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Ripe for fruit of the vine – plus

A charming new pavilion overlooking a serene lake and rolling vineyards, a convenient satellite shop near Rochester, and a handful of cabins nestled between a fragrant vineyard and beautiful orchard all beckon as wineries get creative in attracting guests along the Niagara Wine Trail this year.

Tamre Varallo, co-owner of Spring Lake Winery and Varallo Vineyards at 7373 Rochester Road, Lockport, said the operation is putting the finishing touches on a brand-new timber frame pavilion overlooking a spring-fed lake and 78 acres of vineyards.

Spring Lake’s wedding reception business has grown from 15 bookings last year to 30 this year and will, in fact, include the June 13 reception for the wedding of Varallo’s son, Rico and Deanna Swift. Rico and his brother, Dominic, are the establishment’s winemakers, their mother added, and the winery is particularly known for its award-winning Estate Riesling.

Erik Gustafson, owner of A Gust of Sun Winery and Vineyard at 4515 Baer Road, Ransomville, said he and his wife, Shane, just opened a satellite shop at 5324 Ridge Road West, between Hilton and Spencerport, to help draw more of the Rochester crowd.

And Becker Farms and Vizcarra Vineyards in Gasport are booking their 10 new cabins for the first time this weekend, according to Amanda Vizcarra, who heads up the company’s private events division.

All three wineries are expanding their amenities in an effort to better serve their customers.

Varallo said customer interest in using the winery as a backdrop for important occasions, from wedding receptions to reunions, inspired her family to first build a gazebo, then expand to a large tent, and now erect a pavilion.

“It’s a unique style of building for this area,” she said. “It will be open on one side to the lake. We’ll have drop-down sides and will build more permanent walls if we need them.”

Her family planted the first vines in 2004, opened in 2006 and made the first vintage of estate wine in 2008.

Varallo pointed out that the growing wedding business has had brides who are Western New York natives coming home from Washington, D.C., Tennessee and Toronto to book Spring Lake for their weddings and receptions. She said the winery also hosts everything from birthday parties and showers to reunions, bringing catered meals in or allowing patrons to hire their own caterers – even food trucks.

“It’s an open canvas and they can paint it any way they want,” she said.

Spring Lake also will host the Sunset Vineyard Express train excursions from August through October, which include a train ride on the tracks that run behind the family’s vineyard, a visit to the Medina Railroad Museum and a hot buffet dinner with live music back at the winery.

Gustafson, who serves as the wine trail’s vice president, said he and his wife are hoping their new satellite spot will make it more convenient for patrons around Rochester – a market traditionally drawn to the Finger Lakes wine region – to sample and purchase their wines.

They are leasing a shop recently renovated to look “absolutely gorgeous,” to offer a tasting room along with retail sales.

“Our customers come from all over, and it’s very frustrating because they’ll say, ‘I’d be there all of the time if you were closer,’ ” he said. “There is only so much space for our wines in liquor stores and they take a large discount. So we knew we had to look at a different business model.

“Our five- to 10-year plan has been to make this our 100 percent career and expand our vineyard,” said Gustafson, who teaches chemistry at Erie Community College. His wife, who had a career in engineering, became full-time winery manager two years ago. They also have two young children.

Gustafson said they offer about 20 different wines, with the number fluctuating with the seasons.

He added that their Ransomville location is within 10 minutes of six other wineries, convenient for people who are making a day out of winery visits.

But Gustafson said with the new site, the closest winery is Lake Ontario Winery in Hilton and the others are at least a half-hour away, so the venture is an experiment.

He said he doesn’t know yet whether his satellite location will be a limo stop for partyers or “more of an after-work ‘Cheers’ crowd. So we’ll open by noon each day (10 a.m. Saturdays) and close around 7 p.m. and just see what kind of crowds we get.”

At their Ransomville site, the Gustafsons have live music planned on at least four occasions and will participate in the trail’s wine and cheese pairing event June 5 to 7.

The Vizcarras began building their eco-friendly, year-round cabins late last summer and just put the finishing touches on them last week at their location at 3760 Quaker Road, Gasport. They are 375-square-foot structures with high-end linens, radiant-heated floors and air conditioning.

“They’re very comfortable,” Vizcarra said.

Eight are “traditional” cabins with queen-size beds, while the two others have master suites with king-size beds and a pullout. All have bathrooms.

“All of the cabins have porches, and they’re situated so that they either see the sunrise or the sunset,” Vizcarra said. “They’re really cute. … It’s a very serene and relaxing environment here.”

Five generations have worked the land on the Vizcarra and Becker Farms property. The family offers a Farmhouse Market with artisanal products, U-pick, tours, event planning for up to 300 guests, a community supported agriculture project and even beer on the 340-acre site. “There was a demand for these cabins,” Vizcarra said. “We heard this from our existing clients, and we also wanted to offer a safer option than driving home on country roads at night because we’re open late on weekends.”

Vizcarra said that all of the cabins were booked for the very first weekend, simply by marketing to guests of planned events, “although we are open to the public.”

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