Western New York Wine: Buffalo & Niagara Wine Trail

Western New York: Buffalo and the Niagara Wine Trail

As any wine lover knows, that next great bottle of wine can come from any of the world’s great wine-producing regions.

Here at WineTrailsUSA, we’re dedicated to sharing with you not only great wine regions, but also great travel destinations. And while one of this issue’s travel destinations certainly isn’t a secret, we’d also like to tell you about a friendly, terrific city that, frankly, probably isn’t on many must-see lists.

The New York State Wine Scene

Wine and grape growing have long been a part of New York state. New York is consistently in the top 10 states in terms of grape growing and wine production and boasts more than 100 wineries. Wine trails abound here, from Long Island to the beautiful Finger Lakes, and many more. Most of the state’s climate and topography are ideally suited to grape growing, and wine production has been thriving since the 1800s.

Western New York is an especially ideal area for wine lovers, as the proximity to two Great Lakes creates a perfect microclimate for wine grapes. The Niagara Wine Trail, just minutes from Niagara Falls and only 1/2 hour from Buffalo, boasts of 12 wineries that offer a welcoming introduction to New York wine.

First Stop: Niagara Falls

As we entered New York from the Pennsylvania border, we had our hearts set on an afternoon visit to Niagara Falls. First discovered by European settler Louis Hennepin in 1678, the world has been beating a path here ever since. And the Falls always delivers! The spectacular cascade of water is a jaw-dropping and awe inspiring sight.

There are numerous places to view both the Horseshoe and American Falls, on the U.S. or Canadian side. But, the best place to truly feel the Falls is on the legendary Maid of the Mist. Before you step aboard, you’ll be given a bright blue rain slicker, complete with hood. As the boat chugs toward the Falls, it will rock and bob as it churns over the turbulent water. Ultimately, you’ll be ferried to the base of the Horseshoe Falls. Here, the true power of the Falls looms before you, with a roar so deafening you can barely hear the captain’s dramatic announcement, “This … is Niagara Falls.”

Of course, there are numerous places to part with your money here, from wax museums to souvenier shops to helicopter rides. But no matter how you choose to experience Niagara Falls, we have just one piece of advice: Bring lots of film!

Experiencing Buffalo: Wings and Other Great Things

After drying off from our exhilarating Maid of the Mist experience, it was time for the short 20-minute drive to the Lake Erie port city of Buffalo. We were intrigued by the promise of historic architecture, trendy entertainment, shopping districts and local food specialties.

We checked into our downtown hotel, the convenient Best Western Inn on the Avenue, to settle in for our three-night stay in the Buffalo-Niagara area. With a particular local food specialty on our mind, we set out for a Buffalo institution, the world famous Anchor Bar.

The Anchor Bar is, of course, known as for originating Buffalo wings. Since 1964, this neighborhood gem has been turning out several styles of chicken wings, each more delicious than the next. As good as the chicken wings are, be sure to try another Buffalo specialty, Beef on Weck. It’s a thinly sliced roast beef sandwich, served on a specialty roll called a Kimmelweck, which is a round deli-style bun topped with coarse salt and onion. Washed down with a pitcher of the always marvelous Genesee Cream Ale, this is as close to heaven as you get in western New York! If all this is making you hungry, never fear, the Anchor Bar ships wings overnight all over the country.

In the Elmwood Village area, there are many places to grab a bite to eat. Cole’s is the winner of the “Best Burger in Buffalo” award, and features the city’s best draft beer selection. This casual and friendly, historic Buffalo original has been pleasing palates since 1934. Watson’s Chocolates is a real taste of Buffalo. Try the famous Sponge Candy, which is basically bits of sponge cake wrapped in milk chocolate. They ship nationwide. Louie’s Original Foot Long Hot Dogs has offered charcoal broiled hot dogs and more since 1951. We recommend the original hot dog, wings and a strawberry milkshake. A great choice for dinner downtown is Pearl Street Grill and Brewery. Have a Wild Ox Wheat, a hefeweizen, or a Lake Effect, a simultaneously hoppy and fruity IPA. For lunch or dinner, we recommend the Gouda soup, Meatloaf Marsala, Pulled Stout BBQ Pork Sandwich and don’t forget the chicken wings — they’re really good! Visit Broadway Market, in operation since 1886, for breakfast from one of the many vendors on site. Lastly, Chateau Buffalo is a comprehensive wine shop offering numerous New York State wines, as well as a “Pride of New York” food boutique and market offering products made in New York.

