A Complete Guide to the Finger Lakes Wine Country

A man and a woman sipping wine in Adirondack chairs on a wooden pier in a lake
Photo by Brian Dudla

Less than a five-hour drive northwest from Manhattan lie New York’s Finger Lakes, a bucolic wine region yet to be fully recognized.

An expansive yet accessible gem, more than 140 wineries are spread throughout the American Viticultural Area (AVA), though the majority are clustered around the stunning scenery of the Cayuga, Keuka and Seneca Lakes.

While the region’s laser-focused Rieslings have propelled it onto the world stage, there’s much more to discover, including breweries, cideries, eateries and a bevy of other roadside attractions.

Needless to say, a trip to the lakes can provide a daunting array of options. To streamline your visit, here are some can’t-miss essentials as you taste through each of the major Finger Lakes.

A man and four women tasting red wine at a long wooden table
Tasting at Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard / Photo by Brian Dudla

Seneca Lake

Just under 38 miles long, Seneca Lake is, in many ways, the anchor of the region. It boasts more than half of the area’s wineries and is peppered with countless food options that focus on local bounty.

Start at the top of the lake with the city of Geneva as your base. For your first adventure, drive down Route 14 to Red Tail Ridge Winery. The vineyard-lined approach to the tasting room will gear you up to sample the estate’s dazzling Rieslings and sparkling wines. Dabble in the unknown with cool-climate Italian reds made from grapes like Lagrein and Teroldego, which can be found in some of the winery’s sparkling bottlings as well.

Take a 12-minute drive south for a taste of tradition at Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard. Founded in 1979, the winery was among the first to put the Finger Lakes on the map with its immensely expressive Rieslings. The tasting experience in the converted rustic barn is intimate, so reserve your spot to best enjoy the single-vineyard selections.

Your Roadmap to the Hudson Valley Wine Scene

If a midday hike is in the cards, make your way to the south end of the lake and enjoy a short jaunt through the gorges at Watkins Glen State Park. Be sure to grab some picnic provisions at Glen Mountain Market Bakery & Deli, which serves up sandwiches, wraps and housemade pastries.

Journey up the east side of the lake to enjoy a plethora of noteworthy stops in the towns of Hector and Burdett. Atwater Estate Vineyards, Bloomer Creek Vineyard, Barry Family Cellars, Forge Cellars and Red Newt Cellars all offer unique glimpses into the effects of site, terroir and winemaking techniques. Need to refresh your palate with some beer? At Two Goats Brewing, you can enjoy some of the best lake views on its back deck, suds in hand.

End your Seneca Lake tour with two wineries in Lodi, about a 10-minute drive north from Hector. Open since 1979, Wagner Vineyards is a 250-acre estate winery that offers the full gamut of regional varieties: from native and hybrid grapes like Delaware and Cayuga to vinifera like Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Noir. A wide array of Rieslings are also available, that range from bone-dry to juicy sweet.

Airy wood-trimmed tasting room overlooking scenery
Lamoreaux Landing / Photo by Brian Dudla

A quick jump north brings you to the expansive view of Seneca Lake at Lamoreaux Landing’s tasting room. The well-informed staff is happy to guide you through their site-specific Rieslings. However, make sure you taste the T23 Unoaked Cabernet Franc for a fresh take on one of the major regional red grapes.

Be sure to devote some time to explore Geneva’s nightlife. A bevy of bars and restaurants populate this bustling little city, with a good concentration on Linden Street. Enjoy an aperitif and a small bite at Microclimate Wine Bar, where you can taste flights of wines from across the Finger Lakes.

For dinner, try to snag a spot at F.L.X. Table. This 14-seat restaurant hosts guests at a communal table for an intimate, homey feel. Owner and master sommelier/chef Christopher Bates is behind the restaurant’s ever-changing seasonal array of dishes. If you’re looking for something a little more casual, pop down to F.L.X. Fry Bird, another brainchild of Bates, to feast on fried chicken sandwiches, collard greens and mac and cheese.

A barn-like space full of people
Two Goats Brewing / Photo by Allison Usavage

The vibe at Kindred Fare, off Hamilton Street, is rustic yet refined. With an eye towards seasonal, local produce, the menu emphasizes regional ingredients that are butchered, smoked, cured or baked on premise. The beverage program offers a procured selection of beer and cider, with a cocktail menu that spans from traditional to innovative. Regional offerings are front and center, yet Old World selections from France, Italy and beyond fill out the wine list.

Wind down the night with a drink in hand while you soak in the Finger Lake’s music scene at one of the area’s many local venues. For a speakeasy-feel, enjoy a craft cocktail at The Linden Social Club. For a rotating selection of beers, head to Lake Drum Brewing and revel in their vinyl collection. If you can’t decide on a drink to end the night, head to Kashong Creek. This catch-all venue boasts a unique menu, featuring housemade ciders, innovative cocktails and a selection of local wines, which can all be enjoyed while grooving to a heavy rotation of area musicians.

