Recently, I traveled to Finger Lakes wine country for the first time. In two days, I visited 11 wineries and restaurants in the Keuka and Seneca Lake areas, all of which I highly recommend. Below are my first impressions of the people, the countryside, the food, and the wine, so you know what to expect when you plan your weekend getaway.
How To Get There
Finger Lakes wine country is a five-hour drive from most major cities in the Northeast United States. The closest airports are Ithica Tompkins Regional Airport (ITH) and Elmira Corning Regional Airport (ELM). I flew into Elmira-Corning and stayed 2 minutes (1.09 miles) from the airport at Candlewood Suites Elmira-Horseheads so I could be close to the airport on my departure day. It was about a 45-minute drive to Keuka and Seneca Lakes. If you prefer to fly into a larger airport, Greater Rochester International Airport (ROC) and Syracuse Hancock International Airport (SYR) are within an hour to an hour and a half away, but I prefer the ease of a small, regional airport.
Everyone I encountered in the Finger Lakes was friendly, gracious, hospitable, and kind. The wineries and their staff went well out of their way to make sure I had a wonderful wine and food experience. Most of the wineries are open for walk-in tastings, but I connected with the CEO and President of the Finger Lakes Wine Country Tourism Marketing Association, and she assisted me by making winery and meal reservations for a more personalized experience.
The region is one of the most beautiful in the United States. The first time I looked across Keuka Lake from atop one of the steep banks above it near Heron Hill, it took my breath away. Even the chilly, gray weather did not spoil the beauty. I imagined how amazing the view would be during spring, summer, autumn, and blanketed with a winter snowfall. The Finger Lakes region is a gorgeous weekend destination regardless of the season.
Wineries and their affiliated restaurants, such as Bully Hill Restaurant, Veraisons at the Inn at Glenora Wine Cellars, and Red Newt Bistro, offer meals made from local food. Sheldrake Point has wine pairings with local cheeses and chocolate. The winemaker’s dinner I attended at Lamoreaux Landing also paired local dishes with their wines. The Finger Lakes region produces delicious meats, fresh fruits and vegetables, luscious cheeses, rich chocolates, and tasty breads. Local is the only way to eat when dining here.
The Finger Lakes region is primarily known for world-class Riesling in all styles: dry, semi-dry, semi-sweet, and late harvest. Riesling is a versatile grape and varies greatly due to climate variations, production differences, terroir, vineyard locations, and winemaker style and expression. The region also produces other red and white wines such as Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Grüner Veltliner, Lemberger, Merlot, Muscat, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, Rkatsiteli, Sauvignon Blanc, and Vitis Amurensis.
The wines run the gamut from dry reds to sweet dessert and ice wines. Many wineries publish the RS (residual sugar) content of their wines, as well as emphasize that they grow vinifera (European grape varieties), not just created hybrids or native American varieties, like Red Cat (Red Catawba) and Niagara. Perhaps this is because the Finger Lakes region is still trying to shake the public perception of only producing sweet wines from native American grapes and hybrids, as well as to ensure their customers know the styles of wine they produce. However, do not be deceived by what may appear to be higher RS, as the RS is balanced by the mouthwatering, food-friendly acidity.
Come and Stay Awhile
There are fewer lodging and dining options in the Finger Lakes region in comparison to more fully-developed wine regions in the United States. In the periphery, there are chain hotels and restaurants, but as you reach the heart of the region, you find only locally-owned bed and breakfast, inn, and restaurant choices. The next time I visit, I plan to stay at a bed and breakfast or a winery inn. Being away from the city or suburban life translates into a beautiful, undisturbed experience away from the hustle and bustle of real life. A weekend in the Finger Lakes is your opportunity to slow down the pace and enjoy nature, dining, and wine-tasting in a place that feels immediately like your home away from home.