The long, glacially cut Finger Lakes that characterize the region offer some of the most stunning views in New York. Scenic byways and trails offer glimpses of the picturesque landscape. Arguably, the best way to soak in the scenery is from the deck of a local winery, surrounded by acres of vines leading to a lake with a glass of wine in hand, produced a few hundred feet away.
With more than 120 wineries and 11,000 acres of vineyards, the Finger Lakes region is the biggest producer of wine in New York State. When visiting the area, wine tasting is one of the best things to do on your Finger Lakes vacation. There’s no better way to enjoy the local culture or scenery. Though in the past people have discounted the region as having only sweet or less-complex wines because of the cool weather, the lakes actually help moderate the climate and winemakers produce many varieties world-class wines. This year, the Finger Lakes wine region was named the best wine region in the country by USA Today’s 10 Best Reader’s Choice poll.
So why are more people recognizing the Finger Lakes as a top wine destination?
In addition to the fantastic wines like Riesling, Chardonnay, or Cabernet Franc, wineries in the region have cozy, approachable tasting rooms open year-round. Local wineries offer an affordable and casual wine tasting experience that appealto a range of palates. The wines vary so much by season and vineyard that they are sure to also please people with a more seasoned palate.
The best way to really see what the region has to offer is to step up to the tasting bar of a local winery. Tastings range from about $3 to $7 per person and give visitors the chance to sample several wines. A pour is typically about half ounce, and you’ll get around six samples at a tasting. One-on-one wine tastings with passionate staff give visitors the chance to ask questions, learn about the vineyard’s history and what conditions are like that season.
Though small, the tastings do add up. Make sure to plan aheadto have a car or designated driver. There are many tour and car companies in the Finger Lakes to put your mind at ease about transportation, or if you’d like a guided wine touring excursion. One of the best tour companies is Experience! The Finger Lakes, which offers customizable, guided tours of wineries on Keuka, Cayuga and Seneca Lakes. For more a comprehensive list of transportation companies, visit the Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance.
But don’t feel like a tour is necessary. It’s easy to explore wineries independently and at your own pace. The three major lakes all have wine trail organizations that offer detailed maps of different wineries. It’s important to note that there are more wineries than what are listed on the wine trail websites, though, as wineries must be members to be included. So, if you see a sign for a winery that looks interesting, check it out, even if it’s not on the map.
Let’s take a look at some of the best wineries lake by lake. Most of the wineries are close, so it’s easy to plan an easy day trip of wine touring from your cabin rentals or Finger Lakes vacation rentals.
Stunning scenery and historic wines along Keuka Lake Wine Trails.
The motto of this wine trail is “first in wine, first in beauty” and that’s not a stretch. The Y-shaped lake is considered the most scenic of the Finger Lakes.
Though wineries on this lake are more spread out than Seneca or Cayuga lakes, Keuka Lake is home to some incredible and historic wineries, including Dr. Konstantin Frank, a must-visit for anyone wanting to taste the wine that really put the region on the map.
Dr. Konstantin Frank, who was an immigrant from Ukraine in the 1950s to work at Cornell’s Geneva Experiment Station, saw similarities between New York’s landscape and Eastern European regions he previously worked. He is credited with igniting the “Vinifera Revolution” in New York.
The winemaker believed it was the lack of proper rootstock, not the cold climate, that made delicate Vitis Vinifera vines fail. Vitis Vinifera is just the classification for European varietals like Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and others. Today, the winery is still in the family and owned by father and daughter team, Fred Frank and Meaghan Frank, Dr. Frank’s grandson and great-granddaughter.
The grapes that are native to the region like Catawba and Niagara fall under the Vitis Labrusca category. But that’s enough science, let’s get back to the wine.
Another great vineyard, especially for people who love dry red wine – yes, the Finger Lakes can produce more than white wine – is McGregor Vineyard. The winery is known best for its Black Russian Red wine, a blend of Saperavi and Sereksiya Charni. It’s described as having aromas of “black currants, elderberry, ripe plum, and ripe red raspberries.”
During wine tastings, winery staff will sometimes offer descriptions like those to guide your palate. Different wine varieties often have characterizing aromas. For example, one of the most popular wines in the Finger Lakes is Riesling, which typically has strong aromas of orchard fruits like apple, pear, nectarine and maybe lime peel or honeycomb. It can be very sweet to puckeringly dry.
