For many years, Northern New York was limited to the reputation of producing sweet wines. It's true that the first winery in the area, Pleasant Valley Winery, is still known for exactly that, offering a selection of sweeter wine varieties, including bubbly.
But over the years, decades even, the diversity of flavors offered around the region has grown, as has the sophistication with which wine is produced and presented, making a visit to the Finger Lakes Wine Country a must for any wine-lover. With more than 100 wineries, breweries and distilleries located throughout, knowing where to start your experience can seem a bit daunting.
This list of 10 locations will not only help you navigate through the wine trails, but also give you a bit of a local history too.
The beginning: Pleasant Valley Wine Company
Pleasant Valley Wine Company was the first in the region — Photo courtesy of Carol Cain
If you want to understand the wine history of the region, you have to start at Pleasant Valley Wine Company. Founded in 1860, it was the first winery in the Finger Lakes and is designated as Bonded Winery No. 1 in its state and federal districts.
Pleasant Valley survived the Civil War with its production of champagne – which later won an honorable mention at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1867, followed by many more European medals and other awards since. For 14 years, the winery survived Prohibition with its production of sacramental wine, as well as wine for medicinal use.
Today, it remains the largest producer of champagnes in the eastern United States. The winery is also home to a museum focusing on the history of winemaking in the region, as well as the people who helped make the Finger Lakes Wine Country what it is today.
The roots: Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery
Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery - 1886 Reserve Tasting Room — Photo courtesy of Carol Cain
You can’t talk about Finger Lakes wine without mentioning Dr. Konstantin Frank. The Ukranian immigrant was a professor of plant science and moved to the Finger Lakes to work for the Geneva Experiment Station at Cornell University.
While it was believed that the cold climate was to blame for not being able to grow European or vinifera grapes in the Finger Lakes, Dr. Frank believed it was the rootstock. He developed a grafting system that took native rootstock and grafted the European vines to it. This ignited the Vinifera Revolution and allowed the Finger Lakes to become the preeminent cool climate wine region of North America.
Today, the winery is run by father and daughter team, Fred Frank and Meaghan Frank, Konstantin’s grandson and great-granddaughter respectively.
One stop shop: Glenora Wine Cellars
The scenic Glenora Wine Cellars — Photo courtesy of Carol Cain
As the first winery on Seneca Lake, Glenora is well-known in the Finger Lakes for its quality wines and beautiful setting. Glenora is also one of few wineries in the region that offers a winery, a restaurant and accommodations.
The winery has daily wine tastings and cellar tours, giving oenophiles the perfect peek into the world of winemaking. And the 30-room inn offers guests the perfect place to call home during their stay in the Finger Lakes. Each room overlooks the vineyards and Seneca Lake.
Veraisons Restaurant is one of the leading restaurants in the region with a dedication to locally-sourced, seasonally-inspired menus.
Best of both worlds: Wagner Vineyards
Wagner Vineyards on the Seneca Lake Wine Trail — Photo courtesy of Carol Cain
Wagner is a popular stop on the Seneca Lake Wine Trail not only because it's home to some of the best estate-grown wine in the Finger Lakes, but it's also home to Seneca Lake's first craft brewery.
Their winemaker, Ann Raffetto, was the first female head winemaker in the country that wasn’t a member of the family that owned the winery. In short, Wagner offers guests the complete Finger Lakes beverage experience.
The next generation: Fulkerson Winery
Picking cherries at Fulkerson Winery — Photo courtesy of Carol Cain
Steven Fulkerson is following in his father’s footsteps with a commitment to his family’s land and a love for Finger Lakes wine. Any visit to Fulkerson Winery isn’t complete without a tour through their vineyards. Plus, the Winery is also a U-Pick farm that offers asparagus in the spring, cherries and peaches in the summer, and apples and grapes in the fall.
Interested in home winemaking or homebrewing? Fulkerson is the best place to stock up on all the supplies you need, including their own freshly-pressed juice.
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The transplants: Ravines Wine Cellars
Ravines Wine Cellar tasting room — Photo courtesy of Carol Cain
Lisa and Morten Hallgren could have built their winery anywhere in the world but chose the Finger Lakes as their home.
Morten, a native of Copenhagen, spent years in the Provence region of France where he honed his winemaking skills at his family’s estate, Domaine de Castel Roubine. Lisa, a native of San Antonio, is a chef and foodie – and the brains behind the Ravinous Kitchen.
Morten was recruited to the Finger Lakes by Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery, where he was a winemaker for six years. In 2000, the Hallgrens bought 15 acres of land to start their winery.
Today, Ravines is one of the leading wineries in the Finger Lakes, winning awards from top wine competitions and receiving praise from leading wine publications.
The conservationist: Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard
Fred Merwarth, winemaker at Hermann J. Wiemer — Photo courtesy of Carol Cain
In addition to the production of fine wines that highlight the local terroir, Hermann J. Weimer Vineyard concentrates its efforts on techniques and methods that rely on natural growth and production. They incorporate practices that create a healthy and natural ecosystem for their vines and use indigenous yeasts during the fermentation process to conserve the wines’ truest qualities.
This conservationist approach further reflects itself in the refurbished 19th-century barn, which now houses their tasting room. It's complete with views of their production facilities where guests can take a peek.
These sound growing practices – and the high-quality wine that it yields – have led them to receive accolades from around the world.
The cat's meow: Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards
Drinks with a view at Hazlitt's Oasis — Photo courtesy of Carol Cain
For many visitors who frequent Finger Lakes Wine Country, as well as locals, Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards is a must-visit destination for an evening of fun and musical entertainment with a casual vibe and award-winning wines.
The Oasis bar is a beautiful open-air gathering area for relaxing and wine-drinking with friends. Their best-selling Red Cat, a sweet catawba blend is great for any party, but the award-winning viniferas are truly a labor of love for the Hazlitts – and you can taste it.
From the Cabernet Franc to the Riesling, they have become a wine-lover’s favorite, worthy of the recognition and loyal following they have garnered over the years.
The legacy: Lakewood Vineyards
Aptly named Lakewood Vineyards — Photo courtesy of Carol Cain
What was once an abandoned peach and apple orchard in 1951 slowly grew to become a producer of the most diverse selection of award-winning wines.
Lakewood Vineyards' founder, Monty Stamp, was a respected figure in the community he dored and served. He exuded a spirit of cooperation and participation, and dedicated a lot to give back to the business he loved.
This is a legacy his family continues today with a focus on sustainable practices, as well as a presence in nonprofits and associations that help promote and grow the industry he so enjoyed.
One of the first female winemakers: Lucas Vineyards
Lucas Vineyards on the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail — Photo courtesy of Carol Cain
Ruth Lucas first moved to the area with her family in 1974. Lucas Vineyards, Cayuga Lake’s first winery, started out small but immediately won gold and silver medals for their Cayuga White and Estate Red after their first production.
The winery, under Ruth’s leadership, was one of the first women-owned wineries in the region. She currently runs it with her daughters Ruthie and Stephanie.
Ruth’s vision and ambition helped to grow their wine production from hundreds of cases to over tens of thousands a year. She also co-founded what is now the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail, America’s first wine trail celebrating 35 years in 2018.
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