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The Finger Lakes are a collection of 11 lakes in Central New York. Of the 11 lakes, Cayuga and Seneca have made the biggest impression on the New York State wine and culinary scene. While the Finger Lakes are admittedly a farther trek than the Catskills from NYC, those who make the four-hour drive will be well rewarded with award-winning wine, boutique inns, and farm-to-table dining. In the wintertime, removed from the ski mountains, the Finger Lakes make for a romantic escape perfect for an anniversary celebration or a couples’ trip with close friends. Summertime brings festivals to the Finger Lakes, arguably in celebration of the student population clearing out of the area for three months. Warm weather in this part of New York is all about Rieslings enjoyed on vineyard patios, al fresco dining with lake views, and waterfall hikes.
Regardless of the season, first-time visitors to the Finger Lakes Wine Trail will find that there’s plenty to do, even for the less enthusiastic wine drinkers. Some of the wineries offer local craft beer, or are adjacent to award-winning distilleries. And the fact that the area is home to beautifully remodeled historic inns and terrific dining options doesn’t hurt. Here, your guide to the perfect Finger Lakes wine tour, from which award-winning wineries to visit, to where to eat and stay for the weekend.
The Must-Visit Finger Lakes Wineries
For the award-winning Rieslings that have become synonymous with the Finger Lakes, start at the widely known Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard on Seneca Lake. Credited with helping pioneer the wine movement in the Finger Lakes, Hermann J. Wiemer emigrated from Germany, where he’d taken part in his mother’s 300-year-strong family wine-making operation. On the west side of Seneca Lake, the winery and tasting room were designed by Cornell architects in the early ‘80s. Wiemer today produces 17,000 cases of wine per year—be sure to try their Reserve Dry Riesling.
Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars offers sweeping views of Seneca Lake from the lake’s east side. Their 2017 Vineyard Oak Riesling and 2017 Gewurztraminer (another popular varietal in the Finger Lakes) both scored 90 points in Wine Enthusiast.
On 150 acres overlooking Cayuga Lake, Thirsty Owl Wine Company has won the Governor's Cup and the John Rose award for their Rieslings. They are one of the only Malbec and Syrah producers in the greater Finger Lakes area, and recently their Pinot Noir was named the “highest rated North American Pinot at the Tasters Guild International competition.” You can also arrive at Thirsty Owl by boat—they have a 14-slip dock, so you can cruise Cayuga Lake and then pull up for a tasting (fair warning, it’s an uphill walk from the dock to the winery).
Also accessible by boat on Cayuga Lake is Sheldrake Point Winery. Right on the water (no uphill walk required), Sheldrake has eight slips for boats and produces 8,500 cases of estate-grown wine each year. They’ve been “twice named New York State Winery of the Year” and are known for their ice wines, for those who enjoy a delicately sweet wine.
Where to Eat on Your Finger Lakes Wine Tour
One of the best brunches on Cayuga Lake is at Americana Vineyards’ Crystal Lake Cafe. Crystal Lake Cafe uses local ingredients and Americana wines in its delicious, seasonal menu. From their hand-packed burgers (the lamb burger is a favorite) and in-house slow roasted pork to their brownies made with Americana’s dessert wine, you’re in for rustic, well-made comfort food at Americana. In addition to tasting Americana’s award-winning wines while on the premises, you can try local Bacchus Brewing Company beer on tap. For other culinary favorites on Cayuga Lake, head to Hazelnut Kitchen for farm-to-table dining or Pumpkin Hill Bistro on your way back to the Inns of Aurora.
F.L.X. Table is one of the coveted reservations in the Finger Lakes. Near Seneca Lake, the 14-seat restaurant concept is by chef and sommelier Christopher Bates. The Geneva, New York restaurant is by reservation only—reservations open six months in advance and go quickly. If you can’t get a reservation, be sure to visit Two Goats Brewing on Seneca Lake instead. A local favorite for foodies and those working in the beverage industry, Two Goats has one of the best views of Seneca Lake and is the place to be in the summer.
Where to Stay
For the perfect Finger Lakes wine tour, book Zabriskie House, the newest boutique at luxe, lakeside resort, Inns of Aurora. Inns of Aurora is a collection of high-end accommodations that also has a wellness center and demonstration kitchen on property. Zabriskie House, which opened its doors at the beginning of January 2020, is a lovingly restored early 1900s family home. It now features high-concept design, tasteful art and antiques, and 11 stunning guestrooms.