‘Wining’ Your Way Around the Finger Lakes
The cluttered congestion of city life is often best healed with a weekend escape to the rustic country life. The charm and appeal of small town America can still be enjoyed by people seeking a quiet and simple place to relax. For decades, families have come to find such a haven of peace and tranquility in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Long before cars were available, families and couples in search of adventure from sailing and fishing in the summer to skating and skiing in the winter would make the journey to this history-rich region that is known for its stunning fall foliage using trains and steamboats. Even President Bill Clinton couldn’t resist the family-oriented rusticity as he enjoyed the last few days of his 1999 summer vacation in the area with his entire family. More than a decade later since the President of the United States graced the region, people still journey to the lakes seeking refuge from the congested suburbs to rent summer cottages on the lake in what remains to be a family-oriented area.
From the pristine lakes to beautiful waterfalls and charming villages, New York’s Finger Lakes region offers a delicate mix of rich farmland, 19th-century homes, and red brick downtowns all just a 300 mile road trip from New York City. The scenic route along the Palisades Parkways follows the Hudson River. Enjoy the region’s scenery as traffic moves at a slower pace offering the visitor time to indulge in the ultimate autumn experience featuring deep blue lakes bordered by colorful hills and waterfalls cascading down rocky crevices.
Rich Scenery & World Class Wineries
While the Finger Lakes offer an abundance of activities year round and no shortage of scenic day trips, the paths that offers the region’s greatest claim to fame are the wine trails. The vintners of the region are known for their wines that put even some of California’s best to shame. Vineyards in the region date back to 1829 when Reverend William Bostwick planted the first wine grapes in the area in his very own garden in Hammondsport. The region was once famous for its sparkling wine and sweet table wines but now with more than 100 wineries covering some 11,000 acres of vineyards, there are literally gallons of award-winning wines from almost every variety. Some wineries even feature breweries and distilleries as well. The region has primarily won accolades for its Rieslings and Chardonnays thanks to the introduction of Vinifera grapes. The majority of wineries can be found around Cayuga, Seneca, and Keuka lakes.
The wineries must take advantage of the moderate temperatures created by the various lakes’ microclimate which prevents summer and winter weather extremes which would be harmful to the grapes. The scenery and landscape of the vineyards is like no other as wine tasters can road trip from vineyard to vineyard amidst rolling hills, and shades of amethyst and saffron along long vistas of blue water. Parts of Seneca and Keuka Lakes can even be compared to some of the most beautiful vistas found in Burgundy, France. It would be no challenge to spend at least a week visiting all of the wineries in the Finger Lakes region. In addition to the tours, spectacular views, and tastings, some of the family-owned wineries are known for sharing secrets of the winemaking process. There are also plenty of gift shops and local cafes and restaurants in which to enjoy a culinary creation alongside a Finger Lakes wine. With the various wine trails offered, discovering the region and finding your favorite wine is easier than ever before.
A Light Sampling of the Finger Lakes Region
For a shorter overview of the best that the region has to offer, arrange your mini road trip along the following sites which could easily be covered over a long weekend:
- Ithaca: If you are flying into the region, Ithaca is a good place to start. Located at the southern tip of Cayuga, it is home to regional airlines and car rental agencies. You will definitely need a car for this road trip unless you plan to arrange one of the many escorted tours. While you’re in the area, pay a visit to Taughannock Falls State Park where a 20-minute trek will have you enthralled by a 215-foot waterfall.
- Penn Yan: Located on the western shore of Seneca Lake, Fox Run Vineyards is a good start for traditional tours and tasting. The owner, Scott Osborn, likes to ensure that he shows off the entire operation including bottling and grafting as wine is a mystery for many people. Osborn takes pride in his French oak barrels that are handmade and cost $700 brand new.
- Himrod: Without a doubt one of the most spectacular and serene settings of any of the Finger Lake wineries, Miles Wine Cellars greets visitors by vehicle and even boat! But perhaps this winery’s claim to fame isn’t as much in the wine as it is the haunted white house that overlooks Seneca Lake. The owners report that they have been told by clairvoyants that they are home to seven ghosts of which two have been seen by the owners themselves. To no surprise, one of the white wines was named ‘Ghost.’
- Hammondsport: The town of Hammondsport bordering Keuka Lake features two of the best wineries. It is also where the first ever wine grapes were planted in the region. Dr. Konstantin Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars is not only home to award winning wines but also pays tribute to the man who brought the European vinifera wine grape to the region. This is indeed one of the busier wineries as crowds gather in the late doctor’s white farmhouse to sample Riesling and Gewürztraminer wines among many others. A visit to the Château Renaissance Wine Cellars will offer samplings of a variety of drinks from merlot to sherry, and champagnes that are made from 400 year-old family recipes brought all the way from France.
Road Trip Kit
If you’re planning to hit the road for a weekend of wine tasting, it’s always best to be fully prepared especially if travelling in the winter. Have your vehicle and tires inspected for any maintenance issues and ensure that your car insurance is up to date. If you have an existing policy, familiarize yourself with the terms and conditions before packing your bags as the existing coverage may not offer the same coverage when you are overseas. You always want to ensure that you have an adequate level of extended insurance coverage to ensure that you are covered for rental cars, and most especially for emergency services in the event that you get into an accident overseas. If your current policy doesn’t offer such coverage, there are many companies available that offer temporary insurance and some which offer specialized overseas car insurance plans. Before signing onto any rental car company insurance agreement, be sure to check if your credit card offers rental car coverage as part of its package. Don’t forget to obtain an adequate amount of travel and health insurance. It is important to note that some travel insurance policies include extended coverage for automobiles.
Ensure that you have a map of the region on hand so that you can easily navigate if you get lost and don’t miss the additional sights and attractions along the way. Shopping and crafts found at Traders Village in Romulus is not to be missed while the quaint city of Geneva offers a number of Italian and Greek Revival homes including the restored 1894 Smith Opera House where you can still enjoy performances today. The regional wine trails have much to offer including many winery events and festivals to celebrate the holidays, harvest and even new vintages.
For more information, read up on the various wine trails including:
- Cayuga Wine Trail
- Seneca Lake Wine Trail
- Keuka Lake Wine Trail
Canandaigua Wine Trail