Oswego Native Transforms Fair Haven Property Into Vineyard


FAIR HAVEN — While the Finger Lakes region is widely known for producing some of the best wine in the United States, central New York is looking to make a name for itself in the wine industry as well.

(An aerial shot of Lake Effect Vineyards in the fall season.
An aerial shot of Lake Effect Vineyards in the fall season. Photo by Ed Dodge.

According to the Wine Symposium of the Finger Lakes, 85-percent of New York’s wine production comes from the Finger Lakes, and wineries play a large part in the region’s economy. Tourists come from across the country to stay at local bed and breakfasts, eat at restaurants, see regional attractions, and sample the world-famous grapes the area has to offer.

In an effort to duplicate some of the success of the Finger Lakes region’s wine industry, Oswego native Dr. Christopher Colloca has unveiled a new business venture, Lake Effect Vineyard, on the western side of Little Sodus Bay.

“What’s exciting to me is creating things, and we have in central New York some of the most beautiful environments in the world,” Calloca said. “We have incredible natural resources here that, in my opinion, is one of the best kept secrets around.”

The property Calloca purchase at 14678 West Bay Road, Fair Haven was originally used as fruit orchard and farmland and at one time owned by SUNY Oswego, and has now transformed into a winery. When Colloca started purchasing  the property in 2008, he began piecing it back together to its current makeup: a 93 acre parcel of land with 900 feet of lakefront property.

“It was a very unique property to have that much waterfront and to have that farm land available that we could develop,” said Colloca, a chiropractor practicing in Arizona.

The chiropractor and businessman found the property as a way to stay close to his family. “I started a search for a property in upstate New York where I could be closer to my family in the summertime and get out of the Arizona heat,” he said. “After years of searching I found the Fair Haven property. It gives me the opportunity to be with my family in New York and have my kids know their New York family.”

“Once you get a taste of some really good fine wine, it calls you,”- Chris Colloca

Not only was his family a factor in his decision to purchase the property, but they also played a pivotal role in turning it into a vineyard, Colloca said. The chiropractor, said his brother, name, who works in the movie industry, gave him the opportunity to experience what some of the world’s finest wines taste like.

“Once you get a taste of some really good fine wine, it calls you,” Colloca said. “One of my older got me into wine, and I’ve been really blessed with my company that in my travels I’ve ended up visiting vineyards … They have always just been kind of magical for me. I think I’ve been encouraged by the romance of the whole thing, having this property where there are these beautiful rolling hills and you’re outdoors in this open space and all that kind of stuff.”

In 2009 Colloca took what he learned from his travels and planted Lake Effect’s first vines. Using a laser planter to maximize the space and plant in straight rows, Colloca had 9,000 vines planted across 10 acres, with 8 acres of Riesling and one acre of Chardonnay and Pinot noir grapes to find how they would grow in the climate. After seeing how those grapes grow around the Finger Lakes, Colloca was confident he would have success near Lake Ontario.

“The Finger Lakes are deep glacial lakes that don’t freeze, so they allow good air flow coming off of the water to keep the vines warm in the wintertime and keep them cool in the heat of the summer,” said Colloca. “If you take that concept of these small glacial lakes that have had success, it is eminency magnified on Lake Ontario. You get this wonderful microclimate because it is such a large body of water… I saw it as a huge opportunity to grow grapes right on the lakeshore.”

Although snow may seem like it would hinder the growth process, Colloca said the area’s notorious lake-effect snow is beneficial to the grapevines, which gave the entrepreneur the idea for the name of the vineyard.  “The snow actually blankets the vines, and one of the things that you are worried about as a grape grower that you are seriously concerned about is ‘winter-kill’ and that is when the temperature goes below zero, the frost level gets deeper into the soil and as it gets deeper the roots freeze and the vine dies,” said Colloca. “The wonderful benefit of the snow that we have in Fair Haven is that it blankets the ground. So it may be below zero in the air, but it’s not getting into that ground level.”

Lake Effect Vineyard harvested its first grapes in summer 2012. The Colloca family and community members helped pick the harvest. “We thought it was going to be a party, and it ended up being a party with a whole bunch of work,” said Chris’ oldest brother, Joe Colloca, who currently manages the vineyard.

At the end of the harvest, the 10 acres of grapevines yielded 6 tons of fruit, and even though it was a strong first harvest, the Colloca’s believe that is only a third of what the vines will provide when they are fully grown.

After the grapes were hand-picked and put in bins, everything was shipped to Hosmer Winery on Cayuga Lake, to be crushed and put through the wine-making process.

With the growing and harvesting aspect of the process well underway, Chris Colloca is looking forward to his next project on the property: a roughly 10,000-square-foot winery and event center that will over look Lake Ontario and give Lake Effect Vineyard a wine-processing center so every step of the process can be done on location.

Along with the winery, Lake Effect Vineyard will be adding add a 5,000-square-foot event center to hold weddings and other banquet-type events to complement the vineyard and winery.

(Look at site plans and hear what Chris Colloca has to say about Lake Effect Vineyard Big Picture)

According to Chris Colloca, once Lake Effect Vineyard is fully operational, the facilities could create up to 12 new jobs to go along with the two employees Colloca Estates already employs, and those numbers could double within 10 years. “We will need event planners, wine pourers, caterers, bartenders, a maintenance and landscaping staff. All those things will create new jobs for the area that I am really excited about,” he said.

“We have this vineyard that we are creating a winery, but also we are creating a place where people can come and enjoy themselves,” Chris Calloca said. “To come out and not only taste our wine, but come and enjoy the property, walk around, take in the sights, bring a blanket and look out at the water and just enjoy your day. I wanted to create a space that people could enjoy.”

In addition to breaking ground on the new building, the Calloca’s plan to plant more grape vines and nearly double the vineyard’s acreage. The wine from the 2012 harvest will start to be bottled, and the staff will start getting the grounds ready for wedding season, as Lake Effect Vineyard current has four weddings booked for the summer.

Plan your own Lake Ontario wine tour:

Lake Ontario is developing a wine industry that is starting to rival the Finger Lakes wineries. Use the map below to check out whats establishments are around the great lake, and visit lakeontariowinetrail.com for information on local bed and breakfasts, and other area attractions. Get started on planning your wine tour!

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