Opening yields grape discoveries
By JIMMY McCARTHY
WESTFIELD – The Grape Discovery Center, located on Route 20 in Westfield, opened to the public for the first time Saturday. With help from donors, grants and members, the center was presented to the public, demonstrating the history of grape growing in the region as well as a taste of some local wine.
“Before it was a dream, and now it is possible,” Andrew Dufresne, executive director of the Concord Grape Belt Heritage Association, said. It’s a place that will help promote the grape industry and it will be a place to learn about the history. This will help others learn about the other attractions around.”
The Grape Discovery Center is modeled similar to the Cranberry Discovery Center in Wisconsin, where a member of the association visited. Inside, the center is a gift shop where people can buy grape juices, wines, vinaigrettes, soaps, apparel and more. The gift shop also contains maps, paintings and information on the walls to show incoming tourists and locals the Concord Grape Belt region and its history. There is also a wine bar next to the shop – or on the patio outside – where people can sit to relax and enjoy local wine products along with cheeses and baked goods.
“This is a creative place for people to come and understand the history of this grape-growing region, and why it is here,” Helen Baran, president of the Grape Belt Association, said about the discovery center. “(Grape vineyards are) here because of the glaciers that formed sixteen million years ago that created the Niagara and Chautauqua gorge. It brought all the gravel soil down along Lake Erie. The temperature of Lake Erie is also a part of this because it creates a micro climate that allows us to grow grapes, and allows us to grow in the spring.”
The beginning of the discovery center began in 2004 with a contest that was sponsored by Cornell University. The contest allowed the agricultural areas of the state to compete for an award through Cornell.
“The prize would be that the area who won would have the expertise of two or three professors from Cornell to help facilitate some kind of action in the area, and we won it. We had Duncan Hilchey from Cornell University and a couple other guys that met with us. They met with processors and wineries, which have increased in numbers since that time, and put together a plan. From there, we set about doing different projects,” Baran said.
She went on to mention the help and support from Senator Catharine Young, who wanted to make contributions to the discovery center. Baran also mentioned the grant and memberships received to further progress the project.
“Senator Cathy Young met with us and said, ‘I think this is great. I want this to be my project.’ She procured $1,050,000 to us to get started. And subsequently we received a grant for $250,000. That got us going, and we also got memberships which brought in another $300,000,” she explained.
The Grape Discovery Center’s goal is to support and bring awareness to the grape and wine industries in the Grape Belt Region by informing people on the origin of Concord grapes – all while enjoying the wine bar.
“I’m really excited about it,” Baran said about the opening. “We were able to remake this abandoned Ford dealership garage into what you see today. Our board of directors is representative of all the municipalities involved including grape growers, grape processors, tourists, and historians. It’s going to be an all-encompassing discovery center.”