One of the things that I have grown to love over my years of travel is good food and good wine. In fact, I fancy myself a bit of a tour guide when it comes to wineries, particularly in our local area. One of the first things Mrs. ROB and I did when she came to visit me when we first started dating was doing some wine tasting. Apparently, no one had ever taken her before. So I instantly scored some kudo points.
Since that time one of our favorite things to do is going to different wineries and breweries in our area. Not only do I enjoy consuming an alcoholic beverage or two, but I love the social aspect of going to a winery or a brewery and of course trying different things. When people come to our little neck of the woods I try to get them to partake in our local Coastal Wine Trail. Believe it or not the wineries and the wine they make are pretty good.
However, I have noticed over the years that the tastings for these wineries have steadily risen. Some places will charge $15 for a single tasting. I remember when it was $5. So while I love going to some of these local wineries we don’t go as often because of the increase in cost.
Yet there is one place that is near and dear to my heart that still offers some great value and fantastic wineries. Where is this place you might ask? California? The Willamette Valley? Alaska? (every state in the union now has a winery of some sort). Nope.
Where are the Finger Lakes?
The Finger Lakes region of upstate New York is about 4 1/2 hours from New York City and about 6 hours from Boston. It is about an hour west of Syracuse.
The Finger Lakes are a series of lakes that look like fingers on a map (hence the name). They also happen to be great areas for water sports, fishing, and the like. However, what makes it a great wine area is the micro climate of the lakes that makes it an ideal place for growing grapes, particularly some white wine varietals. The Finger Lakes are known for their Riesling and Gewurztraminer, but you can get a whole host of red and white wine varietals in the area.
What also makes the Finger Lakes region awesome, for me at least, is the various historical sites in the area. So if you want to go check out the Seneca Falls Convention Historical Site–one of the first women rights conventions in America to be held. The Revolutionary War battlefield of Saratoga isn’t far by. And the Finger Lakes are home to a number of colleges and universities including Cornell University, Ithaca College, Hobart and William Smith, as well as others.
Of course, the biggest attraction for me are the wineries.
I first started going to the Finger Lakes, I think, in 2008 with my ex-wife. And we had an excellent time trying the different wineries in the area.
There are three major lakes in the Finger Lakes, at least for wine trails. There is Cayuga, Seneca, and Keuka. Keuka is the smallest lake and has the smallest number of wineries surrounding it. Cayuga and Seneca has a few dozen wineries that surround the lake. One trip I remember doing 30 wineries in 3 days (no I do not recommend doing that many, but we drank a LOT of wine and had a LOT of fun).
Why Do I Love the Finger Lakes Wineries?
First, I love the variety of wine that was produced. I fully admit I was not a white wine fan before I went to the Finger Lakes and I was totally transformed in the various tastings that I received.
Second, the wine tastings are CHEAP! Remember, when I mentioned that a wine tasting I experienced around my neck of the woods was $15. Well, most of the wineries in that area the tastings are $5 and UNDER! We went to a number of wineries (and I have been to the Finger Lakes over 1/2 dozen times now since 2008/09) that were $2. That is $2 for basically a full glass of wine and/or more by the time you taste all of the wine. That is often cheaper than getting a full bottle of wine. Of course, you have to pace yourself and I do not encourage you to just go and get drunk. Wine tasting is an awesome experience and can be an inexpensive way to spend a weekend if you do it right.
Third, the events they put on are top notch. There is probably at least one or two events that one of the wine trails puts on per month. There is always something to do concerning the wineries. And you never get bored.
Fourth, I find the atmosphere totally relaxed. There are some wineries and/or wine experiences that can leave a bad taste in your mouth. I have had the good fortune to visit a number of wine producing areas in America (still need to get to the Columbia and Willamette River Valleys in Washington and Oregon…but you are on my list). The tasting room staff can be pretentious and the people who visit think of themselves, at least it seems sometimes, as better than others. I have never felt that way in the Finger Lakes. I cannot say that I am a wine connoisseur or anything. I know enough just to be dangerous and I usually pick a pretty good bottle of wine, but I am no expert. Whenever I have questions the staff have always been courteous, knowledgeable and just down to earth. I have not had one bad experience at any winery in the Finger Lakes and I have visited probably at least 65 to 70, sometimes multiple times.
Finally, you can get some really good deals on wine. I will often be able to be buy wines from these wineries at less than $10 a bottle. Yes, you can find a number of good wines at your local liquor store for under $10. But I like to support local businesses and get it straight from the horse’s mouth. So buying wine from the actual winery is important for me. One of my favorites is the Port at Lakewood Vineyards. I don’t know what it is but I love their port. It is one of my favorites. Most of the time port wines are over $20 and possibly $30. Their port is $16. Last time I bought a bottle it was $14 and I should’ve bought more. Highly recommend it if you like good ports (and no they are not paying me for this).
Recommendations for Visiting the Finger Lakes
If you are going to visit the Finger Lakes I highly recommend that you focus on one lake at a time and you might only want to focus on one side or the lower or upper portion of the lake. I mean there are over 30 wineries surrounding Seneca Lake itself. There is NO way you could get to all of them in a weekend. This is a multiple trip experience.
My recommendation is to base yourself in perhaps one of the towns like Geneva, Ithaca, or Watkins Glen. And then map out where you want to go. You probably want to take one lake at a time. I wouldn’t recommend trying to go to wineries at Seneca and the Cayuga, particularly in one day. The distance is too much and you don’t get as much winery time.
So give yourself a home base and then you can actually pay a service that will take you to different wineries that way you won’t drink and drive.
Maybe you combine your wine experience with some of the local breweries or distilleries.
The Bottom Line: If you are in the Northeast/New England area or are looking for a trip and enjoy good food and wine I highly recommend checking out the wineries in the area. They are fantastic and give a great financial value for the experience you have.