Satellite view of the Great Lake Ontario visualizing its magnitude as compared to the much smaller Finger Lakes below.

Satellite view of the Great Lake Ontario visualizing its magnitude as compared to the much smaller Finger Lakes below.


Terroir Focus:  It’s All About The Lake Effect

By Dr. Christopher J. Colloca
CEO and Founder, Colloca Estate Winery

Ter·roir/terˈwär/(noun) - the complete natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography, and climate.

Listen to anyone in the wine industry and they will tell you that wine is all about the terroir.  Indeed, great winemaking starts in the vineyard.  The soils, sunshine, winds, and rainfall all contribute to a wine’s character and quality.  Highly esteemed Grand Cru vineyards in France produce very small quantities of grapes destined for exclusive wines commanding hundreds or even thousands of dollars per bottle.  Undoubtedly the characteristics that make a wine great, its complexity, layers, mouthfeel, aromas, and ultimate taste are credited to terroir.

Grape growers in New York State’s Finger Lakes Region were among the first in the state to experiment with European wine grape varietals known as vinifera.  Most articles on the upstate New York State wine scene begin by telling the reader about its pioneers, Dr. Konstantin Frank and Hermann J. Weimer, who were among the first to grow Riesling and other cold climate varietals locally in the early 1970’s.  The Finger Lakes Region is credited for its lake effect tempering the vines and providing a beneficial microclimate. 

But growing up in Oswego on Lake Ontario, and driving along the Finger Lakes back and forth to Ithaca College gave me an idea.  If they could grow grapes well in the Finger Lakes, certainly we could do so on Lake Ontario with its moderating “lake effect”? 

It would be 25 years after graduating from College that I had the money to begin to attempt this endeavor, and we initially planted 8 acres of Riesling and an acre each of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as a test to see how they would do.  They thrived and the validation for my suspicions was correct. We won Silver Medals in the first year we entered our wines into the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition. 

In the years that followed, we won Double Gold for our Riesling in back-to-back years, the highest rating possible, surpassing the scores of the many Finger Lakes wineries that have long been known as the region’s benchmark wines.  In Australia, at the Canberra International Riesling Challenge, our Dry Riesling was scored 95 points and Gold two years in a row, the highest scoring among New York State Wines.  We now need to plant more Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as we sell out every year, and our sought after Rieslings rank among the World’s best.  It’s humbling and exciting for our tiny Village of Fair Haven.

So, it seems we are on to something and I have to point back to Terroir for the credit.  The enormous size of the Great Lake Ontario gives us an incredible microclimate. 

This deep glacial lake overturned soils giving us gravely loam, clay and limestone that provide the depth and minerality to our wines.  Because it doesn’t freeze, the lake effect provides warmth tempering our harsh winters and protecting our vines from winter injury.  The waterfront elongates our growing season allowing more time for the vines to ripen and develop their natural sugars.  Simultaneously, the cool breezes and nights of summer and fall allow the fruit to ripen slowly giving rise to the incredible acid balance that our wines are known for.  It’s this crisp freshness that cleanses the palate that expert wine judges seek and we can deliver. 

Just as the winds of Le Minstral benefit the wines in the renowned Rhone region of France, we benefit from the winds off the lake due to our unique positioning in Fair Haven.  These are very unique benefits that we enjoy on the Great Lake Ontario, and in my opinion cannot be achieved in the Finger Lakes.

Now you know why we decided to name our vineyard, The Lake Effect Vineyard®, and secured Federal Trademark protection for the brand.  It’s my belief that over the next couple of decades many other wineries will pop-up on the southern shores of the Great Lake Ontario and benefit from the incredible gifts that this bountiful land provides us.  Certainly while other wine regions in the world also benefit from the lakes over which the vines are perched, I truly believe we are on to something magical here in Fair Haven.  I personally invite you to try our wines and toast our great lake.  Salute!