The Niagara Wine Trail is an up and coming wine region near Buffalo, New York – but tours of the region are super expensive. The solution? Walk it!

Overview of the Niagara Wine Trail

New York state has long been a producer of red and white wine, particularly in the Finger Lakes region. For the last few decades, however, the Niagara region has also been producing some great wine.

The region lies to the north of Buffalo, towards the banks of the Ontario River, and then curves back east down the river towards Rochester. From Buffalo, the closest winery is about 26 miles (41 km) away.

Although the region is pretty new, its reputation is growing. Mostly, the Niagara wine region is famous for its white Riesling, red Cabernet Franc, and dessert Ice Wine.

Bar at Willow Springs Winery in Niagara New York

Walking the Niagara Wine Trail

We – that being myself, my husband Tom and my best friend Chelsea – had originally planned to get a private or group tour of the Niagara Wine region. However, most of the quotes for private tours came back starting at $450 USD for transport, plus tax and tips. So all in, we’d be looking at a minimum of about $600 USD plus the cost of tasting, which is about $5 per winery, and any wine/food purchased.

This was way out of budget.

So, after consulting the map of the Niagara Wine Trail website, we decided a better option would be to try to walk it on foot.

The first thing to be aware of if you are trying to plan your own wine trail is that distances are way further than what they appear on the map. When I first started looking, wineries I thought would be a 15 – 20 minute walk were more like an hour. The region is big and the wineries are spread out.

That said, there are a few clusters of wineries you can easily walk between. Our final itinerary looked like this:

  1. Arrowhead Springs Winery
  2. Freedom Run Winery
  3. Black Willow Winery/Valhalla Meadery
  4. Schulze Vineyards

Of these, Arrowhead Springs and Freedom Run were within easy walking distance. We then planned to get an Uber to Black Willow, and then walk on to Schulze Vineyards.

An Even Cheaper Option…

It is worth nothing that if you wanted to keep costs down even more, there are wineries that are closer to the first two and would therefore be cheaper. Instead of (3) and (4), you could walk back to Eveningside Vineyards, which is about 1.2 miles from Freedom Run, and then on to Niagara Landing Cellars which is about another 1.5 miles. This would be cheaper in terms of transport, but we wanted to try mead.

Here’s how our itinerary worked out for us.

Arrowhead Springs New York

Stop One: Arrowhead Springs

We started from our AirBnB in downtown Buffalo and headed for our first stop: Arrowhead Springs. The total cost of the Uber was $35 USD and it took about half an hour from the city.

Arrowhead Springs was well marked out, with a long driveway to get down to the tasting room. The entry into the tasting room was really lovely, with gorgeous views out over the vineyards and bright yellow sunflowers leading up to the door. The building was quite modern.

We ventured inside and were greeted with a friendly hello and introduction to Ian, the winery dog who happens to also be the biggest border collie I have ever seen! Apparently, he’d taken refuge inside due to the hot and humid weather outside, and can usually be found on the winery grounds playing frisbee with visitors.

Tasting is the standard $5 for 4 wines, and we tried a Riesling, Rose and two Reds, including a blend and a Cabernet Franc. We were told that Arrowhead Springs is known for their drier wines, whereas the rest of the region is known to be sweeter. They were also quite subtle, which was a bit of a change of gears from my usual haunt of the Barossa, but still enjoyable all round.

After our tasting, we headed on for our next stop.

Freedom Run New York

Stop Two: Freedom Run Winery

From Arrowhead Springs, we walked down the main highway and then veered to the left to reach Freedom Run Winery. In total, the walk was a pleasant 15 minutes or so – you wouldn’t have wanted it to be much longer in the heat and humidity!

Freedom Run had quite a different feel to Arrowhead Springs, with a big open warehouse and a counter which featured bright and colourful glass flowers. There were also some things for sale, including a handbag that doubles as a big flask for sneaky wine drinking. I like it!