If you want to taste wine like an expert, check out this guide from Wine Folly. You can break down a wine by its appearance – color, opacity and viscosity or the “wine legs”, then move on to the smell and finally the taste. Most wineries also offer crackers on the tasting table. Those are to cleanse your palette between tastings (not just for snacking).
At the end of the day, though, you don’t need to identify every hint of fruit in the glass to enjoy wine. It’s all subjective. The beauty of wine touring, especially in the Finger Lakes, is that it gives you the opportunity to try new wines and just get immersed in atmosphere.
So, if you are taking off from your Keuka Lake vacation rental, or just exploring the area, here are some wineries you won’t want to miss.
5 Best Keuka Lake Wineries
- Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery, 9749 Middle Rd., Hammondsport, NY 14840.
- McGregor Vineyard, 5503 Dutch St., Dundee, NY 14837.
- Heron Hill Winery, 9301 Co Rd. 76, Hammondsport, NY 14840. This tasting room was named one of the ten most spectacular in the world by Travel + Leisuremagazine.
- Vineyard View Winery, which offers stunning scenic views, is located at 2971 Williams Hill Rd, Keuka Park, NY 14478.
- Weis Vineyards, situated in a former one-room school house and also offers fantastic wine, is located at 10014 Day Rd., Hammondsport, NY 14840.
Keuka Lake and other wine trails often host coordinated events like the Wine and Cheese Getawayin February, the Tapas and Wine Weekend in April, and Keuka in Bloomin May. Be sure to check the wine trail websites when you are planning a visit.
Download the brochure for Keuka Lake wineries here.
Must-Try Wines: Cool climate wines rule in the Finger Lakes, which is why you will see a lot of German varietals like Riesling and Gewurztraminer. You’ll find Rieslings offered in a range of sweetness, to super-sweet decadent Riesling ice wine or late-harvest wine to fruity semi-dry Riesling to sparkling, to extra tart, dry Riesling.
For something a little brighter, try a Gewurztraminer (ga-vertz-trah-mee-ner), which is described as smelling just like lychee. Other great white wines produced in the Finger Lakes include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Gris.
Good red wine can also be found in the Finger Lakes. Most wineries feature the medium-bodied and lightly peppery Cabernet Franc. You can also find Cabernet Sauvignon, Blaufrankisch, Merlot and even some great Pinot Noirs.
While out tasting, you may also hear about hardy French-American hybrids. They often turn into bold, fruit-forward reds like Baco Noir, Chancellor, and Frontenac. There are also some popular white French-American hybrid varieties like the crisp Cayuga White or fruity Vidal Blanc.
Must-see and sip wineries on Seneca Lake Wine Trail.
More than 30 wineries are nestled on the eastern and western sloping shores of the Finger Lakes’ largest lake.
When heading out from your Seneca Lake rental, it’s easy to hop between wineries, either by traveling along Route 14 on the west side or Route 414 on the eastern side. To travel from one end of the lake to the other, it takes about 40 minutes.
One of the region’s best wineries, Hermann J. Weimer, is located on the west side of Seneca Lake, NY. Hermann J. Weimer, who emigrated from Mosel, Germany, was another pioneer of winemaking in the region.
Their Rieslings are considered some of the best in the United States. In addition to producing great wine, they also focus on sustainable growing practices, opting not to use herbicides or pesticides. They also rely on indigenous yeasts for their fermentations.
There are so many wineries on Seneca Lake, it can be daunting to figure out which ones to squeeze in. But with the list below, you can’t go wrong. These include young, but rising stars like Boundary Breaks, and veterans like Hazlitt that have been producing wine since 1852.
- Hermann J. Weimer, 3962 NY-14, Dundee, NY 14837
- Ravines Wine Cellars, 400 Barracks Rd., Geneva, NY 14456.
- Fox Run Vineyards, 670 NY-14, Penn Yan, NY 14527.
