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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

A Weekend in New York’s Wine Country

Stunning Finger Lake views make a long weekend in Seneca a unique wine-tasting getaway. Here’s where to go.

When we hear “wine country,” California springs to mind for most of us. But New York—and especially the wine-soaked Finger Lakes region—is nipping at California’s heels. 

For decades, few were aware that some of the most captivating cool-climate wines in the world were emerging from 144 wineries surrounding some of the deepest freshwater lakes in the country. Objectively speaking—considering the quality of the wine being made there, and the fact that around 25 percent of the US population lives within a five-hour drive of the region—that’s nuts. 

©Brittany Gibson

Thankfully, that’s changed. These days, the popular Finger Lakes (FLX) wine region offers critically acclaimed wineries, a setting defined by 11 slender finger-like lakes, a panoply of charming towns sprinkled with stylish, reasonably priced inns, and seasonally-minded restaurants. If you don’t know where to start, you’re not alone. This slice of wine country is huge—4,000 square miles—so picking a focus is important. We’ve chosen Seneca for our itinerary, which features an official wine trail with 27 member wineries. (Don’t drive tipsy—affordable car service options include FLX Best Wine Tours and FLX Car Service.) The stunning 618-feet deep Seneca Lake creates a unique microclimate that protects the 3,700 acres of vines surrounding it from the extremes of winter cold and summer heat. Cool climate wine grapes like Riesling and Cabernet Franc thrive here, developing deep aromas and complexity. 


DAY 1
Start at the 23-acre Ventosa Vineyards (3440 NY-96A, Geneva) for a taste of Tuscany in upstate New York—be sure to book Ventosa and all of your tastings ahead of time for a smooth trip. This winery is beloved for its take on estate-grown dry reds such as Cabernet Franc and Sangiovese. Make sure to also try the opulent Tocai Friulano, an Italian varietal with notes of green apples, tangerine and cream. 

The Cabernet Franc—cranberries, granite, white pepper—is ideal for pairing with the in-house Café’s rightfully famous house-made pizza. The Genovese (house-made pesto, red onion, roasted red peppers, house-made mozzarella and roasted grape tomatoes) is the sleeper you don’t want to miss. 

Next, head to Anthony Road Wine Company (1020 Anthony Road, Penn Yan), one of the family-run, small-but-mighty operations that defined the ascent of the region as a whole. Don’t miss the iconic Dry Riesling, with notes of honeydew melon, lemons, peaches and honeysuckle.

Before the food and wine sets you adrift, pull into the Inn at Glenora Wine Cellars (5435 NY-14, Dundee). It’s country chic, with views of vineyards and Seneca Lake from every room. All rooms also offer a private patio or balcony, and many have whirlpool tubs and fireplaces that are best enjoyed with a glass of one of Glenora’s wines. For my soak, I sipped the Methode Champenoise Blanc de Blancs, which evoked crisp bright yellow apples and lemon rind. 

Sapalta

For dinner, head over to Sapalta (3482 Plum Point Road South, Himrod). The food is truly farm to table, with a wine list to match, featuring a Who’s Who of Finger Lakes wineries. The menu does rotate with the seasons, but the charcuterie game is strong year round. 


A harvest crew at Lakewood Vineyards

DAY 2
Prime your palate at Tabora Farm and Winery (4978 Lakemont-Himrod Road, Dundee), New York’s very own slice of South Africa. Founded by Jane and the late Roger Eatherton, the architecture of the winery and farm buildings are meant to evoke Jane’s childhood home in Cape Town. It’s more, as the name implies, than a winery: You’ll find great wine, but also a deli (for lunch, call over from the tasting room for a decadent takeout sandwich), bakery and market, alongside 250 acres of vines and fruit orchards. In season, you can even taste the vitis vinifera; don’t miss the hybrids, like the Dechaunac with its garnet hue and flavors of cassis, blood orange and forest.

Now head over to Lakewood Vineyards (4024 NY-14, Watkins Glen), a third-generation, solar-powered winery perched on the west side of Seneca Lake. Try the Vineyard Hike & Tasting, which gets you out into the 80 acres of vineyards; look out for the oak fermented and aged Chardonnay, which is balanced and fresh while also offering lush, cream-kissed flavors. 

Fox Run Vineyards

After stopping to shop in Geneva, meander over to Fox Run Vineyards (670 NY-14, Penn Yan), which is perched on the west side of Seneca Lake. Taste, eat and relax at the winery’s Café, which closes up shop at 5pm. My recommendation? Bison tacos and the medium-bodied Cabernet Franc, or the Brillante Riesling, which is pure delicious fun. 

Time for dinner. F.L.X. Wienery (5090 NY-14, Dundee) is a passion project from Christopher Bates and Isabel Bogadtke, and it shows. It is a carnivore’s paradise, with house-made brats, chorizo and Italian sausages. (A wonderful whole roasted carrot dog is there for veggie-lovers). 


DAY 3
Start the day at Wagner Vineyards (9322 NY-414, Lodi), the first winery to open on the lake’s east side, in 1979. With 250 acres, the fifth-generation, estate-grown, solar-powered winery has more than 30 wines to choose from—not to mention an on-site brewery, multiple tasting rooms and experiences (wine geeks should try the Library Wine Tastings to learn more about how wines evolve over time) and restaurant. Don’t miss the iconic Riesling Caywood East, perfect for pairing with food at the Ginny Lee Café—it’s bone dry with hints of lemon, lime, green apples and slate. 

From there, head to the southeastern tip of Seneca Lake for the family-owned, 80-acre Atwater Vineyards (5055 NY-414, Burdett). A blend of classic European and American hybrids thrive here, with plenty to taste for Old World and adventurous palates. If you’re game for a journey but still love the classics, try the Riesling Pet-Nat. It’s deliciously alive and funky with off-dry bubbles that exude golden delicious apples and cantaloupe. 

Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars

Your final formal taste of the lake will happen at Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars (9224 NY-414, Lodi), another winery that has found fame outside of the FLX. The 119 acres of vineyards are meticulously farmed, with a focus on deriving particular expressions from 20 different blocks of vines. The most deliriously acclaimed wine is the Round Rock Vineyard Riesling: off-dry, vibrant but delicate, with hints of sun-warmed pears, fresh-picked peaches, limestone and honeysuckle. 

For so long, the Finger Lakes was a region beloved by winemakers and a small band of in-the-know critics and wine lovers. The secret’s out. Get there now, while it still feels—and is priced—like the under-the-radar gem it once was.          

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