Over the course of the next three days, both before and after winery visits, we came to experience and know Buffalo. This is a proud, friendly city teeming with historic architecture and lively entertainment and shopping districts. It’s also a city of four distinct seasons. Temperatures are moderated by Lake Erie, and we learned that the mercury has never hit 100 in Buffalo. In winter, the area surrounding Buffalo is a ski paradise. So no matter your pursuit of choice, there’s something waiting for you in Buffalo.

Some sights to see… Allentown is interspersed with commercial activities and historic homes. Located in downtown Buffalo, it’s designated a local preservation district and listed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1980, Allentown is one of the first and largest residential historic districts in the United States. Just five minutes from the heart of downtown and basically an extension of Allentown, Elmwood Village is a lively area with restaurants, shops, cafes, bars, galleries surrounded by a residential community. Visit the Observation Deck on the top floor of the art deco-style City Hall for a spectacular view of the waterfront and Buffalo’s unique radial street design. Miss Buffalo offers scenic boat rides on Lake Erie. In nearby East Aurora, learn about the 13th president of the United States and visit his home at Millard Fillmore House. Buffalo is a treasure trove of historic architecture. See works by Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, Daniel Burnham, and more at Buffalo Architecture. And, Chippewa Street is a multi-block strip of clubs, bars, and restaurants that offers ample choices to get your groove on.

Niagara Wine Trail

The Niagara Wine Trail is very convenient to both Buffalo and Niagara Falls. From downtown Buffalo, it’s less than 30 minutes to the main cluster of wineries, situated just west of the small village of Lockport. Just take Route 425 north from Buffalo and follow the winery signs.

There are 12 wineries on the trail, 11 of which are right in Niagara County. Even if you don’t have the opportunity to visit all 12 as we did, take the time to enjoy the pleasant short drive from Buffalo or Niagara Falls to see one or two. This is agriculture country, a haven for fruit growing. There’s a sense of serenity here, with rolling breezes off Lake Ontario just a few miles north.

The wineries here celebrate the passion of winemaking, and you’ll be in luck if the wine trail is hosting an event while you visit. You’ll find everything from Cabernet Sauvignons, Merlots, Pinot Noirs, Rieslings, dessert wines and fruit wines. Of particular note, we found that most wineries on this trail had a unique style specialty, and almost all were made with grapes and fruit from the immediate area. Let’s get to know each of the 12 wineries …