- Anthony Road Wine Company, 1020 Anthony Rd., Penn Yan, NY 14527
- Glenora Wine Cellars, 5435 NY-14, Dundee, NY 14837
- Lakewood Vineyards, 4024 NY-14, Watkins Glen, NY 14891
- Atwater Estate Vineyards, 5055 NY-414, Burdett, NY 14818
- Boundary Breaks, 1568 Porter Covert Rd., Lodi, NY 14860
- Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards, 5712 NY-414, Hector, NY 14841
Beyond offering samples, some wineries give more in-depth tours of their facilities. At Wagner Vineyards Estate Wineryalong the popular east-side Route 414, visitors can join a free guided winery tour to see behind the scenes of the winemaking operation and viticultural practices. For any beer fans on your tour, Wagner Vineyards also has a brewery. In fact, it’s the home of Seneca Lake’s first craft brewery. If you are touring the west side of the lake, you can also get a full tour at Glenora Wine Cellars. These tours do require advance registration (call 800-243-5513) and are $10-$12.
For the Seneca Lake Wine Trail map, bookmark this page.
Lunch Tip: Though there are plenty of places to eat along the way — including some nationally recognized restaurants like F.L.X. Table in Geneva– packing a picnic is a great way to save time, money and just relax with stunning scenery. Most wineries have big decks or outdoor areas to lounge. So, a relaxing lunch option is to buy a bottle of wine after a tasting and enjoy it with a packed lunch. Local cheese and other snacks are usually available for purchase, too.
The best wineries along America’s First Official Wine Trail
The Cayuga Lake Wine Trail is considered America’s First Wine Trail. This trail is easy to explore in a day, as almost all of the wineries are on the western side of the lake.
If you want to begin at the north end of the lake, Montezuma Winery is a great place to start. Easlit accessible to many Cayuga Lake cabins or Cayuga Lake vacation rentals. They offer some great wines, but also some interesting fruit wines and like blueberry, rhubarb and their popular cranberry wine. For bird and nature lovers. Nearby, the Montezuma National Wildlife Refugeis a sanctuary for migratory birds and other wildlife.
We recommend heading south down Route 89, which hugs the lake and offers some impressive views that you won’t see from the parallel Route 96. Even if it looks like a winery is situated closer to Route 96, there are access roads and signage to get you there from Route 89.
It’s hard to go wrong with the wineries on Cayuga Lake, but if you want our top five try these.
Top 5 Wineries Worth a Visit on Cayuga Lake Wine Trail
- Knapp Winery, 2770 Ernsberger Rd., Romulus, NY 14541
- Toro Run Winery, 3050 Swick Rd., Ovid, NY 14521
- Thirsty Owl Winery, 6799 Elm Beach Rd., Ovid, NY 14521
- Lucas Vineyards, the oldest winery on the lake, 3862 County Rd 150, Interlaken, NY 14847
- Americana Vineyards, 4367 E. Covert Rd., Interlaken, NY 14847
As an interesting side note, the climate on Cayuga Lake is different than the other lakes. It’s a great example of how the lakes create microclimates. The combination of elevation and steep slopes help extend the growing season by about three weeks longer than other areas of the Finger Lakes, NY.
Ithaca, NY, which rests on the southern end of Cayuga Lake, is a great place to end a day of wine touring. There are dozens of restaurants, great art galleries, theaters, museums and other activities for all ages.
For a map of wineries along the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail, bookmark this map.
Pet Perks: Not many tourists realize how dog-friendly many wineries in the Finger Lakes are. You’ll find dogs wandering vineyards or hanging out in the tasting room. If you want to bring your well-mannered pup along, it’s very possible to plan a day of visiting dog-friendly wineries.
One of the most dog friendly is Americana Vineyards, which hosts an annual event called “Woofstock”. Plan for a full day of music and wine tasting that doubles as a fundraiser for a local animal shelter. Looking for Pet friendly vacation rentals, click here.
Visiting the Finger Lakes wine trails is very much a pick-your-own adventure experience. The lakes are close enough that you can visit a couple wineries on Keuka Lake and a couple on Seneca Lake easily in a day, with plenty of time for a nice dinner in the evening or even a stop to see the incredible waterfalls along the gorge trail of Watkins Glen State Park.
No matter where you visit in the region, you can find delicious local wine, food and breathtaking landscapes. There is so much to see, you certainly won’t want to visit just once.
Many of our Keuka Lake vacation rentals, Cayuga Lake vacation rentals or Seneca Lake Vacation rentals are located along many of the wine trails. Our vacation rental owners are area experts and waiting to help you plan your perfect Finger Lakes vacation.
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