Set Your Sights for Spring on the Canandaigua Wine Trail

The sight of unfolding blossoms dappled along a garden path is a reminder that another season is on display. Apart from being a welcome respite from the tiresome hibernation of winter, a journey during spring can provide one with a fresh appreciation of nature’s bounty, such as fresh breezes, unfurling leaves, and the aroma of fruition. One journey that is awaiting a perceptive traveler is a visit to the Canandaigua Wine Trail.

The Canandaigua Wine Trail is placed on the western edge of the Finger Lakes region and encompasses four unique wineries within the communities of Fairport, Canandaigua, Bristol Springs and Naples. Unusual by the fact that each one is an example of suburban, rural and small city locations, every winery is eager to welcome visitors to its products and services.

The close proximity of wineries to several lakes of this region results in moderate temperatures to keep damaging frosts away until the season is over, and retain the chill of winter to keep the vines from budding until spring frosts have ended.

The perimeter of the Canandaigua Wine Trail is a half-hour’s drive from downtown Rochester and an hour-and-a-half drive from the Buffalo area. Taking exit 45 from the New York State Thruway and proceeding north on Route 96, a sign depicting grapes directs the traveler onto Turk Hill Road in the suburban community of Fairport, where the home of Casa Larga Vineyards resides on one of the highest elevations in Monroe County. Within its Italianate structure are a wine tasting area, a two-story gift shop, and expansive banquet and meeting rooms that can be decorated or modified to suit any event.

Casa Larga began as a “hobby” for Anthony Coloruotolo (affectionately known as “Mr. C.” to the staff) from his experience growing grapes on his family’s farm in Italy. Upon residing in Rochester, Mr. C. discovered that the soil on his property atop Turk Hill Road was Ontario sandy loam, the best kind for growing grapes. His first harvest was 1978, and since then his business has lived by the idea of welcoming customers as family, whether to sample varieties of wine, browse through gourmet foods and gift baskets or take part in an event coordinated by his staff.

Casa Larga considers its Riesling, Lilac Hill, and four styles of Chardonnay to be among its specialties. The winery has also created Meritage, a blend of two or more Bordeaux grapes with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Frequent visitors to Casa Larga know of its personalized wine labels for any occasion, as well as its distinctive gift baskets designed with the customer’s taste and budget in mind. In addition, Casa Larga offers an extraordinary setting for banquet or meeting events, with elegant décor combined with a magnificent view of the surrounding countryside.

Returning to the thruway via Route 96 and exiting at Route 332, the trail continues to the Finger Lakes Wine Center at Sonnenberg Gardens in Canandaigua. Here 30 wineries of the Finger Lakes region are represented for customers to receive samples or buy favorites to take home. The Wine Center also serves as an education center for its customers to learn about the attractions as well as the wineries in the area. Because of its location on the beautifully landscaped grounds of Sonnenberg Gardens, the Wine Center receives visitors from all over the world, where many choose to travel to tour and visit the individual wineries in the region. The Wine Center is open during the season for Sonnenberg Gardens.

Proceeding on Route 21 south from the Finger Lakes Wine Center through the bustling yet quaint city of Canandaigua, a view of Canandaigua Lake winds through hills spreading their green cloaks of spring. Focusing on the evolving scenery may cause one to overlook Arbor Hill Grapery and Winery in Bristol Springs. Yet emerging highlights of spring are waiting to be discovered in these
natural surroundings.

Arbor Hill has been a family-owned business of wine, grape and gourmet products since 1987. Its owner, John Brahm, benefits from vineyards aside Canandaigua Lake that are over 150 years old. According to Brahm, “We strive to promote an identity with our community, even though visitors are surprised to see New England-style buildings.”

Arbor Hill’s efficient gift shop is well-stocked with the widest selection of gourmet wine, grape and fruit products in the area. Visitors are welcome to taste not only varieties of wines but also jellies and gourmet mustards, vinegars, dipping sauces and salad dressings.

Arbor Hill regards its Traminette, a semi-dry white wine, and Ambrosia, a dessert-style wine made from the Traminette grape, as its specialties. The interested traveler will also benefit from the black raspberry celery seed dressing and the balsamic sun-dried tomato viniagrette, among the other flavorful condiments made on the premises. Adds Brahm, “We market and develop what works for us. We specialize in products that benefit from the cool growing season in this area.” Arbor Hill offers wine country gift baskets as well as an ample display of kitchen-related products for customers.

Continuing on Route 21 along Canandaigua Lake, Widmer’s Wine Cellars lies ahead within the village of Naples. Vineyards of Finger Lakes grape varietals align the drive along Lake Niagara Lane to a roomy chalet at its end. Here, visitors gather after an informative and detailed tour of Widmer’s wine-making process and sample grape jellies and various wines ranging in taste and texture.

Widmer’s Wine Cellars had its beginnings more than 100 years ago when Swiss winemaker John Jacob Widmer and his wife Lisette ventured to the beautiful valley at the southern end of Canandaigua Lake. Laura McDyer, tour operations manager, states, “Widmer’s has a lot of history behind it, and that’s what visitors will see and hear when they tour our winery.”

Much has changed over the last century, but Widmer’s continues to combine Old World traditions and modern technology to work hand in hand today to produce more than
50 wines. Carrying on a tradition of quality underlies the management philosophy of Widmer’s present owner, Con­stellation Brands Inc.
of Canandaigua.

Widmer’s considers its Brickstone Cellars wines, its Lake Niagara white table wine and its dessert ports and sherries to be among its specialties. Widmer’s is one of a few wineries in the area to carry kosher wines under its Maniewschiewitz label. It has also expanded its product line to include Case Cider, a fermented apple cider, and Paul Masson crème flavored liqueurs.

Upon concluding a visit to the Canandaigua Wine Trail, the fortunate traveler has found pleasant discoveries and a warm welcome at each visit. A personal bouquet of fresh memories as well as springtime treasures are awaiting the eager traveler. For more information please contact www.Visit FingerLakes.com or www.canandaigua winetrailonline.com.


by Linda D. Pratt
Linda D. Pratt is a freelance writer who lives in Penfield and often cooks with wine. Sometimes she puts it in the food.