Discovering the Finger Lakes, One Winery at a Time
Italy may have a boot, but New York State has the Finger Lakes. The winemaking region has more than 100 wineries and a lot to offer those looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. And with a growing LGBT presence, it’s the perfect gay getaway to unwind from the bustle of city life.
About a 4.5-hour drive from New York City, the Finger Lakes Wine Region is one of the best bargains in the Northeast - especially if you are interested in rest and relaxation amid a beautiful setting without breaking the bank.
Your tourist dollar will go far as you hike the pastoral outdoors, tour wineries, eat at farm-to-table restaurants and snuggle into a charming bed-and-breakfast. "However, if you are looking to go clubbing with disco balls and go-go boys, this might not be for you," says Brandon Seager with a grin. Seager is the Gay Ambassador to the Finger Lakes (real title). The former winemaker at Red Newt Cellars and a passionate promoter of LGBT tourism for the region, he is soon to be a professor at a local community college and encourages the next generation of locals to stay, work and be a part of the Finger Lakes community.
For the oenophile, LGBT or otherwise, the Finger Lakes holds many a surprise worth discovery. One of the best resources for planning your trip is www.FingerLakesWineCountry.com, where you’ll find a wide range of resources for wineries, food, and accommodations. Here are EDGE’s top 5 picks for exploring the region.
Dr. Frank Vinifera Wines
Dr. Frank Vinifera Wines
The granddaddy of Finger Lakes winemakers, Dr. Konstantin Frank arrived in the U.S. in 1951 with the idea that Riesling and other European varieties could work in the cool Finger Lakes climate. Since then, his wines are the benchmark of the region, providing all styles of Riesling and pretty much any other cool climate variety you can name. Keep your eyes out for the vivacious retail manager, George DiTomasso, whose impeccable wine and food pairing ideas make for a wonderful tasting room experience.
Come for the Rieslings, stay for the other quality selections.
Grüner Veltiner - You’ll love this indigenous Austrian variety, which has only recently made it to the Finger Lakes. Light and fresh, the ripe citrus notes may remind you of a Sauvignon Blanc, but with a touch of white pepper. It’s a great pairing with vegetables or simple salad.
Pinot Noir Dry Rosé - This is a great value choice with hint of cherries but enough acidity to go with picnic fare and a warm summer day.
Arriving at this very inviting, crisp and clean, minimalistic tasting room with wonderful lake views, you know you are in for a treat.
The tasting room staff is enthusiastic and knowledgeable, including winemaker and Riesling lover, Kelby Russell, who grew up in the area. You’ll gain an instant respect for their dedication to quality Rieslings that don’t go over $20. They also have a café and bistro with tasting menus on the premises to entice you with dedicated seasonally and locally sourced edibles.
"Circle" Riesling - Their entry-level Riesling, with stone fruit flavors of yellow peach and apricot, is a palate pleaser for all. Perfect for sitting out on their comfy deck with the lake in the horizon.
Cabernet Franc - You’ll discover a surprising amount of red fruit such as raspberries and a spicy quality without the vegetal, bell pepper notes that you often find in young Cab Francs.
Bellwether Hard Cider
Owner Bill Barton loves apples! And he’s one of the nicest guys you’ll find on the wine trail even though he makes delectable hard ciders and not wine. The Finger Lakes region is full of crops other than grapes, and apples happen to be one that does extremely well in this climate.
While in France, Bill and his wife found they loved the French ciders and after making some very small batches in their home, decided to give it a whirl as a business. Fourteen years later, his years of experimentation now yield many different hard cider styles, from dry to sweet. His operation is very close in appearance to a winemaking facility, complete with steel vats and a bottling line that is reminiscent of a Laverne and Shirley’s opening sequence. "We’re gonna do it!" They use many traditional wine making methods, just with apples instead of grapes.
Lord Scudamore - Made from New York’s own Northern Spy apples, this dry hard city is reminiscent of a premium sparkling wine. Super great acidity, fine bubbles and a bready, yeasty quality will make your mouth water.
Cherry Street - Cherries and apples together? Sweet! ...but not sugary, with a ripe, fruit that can easily take you from spicy Thai to a slice of New York cheesecake.
Tasting with the husband and wife winemaking team of Morten and Lisa Hallgren is nothing short of divine. Destined to be in the wine business, Morten hailed from France and was raised in a winemaking family from Provence. They came to the Finger Lakes via Bordeaux, Texas and The Biltmore in North Carolina before being asked to work for Dr. Franks.
In 2000 the couple bought a parcel of land on Keuka Lake and began making quality wines, especially Riesling. They even have their own homemade crackers! You immediately feel at home in the clean, spacious and elegant tasting room. They also offer cheese and chocolate pairings for many of their tasting flights.
The gorgeous French style mansion sits atop a hill overlooking Keuka Lake. With perfect western views of the sunset you may think you are in Morten’s French hometown. This is a destination vineyard where you may want to consider bringing friends and family and for a classy wedding celebration.
Argetsinger Single Vineyard Dry Riesling - A splurge with its golden color, floral nose and super acidity, the hints of herbs like fresh thyme would be perfect with locally sourced wedding fare.
Brut Sparkling Wine - Made in the same method as French Champagne, this super dry sparkling wine is highlighted with hints of fresh apples and a brioche, toasty quality you expect from quality bubbles. Perfect for your toast!
Amy Hoffman runs every aspect of Rooster Hill, from supervising the work in the vineyard all the way to packaging and marketing. This boutique producer brings in great value wine representing the spirit of the Finger Lakes in a nutshell. The tasting room also offers fun knick-knacks for purchase and a central horseshoe-shaped bar next to the winemaking facility that you can peek into to see where the magic happens.
Silver Pencil - This white blend brings together Vidal and Seyval Blanc, both hybrid varieties that do extremely well in this cool climate. Tropical fruited nose and palate with a bit of sweetness make this a delicious summer wine to pair with a heaping serving of strawberry shortcake.
Estate Cabernet Franc - This classic red is blended with the less familiar Lemberger variety, resulting in an approachable meaty, smoky wine with dark fruit.
Staying and Getting Around the Finger Lakes
Traversing the Finger Lakes while sampling wines requires a bit of forethought. Consider Grapevine Country Wine Tours as your designated driver and guide. With a deep knowledge of the area, Grapevine can steer you toward vineyards that fit your palette, and you can responsibly enjoy the experience.
While you won’t be hard-pressed to find doilies and flowered wallpaper at traditional bed-and-breakfasts, consider a more modern interpretation at these unique properties:
The Chalet of Canadaigua
Originally built in 1966 by G. Henry Boyce, this majestic log cabin is a true Finger Lakes oasis. Margaret Covington and Pattie English have owned the property since 2006, which retains it original grandeur in the most bucolic of settings.
Black Walnut Bed and Breakfast
This 1802 historic townhouse offers simple charm with modern amenities and a signature breakfast of local fruits, pancakes with pure New York maple syrup and daily egg frittatas.