The Finger Lakes wine region is relatively young, as far as wine regions go. European vineyards are hundreds of years old, and in California, some wineries are about 100 years older. Lucas Vineyard was the first winery on Cayuga Lake in the Finger Lakes, about 45 minutes west of Syracuse, New York, established in 1974. So nearly 43 years later, the vineyard is still producing grape varietals and fun wines that appeal to the masses.
I typically try to visit the Finger Lakes region at least once a year. The Cayuga Wine Trail is a common destination due to the proximity to me, but we’ve visited Seneca Lake wineries over the past few years, as well. One trend I have noticed as of late is the trend toward developing more red wine, as well as rose wine made from red grapes, such as Cabernet Franc. It is a bit surprising to me that the region’s winemakers are turning to red more often because, in my opinion, the reds just are not as good. I believe white grapes grow much better in the area.
For example, the Cayuga White grape is a great staple grape. I turn to it often when looking for a wine to go with dinner. It’s an easy-drinking wine that compliments many different foods. I also believe Riesling is a winner for this region. Upstate New York is a lot like Germany in terms of its climate and land. Some vineyards have capitalized on this similarity, such as Hermann Wiemer, one of my favorites on the Seneca Lake trail.
If you are looking to explore the Finger Lakes Wine region during the month of May or anytime this summer, here are my top three pieces of advice:
- Get a trail map and then veer off the path. Many wineries choose not to participate as members of the official trails along the individual lakes. But, this does not make them any less enjoyable to visit. Try a few that are not on the brochure. You won’t be disappointed. For example, check out Lakeshore Winery on Cayuga Lake. There are dogs, chocolate and rocking chairs. You can’t go wrong!
- Plan to stop for a nice lunch in the middle of your day. Each trail has a variety of restaurants, including many located at the wineries themselves. But, there are other places to stop along the way, including the FLX Weinery on Seneca Lake. Yes, you read that right! It sells a variety of hot dogs, bratwursts and sausages! Not only can you try something new but you also get a much-needed break from all the tastings!
- Make it a weekend. If you can, make a longer trip out of your exploration. Book a room at one of the many bed and breakfasts along the lakes, and add a few other activities to your trip. There are many hiking trails, museums and other fun things to do throughout the region.
- BONUS TIP: Establish a budget for purchasing wines and stick to it! Sometimes, my husband and I decide we will only choose up to two bottles per winery. This helps avoid you going overboard, especially as you get caught up in the wonder of the wines!
Most of all, remember to learn all you can about the wines in the region. You can learn much from the winemakers, salespersons and managers at the vineyards. Ask questions and make notes on the tasting sheets. It will help you later as you stare at the Finger Lakes wine on the local store shelf, wondering what to purchase! Cheers!