Niagara Wine Trail recently underwent a rebranding in honor of its 20th anniversary
√ What started out as 2 has grown to 14, and a new executive director, Susan Swiatkowski, leading organization
By Michelle Blackley Glynn
The grape has deep roots in Niagara County – and thanks to the Niagara Wine Trail, its growing climate and season, the fruit has become an important part of the local tourism industry.
The Niagara grape was created locally in 1868 when Concord grapes were cross-bred with Cassidy grapes, according to historical references. It was first sold commercially in 1882. In 1952, the National Grape Cooperative allowed farmers to grow grapes and sell them to Welch’s. It wasn’t until 2002 that Niagara Landing and Warm Lake were started and the Niagara Wine Trail was born.
The timing couldn’t have been more perfect, as wine tourism started to become the hype across the U.S., and it grew from there.
According to Margo Bittner, chairperson of the Niagara Wine Trail’s marketing committee and owner of The Winery at Marjim Manor in Appleton, most of the wineries started as an outgrowth of a family farm, which can be a challenge for a “mom and pop” operation, but the Niagara Frontier’s beautiful countryside offers a helpful microclimate that yields to growing Vinifera and native grapes, a late harvest and Ice Wines. Meads and ciders can also be found locally.
Like all tourism businesses the past two years, the Niagara Wine Trail struggled during the pandemic. Now, all members are in operation and have lifted any regulations.
With these changes also came the opening of the executive director position. When it became vacant, according to representatives of the wine trail, Susan Swiatkowski was the perfect fit for the job. With a background in local tourism, she not only brings enthusiasm to the role, but also the expertise needed to promote it.
“I have three favorite things in Western New York,” Swiatkowski said. “Niagara Falls, the Buffalo Bills and the Niagara Wine Trail. This is really a dream job for me. It allows me to blend both my career experience and one of my favorite pastimes in one role.”
Her Niagara Wine Trail colleagues agree.
“Sue was the perfect candidate for the position. Not only is she passionate about Niagara, she also visits the wineries frequently and loves the wine,” said Shane Gustafson, president of the Niagara Wine Trail, and owner of Gust of Sun Winery in Ransomville. “She’s a wonderful ambassador of the area, and her background shows. We are excited about the fresh perspective she brings and the new ideas she’s already started to implement, all of which wouldn’t be possible without Sue’s leadership and dedication. It’s not easy getting 14 independent businesses all on the same page, but she has shown she can.”
Bryan DeGraw, owner of Mead 810 in Medina, agreed.
“I’m excited to have Sue as the executive director of the Niagara Wine Trail,” he said. “She brings marketing knowledge and experience in our region that will help the wine trail grow. She is a motivated individual and brings positive energy that will benefit the trail’s marketing and events.”
Swiatkowski said her background in tourism will help with the role as she is able to connect the wineries to available resources and promotions, and collaborative efforts throughout the year.
“Getting more guests to visit the wine trail also allows visitors to stay longer, spend more money and support economic development throughout Niagara County,” she said. “Working with the Niagara Wine Trail allows me the opportunity to promote small businesses. I am also able to visit the wineries and help create special fundraising events, which have always been one of the best parts of any position I’ve held.”
This summer will begin a year-long celebration for the Niagara Wine Trail, featuring new and returning events, refreshed branding, a new Niagara Falls icon-inspired logo, as well as a new tag line reminding visitors of the very “intimate, authentic and charming” experience they will find along the 60-mile trail – from Lake Ontario, through Niagara, Orleans and Monroe counties.
Many wineries, especially those with small staff or tasting rooms, have adopted a more personal approach to wine tastings. Guests are urged to call each winery ahead of the date they plan to visit before finalizing any group transport. According to Gustafson, it has become industry standard to make reservations when visiting a tasting room, especially if traveling with more than four people.
Some calendar highlights include the return of the Niagara Wine Festival, July 23-24, at Academy Park in Lewiston; a new preseason kickoff football-themed weekend experience, Aug. 20-21, and a 20th anniversary wine pairing dinner, at The View in Sanborn – both possible through Swiatkowski’s leadership.
For more information about these events, and a series of holiday-inspired shopping activities, visit www.NiagaraWineTrail.org.