The price was again $5 for 4 wines, and we tried a white, a couple of reds, and then lastly the famous Apple Jack Wine. Apparently, this is the most well-known product from Freedom Run, and it is an incredibly sweet and delicious drink that tastes of apples and honey with just a hint of bourbon.

We were served by the wonderful Jen, a Niagara local who had recently completed her qualification in Winery Management. She had us in hysterics for most of the tasting but was also super knowledgeable about wine. We eventually came to the conclusion she was Chelsea 2.0, which was equal parts awesome and terrifying.

After the tasting, we bought a couple of glasses of Rose and sat out on the porch overlooking the beautiful sunflowers. Unable to resist (and assured it was OK by our new friend Jen), we also had a few photos in the sunflowers. Finally, we had a go at some lawn games as we waited for our Uber to the next winery.

Wine tasting at Willow Springs Vineyard

Stop Three: Willow Springs Vineyard

After a great stop at Freedom Run, we called an Uber and headed on to Willow Springs Vineyard. The cost of the Uber was about $22 USD.

Similar to Freedom Run, Willow Springs was a large, warehouse-y cellar door, featuring a bunch of hilarious signs about wine. I loved them all, but some of my favourites included “She was two glasses of wine away from proving his mother right!” and “If I’m lost, put my face on wine bottles so my friends will find me.”

Willow Springs has three different options for tasting: a chocolate/wine pairing, a cheese/wine pairing, and a wine only pairing. Keen to try something different, we chose the cheese and wine pairing which was $15 USD per person.

For the tasting, we were given a piece of paper and told to choose different wines and cheeses. Helpfully, the cheese list included which wines paired well. I ended up choosing two whites, a red and a mead to try, along with four different natural Amish cheeses.

It was definitely an interesting experience to try cheese and wine together, since I’ve never done that before. We were told to try the wine, eat a bite of the cheese, and then sip the wine again. You could definitely see how the flavour of the wine changed after you’d eaten the cheese. Although it was a fun experience, I’m not sure I’d do it again, however, because I think I prefer to just be able to concentrate on the wine.

My favourite of all, however, was the sweet Mead which tasted just like candy. It tasted super nostalgic, and we all enjoyed it so much we decided to buy ourselves a bottle.

Wilson Boat House New York

Heading Home ft. Wilson, NY

After our wine tasting, we realised it was nearly 6pm and so we didn’t have time to make it to our final stop. This always happens to me – I think it is because I talk too much.

Instead, we decided to head to dinner – but to our horror we realised there were no Ubers in the area. Just a little concerned about what to do, we sat down to have a bit of a “crisis meeting” and work it out. We’d barely sat for a moment when a lovely couple offered to drive us to the restaurant. How nice is that!

So, before long we were on our way to the Boat House Restaurant in Wilson, New York. It was super beautiful, overlooking the Marina with lots of yachts and a view of locals taking their boats out for a spin. We had a nice meal including a lobster, because it was lobster night and they were only $12. How could we resist – especially after a few wines?

I also got my first taste of Buffalo Wings, near Buffalo.

We were a tad concerned about getting home after our Uber experience at Willow Springs, but in the end we only had to wait about 10 minutes and then a driver arrived to drive us back. In the end, it cost us $65 USD to get back which was a tad more than we’d expected, but still way cheaper than what we’d been looking at for the organised tour.

Ian the border collie at Arrowhead Springs New York

Final Thoughts on our Walking Wine Tour of Niagara

In the end, we spent a total of $122 USD on transport, $75 on tasting (including the cheese) and $15 for an extra glass of wine at Freedom Springs, between three people. We could have kept our costs lower by sticking around the Lockport area – I estimate if we’d swapped out Willow Springs for Eveningside, our transport costs would have been around $70 USD instead.

All in all walking the Niagara Wine Trail was definitely do-able, as long as the weather is cooperative. It’s definitely a great way to save money and still get to see this fun wine region.

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One Comment

  1. I actually live in Lockport. I am delighted to hear that you enjoyed the area AND I learned something new; Willow Springs has pairings!?! I had no idea. How did you like the wings?

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