The Finger Lakes region of New York is a vast area composed of eleven Lakes, hundreds of wineries, dozens of hiking trails and countless vistas. To do it justice in a week, let alone a weekend, is impossible. To take it all in you need months, not days. Knowing this, I decided to concentrate on just a few sights and took in four wineries on three Lakes, two waterfalls and the gorge in Watkins Glen.
As is my custom when visiting the Finger Lakes, I started my day with a morning walk in the gorge in Watkins Glen State Park. Glen Creek has been cutting through the horizontal layers of shale and sandstone over the past 10,000 years, creating a 400 foot gorge with scalloped walls and spectacular waterfalls. There are three major paths in the gorge. I choose the Gorge Trail. I crossed over the Suspension Bridge and casually strolled past the Glen Cathedral and Central Cascade, under the Rainbow Falls and past the Spiral Gorge. The water level was well above average for July and the cascade and waterfall were spectacular. I love walking the gorge in the morning, when the air is cool and the crowds are thin. I then crossed the Mile Point Bridge and walked back to Seneca Lodge (where I was staying) via the South Rim Trail through the Forest. Feeling rejuvenated, revived and relaxed after my tranquil sojourn with nature, I was ready for some wine.
So I headed over to Keuka Lake, where I visited Dr. Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars and McGregor Vineyards. Dr Frank was founded over 50 years ago by Dr. Konstantin Frank, one of the pioneers of the region and responsible for helping move the Finger Lakes from the American hybrids and native labruscas that they had been growing to vinifera grapes. Having tasted many of the still wines at NY Drinks NY in March, I decided to concentrate this tasting on the sparkling wines from Chateau Frank, a producer of “methode champenoise” sparkling wines which was created by Konstantin’s son Willy in the late 1980’s. First up was the 2010 Brut Rose. Very festive. And a perfect “Let’s Get This Party Started” wine. I then compared the 2008 Brut, (a classic methode champenoise sparkling wine made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) with the Celebre (a fruity Crémant style sparkling wine made from 100% Riesling with arromas of apple and honey). Both were excellent.
McGregor continued what Dr. Frank had started and also planted vinifera grapes in the early 1970’s. In addition to Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir, McGregor also planted the rarer grapes Sereksiya Charni, Saperavi Rkatsiteli and Sereksiya Rosé. After a tasting of the 2013 Rkatsiteli-Sereksiya blend (a wine reminiscent of a Sauvignon Blanc), I then had what for me is the highlight of any tasting at McGregor: A comparison of whatever Black Russians they have available. The Black Russian is a red blend from Saperavi & Sereksiya Charni grapes. I was able to taste the 2010 and 2011. I preferred the earlier vintage, which had a smoky earthiness to it, but ended up buying both as I had the feeling I would like the 2011 better if a few years. Such is the way with wine!
The next Lake on my itinerary was Cayuga Lake. There I visited Taughannock Falls State Park and Americana Vineyards. The falls at Taughannock are 215 feet and are the highest waterfall in the northeastern United States. And because of the high water level the view of the falls was absolutely breathtaking. Just down the road on Route 89 is Americana Vineyards, which opened their doors in 1981 and was one of the founding members of the Cayuga Lake Wine trail. Their tasting room is in a functioning swing barn that was built in the 1820s, which was rescued from demolition, dismantled and rebuilt at the winery. If you’re lucky, you will greeted by one of their chocolate labs. It was a hot July day and the dogs were sleeping in the shade near the vineyard. I started with the Pinot Gris, which was like biting into a crisp and somewhat tart apple. Next up were the Baco Noir (a medium-bodied red wine with of dark cherries) and then one of my perennial favorites, their Cabernet Franc.
The final lake on my weekend itinerary was Seneca Lake, the deepest of the eleven Finger Lakes. Lamoreaux Landing was founded in 1992 by Mark Wagner, cousin of the Wagner Family who have been in the grape business for generations. The first thing you notice about a visit to Lamoreaux is the soaring Greek revival building that opened in 1992 and offers unparalleled views of Seneca Lake. On a clear day you can see all the way to Geneva (New York, not Switzerland), which is about 25 miles away. On this day, our view was limited by the July haze. Kevin, who was pouring wines in the tasting room that day, started us out with a tasting of Rieslings from three different vineyards: Round Rock, Red Oak and Yellow Dog. Next was a comparison of Cabernet Francs: The T23 (which is fermented in stainless steel) and the 2011 (which is fermented in traditional oak.) I thought the T23 was sensational and brought two bottles home with me. One to drink now and one to add to a future blind tasting of Cab Francs.
Of course, I could have visited more wineries. But for me, a trip to the Finger Lakes is best when it’s a leisurely experience. You need to take your time and not rush from winery to winery, so you can soak up the beautiful scenery, which is everywhere. For me this isn’t rocket science, but simple math: Four Wineries, Three Lakes, Two Waterfalls and One Gorge add up to one fantastic weekend.