it’s a good idea to make a vacation out of it and give yourself time to check out the wondrous Niagara Falls, quaint Olcott, stately Lewiston, and historic Youngstown while you’re there.
If you’re flying in, take a look at some of the best flight deals into Buffalo or Toronto right here. Private transfers are available with Giorgios Limousine or you can rent a car. Once you’re in the area, and if you’d prefer to explore the Escarpment in a locally guided fashion, private transportation along the wine trail is offered by Giorgios as well, and they’re super friendly and knowledgeable.
There are plenty of cozy Airbnbs around Western New York, but we’re focusing on the interesting architectural gems throughout Western New York that have recently undergone renovations.
If you’re looking for a full-on luxury stay, this is it. The Mansion is plush, lush, and has a Victorian-vibe without being cloying. The Mansion offers shuttles to local restaurants to ensure everyone arrives to and fro safely, and you’ll definitely want to take advantage of that since there is a free cocktail hour!
Staying in a former psychiatric hospital may not be the first thing that leaps to mind, but this is a stand-out. The Olmstead Richardson Campus is a Buffalo icon and was empty for far too many years before being revamped into the gorgeous urban resort it is today. Modern décor provides the perfect foil to the classic exterior, and the bonus is that it’s walking distance to a range of museums and restaurants.
Another refurbish, the Reikart House is a boutique hotel located in Amherst about 15 minutes from Buffalo. The once motel staple Lord Amherst, it recently re-opened to be a catch-all: you can host a wedding reception, enjoy a quick weekend away, or snuggle in for a cocktail.
For a step back in time, plan your stay at the Giacomo Hotel in Niagara Falls. This art deco-styled boutique hotel will have you wanting a martini or two – which can be ready at the first-floor bar in seconds! Take the elevator up to the observation floor and see the glories of the Falls from high above.
We’re not going to lie: Arrowhead Spring is where it’s at. About 40 minutes from Buffalo, Arrowhead should be your starting point and may end up being your ending point, too! Duncan and Robin Ross have diligently crafted some of the best wines that New York State has to offer and if you want to see how New York wines can age, stock up here and find out. You won’t be sorry. Luckily for us, they have recently expanded their facility to be able to host weddings on their expansive and gorgeous property.
The first Escarpment winery I ever visited was Freedom Run, and there’s a reason for that: intelligent winemaking meets intelligent décor. Freedom Run shows the potential of the region with earthy herbal Cabernet Franc and floral lively Gewürztraminer. Peruse the Chihuly-inspired interior with a glass of vino for a memorable afternoon.
Heading further north, we find Schultze. On any given day, you might find a jug band playing in the tasting room, but fun and games are nothing compared to their sparking wine! Focusing on cold-hearty and German varietals, the Schultze family works with nature rather than against it, and we thank them for it.
Ever heard of Bull’s Blood? You’re not alone! Jim and Kathy Baker seek out the unusual here at Chateau Niagara and offer a lovely Gewurztraminer, a hearty Bull’s Blood, and a rich Saperavi that could rival those from the old country. For those seeking the unusual, this is it.
For all those who worship in the cult of natural wines, we’ve got you covered! New kid on the block, Liten Buffel, adheres to natural winemaking every step of the way – literally. All grapes are foot-crushed after harvest. Minimal manipulation allows pure expression of the Escarpment’s unique terroir.
Located farther east in Medina, Leonard Oakes produces staples like Chardonnay, but also dabbles in the eccentric with a Pet-Nat and its now-famous Steampunk Cider. Plan in advance for their Steampunk Festival, a rollicking event that started at the winery and has grown so much that it’s now held at the county fairgrounds!
Becker Farms should be a stop on your excursion no matter what. A working farm, it’s a great place to bring the kids to pet some animals and hop on a hayride during apple season. Becker Farms is always bursting with fresh produce, which is also used in their gastropub on-premises. And if you’re sick of wine, this is your chance to grab a beer and settle in with a solid meal.
With several locations around Western New York, the Griffon is a standout due to its extensive beer list and its inventive take on traditional pub fare. There are even ample vegetarian options, which is always a challenge for the non-carnivorous.
Nestled in flourishing downtown Buffalo, Dobutsu focuses on Pacific and Pan-Asian cuisine. Expect playful spicy-sweet combinations in various forms. The real treat, though, is the Omakase meal. Translating to “I’ll leave it up to you,” the chef will go off the menu and churn out a memorable meal for the whole table.
Buffalo suffered from a plague of refried beans-and-cheese style Mexican food before chef Victor Parra Gonzalez arrived. Combining French technique, Mexican ingredients, and a vivid imagination, Parra Gonzalez creates some of the most fantastic food you’ll experience.
A very welcome addition to always lively Allentown, Billy Club offers a focused menu for both dinner and Sunday brunch. Break rank and grab a John Stamos – think mimosa kicked up a notch – for a brunch that doesn’t require politesse.
Plan Your Getaway
Give yourself plenty of time to really soak in the region. Western New York has an abundance of parks with fantastic hiking trails. Understanding, of course, that the snow reputation exists for a reason, summer is by far the best time to visit. Summers tend to be warm, but not hot, and locals organize countless outdoor festivals to celebrate it.
What could be better than enjoying a Niagara Escarpment wine with fresh fruit and cheese from Becker Farms at Buffalo’s Shakespeare in the Park? While I admit that Buffalo might not be the first place that springs to mind for wine lovers, I promise that will change.
More Ways To Explore Wine County in New York & Canada
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