At the risk of channeling Goldilocks, summer in Western New York can be too hot, winter too cold, and spring, while charming, a little too soggy. Autumn, however, is just right, a heady collision of beauty and bounty, especially in the Finger Lakes region. And it's arguably the best time to do that winery tour you meant to make time for at some point over the last few months yet never got around to planning.
Now, seasoned tasters know that you're not supposed to actually drink all those samples, instead finding a way to get the wine from your mouth to the spittoon in a classy fashion. Realistically, though, some of that liquid is headed down your throat, so you should probably eat something unless you plan on sleeping it off in the vineyard.
Fortunately, many Finger Lakes wineries also have restaurants on their acreage, the chefs taking creative advantage of the local products in both their literal and figurative backyards. What follows is by no means a comprehensive guide to these one-stop shops, but it's a start. Do you have your favorite local winery-based restaurant? Tell us about it in the comments section of this article at rochestercitynewspaper.com.
Oftentimes a Finger Lakes wine tour will begin and end on Route 414, which snakes along the eastern flank of Seneca Lake and is jam-packed with wineries; in one particularly concentrated stretch you'll come across such venerable names as Lamoreaux Landing, Sheldrake Point, Silver Thread, Standing Stone, Hazlitt 1852, and, just off the main drag, Red Newt Cellars, known as much for its excellent bistro as its highly rated wines. Current releases are sampled on a daily basis, and dinner is served at the bistro Thursday through Saturday, with a three-course menu offered nightly for $45. But Red Newt's Tasting Salon is both an efficient and indulgent way to experience what Finger Lakes food and wine can do in concert. A flight of four wines accompanies several small plates, the compositions evolving with the seasons and currently featuring a salad of roasted beets, bitter greens, red onion, mint, and verjus vinaigrette; ravioli stuffed with roasted zucchini, summer squash, chèvre, and cheddar; and a smoked-salmon spread as well as soup, brie, pickled vegetables, and bread. The Tasting Salon is offered daily noon-3 p.m., and at just $25 per person, reservations aren't a bad idea. (3675 Tichenor Road, Hector, 607-546-4100, rednewt.com)
Glenora Wine Cellars was the first winery on Seneca Lake, and today its highlights include a 30-room inn and the acclaimed restaurant Veraisons. The menu is both seasonal and regional whenever possible, with suppliers getting name-checked in the appetite-whetting descriptions of current dishes like grilled scarlet snapper served with pinto beans from Cayuga Pure Organics, as well as a house-rubbed ribeye accompanied by a barbecue sauce that's been spiked with McKenzie Bourbon from Finger Lakes Distilling. (5435 State Route 14, Dundee, 800-243-5513, glenora.com)
Founded by the feisty Walter S. Taylor, who famously blacked out his own surname on the wine labels after being prevented from using it by the Coca-Cola Company, Bully Hill Vineyards has long been one of the Finger Lakes' most popular destinations, and its seasonal menu reflects the Keuka Lake winery's unpretentious trappings. Meats smoked over locally harvested applewood, small plates, and entrées are available, and both vegetarian and gluten-free options are helpfully denoted. (8843 Greyton H. Taylor Memorial Drive, Hammondsport, 607-868-3610, bullyhillvineyards.com)
Castel Grisch, which is situated on the southwest side of Seneca Lake, was originally founded by a Swiss family, and the European influence is evident in its impressive roster of red, white, and ice wines, as well as its restaurant's predominantly German menu. You'll encounter old-world favorites like goulash, sauerbraten, and a number of schnitzels, all of which are showcased — along with wursts, strudels, and more — as part of the German buffet, offered at dinner on Fridays and Saturdays. (3380 County Road 28, Watkins Glen, 607-535-9614, castelgrisch.com)
On 150 acres alongside Cayuga Lake you'll find the Thirsty Owl Wine Company, a relatively young but award-winning winery with a bistro that offers an eclectic menu of locally sourced and seasonally available vittles. Small plates include curried cauliflower and Jamaican jerk pork belly, as well as burgers and other sandwiches, like a BLT starring house-smoked bacon. (6861 Route 89, Ovid, 866-869-5805, thirstyowl.com)
Built during the late 19th century in the Romanesque Revival style, stately Belhurst Castle overlooks Seneca Lake and boasts — in addition to overnight accommodations, a spa, and of course a winery — not one, but two restaurants. The upscale Edgar's offers steaks, seafood, and pasta, while the comparatively laid-back Stonecutter's (resist urge to make "Simpsons" joke here) has a tavern vibe, the menu showcasing fresh salads, inventive sandwiches, and other dishes to pair with wines from Belhurst and beyond. (4069 West Lake Road, Geneva, 315-781-0201, belhurst.com)
Cayuga Ridge Estate Winery can be found on the shores of — you guessed it — Cayuga Lake, where the Challen family specializes in white wines and, at The Copper Oven, wood-fired pizza from a three-ton oven lined with Provencal clay. Besides the pizzas and their locally sourced toppings, The Copper Oven also serves salads and desserts, along with cheese and charcuterie selections. (6800 Route 89, Ovid, 607-869-5158, cayugaridgewinery.com)
But maybe wine isn't really your thing. Sneak off from the group at Seneca Lake's Wagner Vineyards and instead do a tour and tasting at its sister outfit, Wagner Valley Brewing Company. Either way, the Ginny Lee Café has you covered, with pairings of both beer and wine recommended with its starters, soups, sandwiches, and salads. Even those abstaining from alcohol can still get some local flavor thanks to Wagner's housemade root beer and blush grape juice. (9322 State Route 414, Lodi, 866-924-6378, wagnervineyards.com)
Chow Hound is a food and restaurant news column. Do you have a tip? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.