The Niagara Escarpment runs from eastern Wisconsin to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and through southern Ontario to western New York State, where Niagara Falls cascades over it, giving the escarpment its name.
The New York portion is home to a unique winegrowing region. It’s the warmest area in that state due to its proximity to the Great Lakes and the Escarpment itself, which traps warm air currents from Lake Ontario.
The dolomitic limestone soil of the Escarpment and the gravel silts near the lakeshore, along with the moderate climate, are ideal for growing grapes and a wide variety of fruit. The Niagara Escarpment was officially recognized as an American Viticultural Area in 2005, and the larger “Greater Niagara” region is one of the fastest growing wine regions in New York.
So, what exactly is an escarpment? It’s the steep cliff edge of a cuesta, which is formed from slightly tilted layers of rocks. The steep cliff face forms when crumbly rocks, such as shale, are eroded from beneath erosion-resistant rocks like limestone or dolomite, which then break off to make the cliff face.
The rocks of the Niagara Cuesta were tilted when the Earth’s crust sagged, forming a bowl-shaped depression beneath Michigan. The Niagara Escarpment is the exposed, up-tilted, outer edge of this feature.
Many different types of wine are made on both sides of the Canadian border. On the American side, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Riesling — along with a handful of hybrids — dominate tasting room wine lists. On the Canadian side, “ice wines” — sweet elixirs crafted from last-of-the-harvest grapes — have gained worldwide recognition among sweet-toothed wine lovers.
When you’re in the area, check out the wineries… and the “ancient backbone of North America.”