  • Vizcarra Vineyards: Vizcarra Vineyards is a great family destination. It has two outdoor patios with vineyard and sunset views, and U-Pick opportunities from on-site orchards. The vineyard itself is part of Becker Farms, a well known attraction in this area.There’s a full selection of reds, whites and specialty fruit wines here. We enjoyed the crisp Rusty’s Riesling and the sweet Barreled Over Niagara, made from the Niagara grape common in the region.
  • Eveningside Vineyards: Eveningside Vineyards is a family-farm winery (complete with a gorgeous red barn!) that specializes in Chardonnays, Rieslings and Cabernet Franc. We particularly recommend the 2007 Riesling, an excellent example of the style, and the Crofton Blush, a semi-sweet offering that’s ideal for summer sipping.
  • Honeymoon Trail Winery: Having the perfect name for a winery in the Niagara Falls area, Honeymoon Trail Winery offers a beautiful setting in which to sample their wines. Try the rich spicy Cabernet Franc and the White Lace, a blend of Riesling and Cayuga White. We also took home two bottles of Just Peachy, a crisp and fruity wine made with New York-grown peaches.
  • Warm Lake Estate: Pinot Noir is the name of the game at Warm Lake Estate. Wine Spectator consistently praises the Pinot Noir, rating it the best of its kind in New York. Their expansive vineyard, hosting exclusively Pinot Noir grapes, is visible from the outside deck.
  • Arrowhead Spring Vineyards: Alluring family-farm winery Arrowhead Spring Vineyards has a wide array of grapes in its vineyard, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Malbec and Chardonnay — all of which do well in the Niagara region. The result is some of the more spectacular wine we enjoyed on this trip. We loved the smooth, buttery 2006 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay, in particular. Another we added to our collection is the Apogee Red, a delightful blend of European varietals that stands well on its own or with a meal.
  • Niagara Landing Wine Cellars: One of the older wineries in the region, Niagara Landing Wine Cellars offers more than two dozen wine selections along with an inviting gift shop with artwork from local artists. Go for the House White, a fruity blend, and the red Baco Noir, one of the most complex berry and spice reds we’ve had. Another wine worth crowing about here is Red Rooster, a smooth drinking red blend. Last but not least, try the Boxer Blush, named after the family’s pet boxer, Sir Arthur. Also of note, we found the prices here to be a great bargain.
  • Spring Lake Winery: The vineyard at Spring Lake Winery is part of the peaceful 78-acre site, complete with an 8-acre lake and numerous walking paths. We enjoyed an invigorating two-mile hike through the property before ending at the Tuscan-style tasting room, where we dove in and tried the Gewurztraminer, with its bouquet of apricot and banana. f you visit, be sure to ask about their Wine Train excursions, a cooperative effort between the winery and a local railroad museum.
  • Chiappone Wine Cellars: Located on a beautiful farm setting near the small town of Newfane, Chiappone Wine Cellars has a long tradition of winemaking over three generations. We thought the whites were the stars here, in particular the Morning Star, a dry but fruity Riesling that has won numerous wine awards. Also try Moonglow, a clean and smooth Traminette.
  • Schulze Vineyards and Winery: Just a stone’s throw from the shores of Lake Ontario, Schulze Vineyards and Winery is situated on 120 acres of beautiful farm land. When you visit here, you’ll literally experience the fresh aroma of grapes and Lake Ontario at the same time. In their vineyard, plantings include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Catawba, Vidal, Niagara and Riesling. In terms of wine, we were delighted to taste some very interesting sparkling wines, before moving on to their very nice Cabernet Franc Nouveau and Vidal Blanc, among others.
  • Freedom Run Winery: Freedom Run Winery is family-owned and operated, with fragrant orchards surrounding the new tasting room. When we visited, 11 wines were available. We thought the Manning Manor Blanc was superb, a blend of Cayuga White and Vidal Blanc, making for a pleasant and mildly sweet taste. Also we recommend the Cabernet Franc, with big flavors of dark cherry and blackberry. Before you leave, be sure to see the various works of glass and pottery art, handmade by one of Freedom Run’s owners and available for purchase via their website.
  • Leonard Oakes Estate Winery: Leonard Oakes Estate Wineryis the only Niagara Wine Trail member located outside of Niagara County, as it’s just over the Orleans County line, just 5 minutes from Vizcarra Vineyards. Leonard Oakes Estate wines are all produced from grapes grown on-site, and are fun and easy to drink. Try the wonderfully complex Frontenac, with notes of dark fruit like blackberry and plum. On the lighter side, opt for a true taste of the region with White Oakes, a refreshing blend of Chardonnay, Seyval Blanc and Cayuga White.
  • The Winery at Marjim Manor: Finally, we’d like to take you to the shores of Lake Ontario to the gorgeous grounds and setting of
    The Winery at Marjim Manor. The winery’s location has an interesting history, serving at various times as a grainery, a home and a convent. Some even say the place is haunted! The wines, though, are very upfront and friendly. Fruit wines rule the day here, all produced from the owner’s large orchard. And this is truly a spectacular location to taste wine and linger, with a commanding view of Lake Ontario. We found several truly unique wines here, with one of our favorites being Thursday Afternoon At Three, a blend of Niagara grapes and peaches. Another was the white One Hundred Windows, an easy to drink, fruity selection.
    • We divided these winery visits into a three-day period, visiting a maximum of four per day. The best part about this wine trail is the close proximity of the wineries. Not only are they an easy drive from one another, but they’re very close to Buffalo as well. The New York leg of this journey was a great combination of rural farm wineries and city attractions. In essence, the best of both worlds. We hope this issue piqued your interest in this scenic and underrated wine-producing area!


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New York Wine: Canandaigua Wine Trail

Finger Lakes, N.Y. Part One: Canandaigua Lake Wine Trail

I guess every traveler has a motto. Sometimes the traveler’s motto is derived from a less than ideal experience. Or, the motto can convey a sense of delight, or the joy of discovery. In our case, it’s a simple case of thinking on our feet and adjusting, so the traveler’s motto for this issue is a straightforward “Be Flexible”.

A few months ago, we began planning our first trip to the Finger Lakes area in many years. We knew there’d be world class wine, magnificent scenery, and plenty to see and do. A visit to nearby Rochester, NY was on the agenda. The only aspect in question was which wine trails we’d visit.

Our first thought was to visit the Keuka Lake Wine Trail, followed by one of the region’s two larger trails, Cayuga or Seneca. And while we’ll cover the Keuka Lake Wine Trail in our next issue, we decided the Canandaigua Lake area was just too good to gloss over. So, flexibility ruled the day and Part One of our Finger Lakes feature focuses on the Canandaigua Lake Wine Trail.