Where to stay

To enjoy the numerous locally focused restaurants and wine bars in Geneva, stay at Belhurst Castle. Built in the 1880s, this renovated stone castle offers Victorian-esque accommodations, with two restaurants and a spa. At the other end of the lake, the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel is situated right on the water’s edge. The views here let you take in the full expanse of Seneca Lake.

A wooden sign saying "Tasting Room"
Hosmer Winery / Photo by Brian Dudla

Cayuga Lake

With the college town of Ithaca at its hub, Cayuga offers a great mix of country and city life. Start midlake on the west side at Hosmer Winery. This 70-acre, family-run estate offers compelling Rieslings and Pinot Noirs not to be missed. For a quaint, lakeside tasting, stop by Sheldrake Point Winery to soak in the old farmhouse vibe and taste one of the few bottled Gamay Noirs in the region.

Get up to date on the cider scene at the Finger Lakes Cider House. The dry-style Kite & String selections made from local heirloom apples might render you a cider convert. Cast-iron grilled cheese and local delicacies are also available, while Sunday brunch serves up crêpes, frittatas and sweet potato hash.

Heading south, you’ll hit the quiet town of Trumansburg. Enjoy a jolt of caffeine from Ithaca-based coffee roaster Gimme! Coffee, or grab a scoop (or three) of ice cream at Cayuga Lake Creamery. Still hungry? Head to Hazelnut Kitchen for dinner to enjoy the seasonally rotating menu alongside area wines. If you plan ahead, you can attend one of the many winemaker dinners that often grace its schedule.

Interior of wine shop with a large Finger Lakes section
Red Feet Wine Market / Photo by Brian Dudla

Within Ithaca, stroll the wood-framed stalls at the Ithaca Farmers Market at Steamboat Landing, where the entire bounty of the Finger Lakes will sprawl out before you. Produce and local meat vendors abound, as well as an ample selection of artisan bakeries, local food vendors, wineries and cideries.

Check out Red Feet Wine Market & Spirit Provisions to stock up on regional wines you might have missed. The staff can recommend a bottle to pair with a meal at one of Ithaca’s BYOB restaurants like Saigon Kitchen or Hawi Ethiopian Cuisine.

Where to Stay

For the ultimate glamping experience, stay at Firelight Camps in Ithaca. Cozy up next to the fire pit and enjoy a selection of Finger Lakes wines, beers, ciders and spirits.

Lush vineyard sloped over a lake, farmland beyond
McGregor Vineyards / Photo by Brian Dudla

Keuka Lake

The approach to the area around this unique, Y-shaped lake can transport you to another time with its rustic, country charm. Start your day with a good breakfast at the Penn Yan Diner. First opened in 1925, this historic local dive serves up all the classics to help propel you through a jaunt around the lake.

About a 10-minute drive south of Penn Yan is Keuka Spring Vineyards. This small, family-run operation offers everything from crisp, dry rosé and delightfully floral Gewürztraminer to luscious, sweet and impeccably balanced ice wine. If hunger pangs arrive, head to Ravines Wine Cellars’ Tasting Room at Keuka Lake in Hammondsport, where you can enjoy some local cheese and charcuterie alongside a savory Cabernet Franc or traditional-method sparkler.

Man and woman holding wine, smiling at camera, on a wooden porch
Bill and Donna Hutches, owners of Pleasant Valley Inn / Photo courtesy of Pleasant Valley Inn

For a taste of the old country, visit McGregor Vineyard for its Black Russian Red. A blend of Saperavi and Sereksiya Charni, two grapes with origins from around the Black Sea, this is a unique, cool-climate red wine sourced from vines planted in 1980.

Open from June to September, The Terrace at 1886 is an outpost of Dr. Konstantin Frank that offers a chance to try the winery’s full lineup amid views of the bluffs that cascade into the lake. The building, which was constructed in 1886 and once housed a pre-Prohibition wine company, was purchased and renovated by the Frank family. Its fieldstone-lined cellar houses the winery’s méthode Champenoise wines, complete with riddling racks.

Where to Stay

Just outside the village of Hammondsport you’ll find the pink-hued, Victorian-style Pleasant Valley Inn. Enjoy the quaint vibe in one of its four available rooms. Bonus: You won’t have to travel far for a good meal. The pub offers rustic, homey fare, while formal dining rooms bring an upscale feel to the regionally inspired cuisine.

Published on June 10, 2019
Topics: Travel
About the Author
Alexander Peartree
Tasting Director

Reviews wines from Italy and New York.
Formerly working in the Finger Lakes wine region of upstate New York, Peartree's passion for terroir-expressive products, which spans from wine to cider and tea, is only rivaled by his love of canoeing and hiking. On top of enjoying wines from the region where his wine career began, he can often be caught drinking Old World selections from his central and southern Italian beats.
Email: apeartree@wineenthusiast.net



SUBSCRIBE TO
NEWSLETTERS
The latest wine reviews, trends and recipes plus special offers on wine storage and accessories