by Michael Warren Thomas
The seductive pull of the Finger Lakes wine region beckons in all seasons, and the wineries are close enough that it only takes a few hours to get a taste of what the world is talking about. Casa Larga Vineyards in Fairport is the closest, and just won Best Dessert Wine at the Florida International Wine Competition. The March 2007 National Geographic Traveler paid compliment to the Finger Lakes’ “long vistas of blue water” and “wines that stand alongside California’s best.” The Finger Lakes have been featured on the cover of the Wine Spectator and in numerous trade magazines and wine books. The world is just beginning to discover the Finger Lakes, and the next decade will bring growth and big business to the region.
For now, the wineries are family-owned and -operated businesses, where visitors will meet two and sometimes three generations of grape growers and winemakers. In Napa and even Long Island, many of the wineries have been purchased by corporations as investments, but the Finger Lakes remains a close-knit community of small-scale wine producers. For links to the wineries and events in the Finger Lakes, visit www.NewYorkWines.org and www.FingerLakesWineGazette.com. The Finger Lakes Wine Festival in Watkins Glen is the best opportunity all year to taste the wines of the region in one place. This year it will take place July 20-22, with roughly 70 wineries attending.
Starting in the western Finger Lakes, there are several new --- and one really old --- wineries in the Little Finger Lakes (Honeoye, Conesus, and Hemlock lakes). Eaglecrest Winery was started on Hemlock Lake’s west side in 1872 by Bishop Bernard McQuaid, to produce sacramental wine for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester. Now 135 years later, it still produces sacramental wine as well as a new line of table wines.
On the west side of Conesus Lake, Deer Run Winery was opened several years ago by Joan and George Kuyon. The disadvantage of the Little Finger Lakes is their shallow water, which does not protect the surrounding hillsides like the exceptionally deep larger Finger Lakes (for comparison Seneca Lake is 630 feet deep; Conesus Lake is 65 feet deep.). Deer Run has planted hardier French-American grapes like Seyval, and several new experimental grapes from the Geneva Experimental Station. Some Rochester Public Market patrons may remember Arbordale Winery, which offered samplings and sales last year. It will build a tasting room on the east side of Conesus Lake in 2007.
To experience one of the scenic wonders of the Finger Lakes, take County Route 12 over the hill to Naples. This short road begins south of Bristol Mountain, near the junction of routes 64 and 21, where the Arbor Hill Grapery and Winery is located. The Brahm family continues to plant and make wine with heirloom varieties of grapes like Vergennes and Isabella, as well as new varieties such as Traminette. Next to Arbor Hill is one of the newest Finger Lakes restaurants, The Brown Hound Bistro, which carries an astounding 35 to 40 Finger Lakes wines in its 18-seat restaurant.
The Violet Barn is located on County Route 12 and worth a visit; it’s one of the preeminent growers of African Violets in the United States. The road through Naples is one of the best routes to Keuka Lake’s west side wineries and Hammondsport. Widmer Wine Cellars is located in Naples, and offers tours on a daily basis. Head south on Route 53 to Prattsburg, and then get out a map because the turns are not well marked, although there are small signs for Heron Hill.
Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars, Hunt Country Vineyards, Bully Hill and Heron Hill wineries are in close proximity, and the Village Tavern in Hammondsport features hundreds of Finger Lakes wines and wonderful food. The Glen Curtiss Museum in Hammondsport is a fascinating place to visit, and Chateau Renaissance Winery nearby produces one of the only dandelion wines in the region, as well as many other grape wines.
The east sideof Keuka Lake has some interesting newer wineries like Ravines Wine Cellars and Rooster Hill, as well as long time favorites Keuka Spring (which recently built a new tasting room on the hill) and McGregor Vineyards, famous for its Black Russian wine. A visit to the east side wineries should include a stop at Esperanza Mansion on the north end of Keuka Lake, which has one of the best views in the state.
Although Keuka Lake was the wine capital of the Finger Lakes for more than 100 years (in 1860 the Pleasant Valley Wine Company was the first bonded United States winery), Seneca Lake has grown from zero wineries in the early 1970s to 52 licensed wineries in 2007. There are also at least four future wineries that are planting grapes and preparing to build tasting rooms.
On the east side of Seneca Lake, most of the wineries are clustered midway down the exceptionally long lake, but the north end has one new winery, Ventosa Vineyards, and several other new wineries under development. Ventosa is almost across Route 96A from the Rose Hill Mansion, a Geneva Historical Society property.
It appears to be a trend that the most interesting Finger Lakes restaurants are locating at or near the wineries rather than in the towns at the north and south ends of the lakes. On the west side of Seneca Lake, the restaurants include Veraisonsat Glenora, The Café at Fox Run, Madderlake Café, Ports Café, Edgar’s at Belhurst and Geneva-on-the-Lake. On the east side of Seneca are Suzanne Fine Regional Cuisine, Red Newt Bistro, Dano’s Heuriger (Austrian), Stonecat Café, and the Ginny Lee Café at Wagner Vineyards.
On Cayuga Lake, Samantha Izzo has continued this trend by moving her Simply Red Bistro in Trumansburg to Sheldrake Point Winery. On the east side of Cayuga, the Aurora Inn has excellent food in a beautifully renovated building from 1833. Although there are only two wineries on the east side of Cayuga Lake, Treleaven Winery and Long Point, these both produce excellent wine and gardeners might appreciate visiting Baker’s Acres.