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Wine trail could boost tourism in St. Lawrence County

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WINTHROP - Wine grapes could blossom to become St. Lawrence County’s next cash crop.

State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, announced in a news release Monday that she will introduce legislation in January that will establish the St. Lawrence County Wine Trail.

The wine trail, beginning at Black Lake’s Bella-Brooke Winery, extending to River Myst, Ogdensburg, and then to High Peaks Winery, Winthrop, would help promote local winemakers and vineyards by putting them on the map – literally.

The trail is also being designed to bring visitors to St. Lawrence Brewing Co., Canton.

The wine trail would be designated by signs installed by the state Department of Transportation along state highways. The wineries would also be marketed in brochures and fliers generated by the state.

Each winery has something different to offer, from tastings and wine slushies to vineyard tours.

“By helping our wineries work together, Senator Ritchie can help us make the region known for its wine as well as its natural beauty,” said Matthew W. Whalen, owner of High Peaks Winery.

Gary L. Davis and Larry E. Hollister, owners of Bella-Brooke Winery, said they would love to see the north country become famous for its wine. The friends have worked since 2008 to make Bella-Brooke a destination in Black Lake.

“The Black Lake valley offers ideal conditions for growing cold-hardy grapes that allow us to grow seven different kinds of grapes,” Mr. Hollister said.

Cold-hardy grapes are the perfect north country crop because they can withstand temperatures up to 40 degrees below zero, he said.

The trail would piggyback the Thousand Islands Seaway Wine Trail, where eight wineries in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties have been working to become a regional tourism engine since 2007.

“The St. Lawrence County Wine Trail will help spotlight these St. Lawrence County businesses and provide a brand new regional attraction in the north country that we can eventually link with Jefferson County’s trail,” Mrs. Ritchie said.

Mrs. Ritchie, who also serves as the chair of the New York State Senate Agriculture Committee, said the wine business has been steadily growing across the state with more than 250 wineries open in the past 27 years.

“As more wineries open, we’ve seen the number of tourist visits increase from 384,000 in 1985 to over 5.1 million in 2012, a 13-fold increase,” she said in the release.

The wine trail could benefit other nearby businesses such as restaurants, stores and attractions, boosting tourism in an economically struggling area.

Randy LaMay, owner of River Myst Winery, said he anticipates the marketing would bring hundreds of thousands visitors to the businesses.

“This wine trail is critical to our efforts to build our tourism economy,” Mr. LaMay said.

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