Finger Lakes and the Wine Trails

Situated in west central New York, the Finger Lakes region is an ideal destination for anyone. Families, couples, senior citizens, and college kids will all feel at home here. It’s a four season area with numerous outdoor activities and a natural bounty derived from a delightful mix of elements.

The Finger Lakes themselves are a phenomenon. They are actually glacial lakes, formed thousands of years ago by retreating glaciers which carved the earth. Looking at a map, the lakes look like fingers – long and narrow, stretching from north to south. There are 11 in the region by our count, with the two largest, Cayuga and Seneca, forming the centerpiece.

The region is filled with valleys, rolling hills, and spectacular scenery, especially in autumn. Charming small towns abound, and there’s a sense of artistry here, perhaps inspired by the surroundings. To pinch a phrase from the Finger Lakes Visitor’s Guide, it’s a scenic partnership of Napa Valley and Scotland here. I’ll take their word for it, but if Scotland is half as pretty as the Finger Lakes, I’d like to go tomorrow!

It’s easy to get to the Finger Lakes region, which is situated just south of the New York State Thruway (I-90). You’re about a 90 minute drive from either Rochester or Syracuse, two underrated cities that warrant a visit.

Let’s take a look at Rochester, our first stop on this trip.

Rochester — You’ll Like It

Either Rochester or Syracuse is the perfect launching point for a Finger Lakes vacation. We chose Rochester, but either city offers interesting attractions for the first time or repeat visitor.

First order of business was the Park Avenue DistrictHogan’s Hideaway, a mainstay on the Park Avenue scene. Neither of us could remember if we’d visited before, but we felt at home upon entering. Hogan’s Hideaway is well known for their fresh, generous portions at reasonable prices. Right up our alley! We enjoyed our lunch outdoors on the back deck, while switching between Genesee Cream Ale and one of the house brews, Hogan’s Park Avenue Ale.

Order off the blackboard here and take advantage of the daily specials. We chose the Chicken Spinach salad, topped with a chipotle raspberry vinaigrette, and the Hogan’s Original Veggie Melt, stuffed with eggplant, spinach, and sharp cheddar. Oh, and don’t forget the bread — Hogan’s bakes it fresh.

Also in the Park Avenue District is the George Eastman House, well worth a visit to learn about this photography pioneer. Or, just stroll around the area for an afternoon to soak up the ambiance. Another recommended stop is Stevers Candy, a local confectionary operating since 1946. We were able to arrange a visit to the High Falls Brewing Company, formerly Genesee, a thriving regional brewery serving western New York for generations.

After a great dinner at Rochester’s famous brewpub, Rohrbach Brewing Company. In Rochester, we also recommend Zweigles for a great hot dog, Chester Cab Pizza and
Rochester Public Market, where you can shop here for local specialties. It’s also a great place for breakfast!

On to Finger Lakes Wine Country

It’s only an hour, at most, from Rochester to the town of Canandaigua, our home base for the next three days. With some time in the morning to spare, our first stop was Wild Wings, a rest home of sorts for birds of prey that aren’t able to survive in the wild.

This wonderful not-for-profit organization showcases a wide variety of birds, including raptors, owls, bald eagles, and more. Great time and care is devoted to educational programs, particularly to area schools so young people can experience these magnificent creatures up close. The facility is located in a beautiful 2500 acre park, Mendon Ponds Park, and there’s all sorts of activities to occupy a day. Even if you can’t make it for a personal visit, be sure to meet all the resident birds at the Wild Wings website. You can even “adopt” one if you wish!


From Wild Wings, it’s a short pleasant drive to Canandaigua, situated on the north end of Canandaigua Lake.

Canandaigua is a real slice of Americana, with an historic downtown and all sorts of unique places to visit. Our first eagerly anticipated stop was the New York Wine and Culinary Center, on Main Street in Canandaigua.

The NYWCC is a perfect place to get acquainted with New York wine and food. The emphasis here is to educate visitors about New York’s rich wine, food, and culinary traditions. You can take a class here, enjoy a wine dinner, learn what a sommelier does, and much more. There’s an educational theater and a hands on kitchen where you can create your own masterpiece. Also, don’t miss the New York Garden located outside the building. Depending on the season, you might find grapes ready to pick, apples, tomatoes, or any number of other native crops.

After a filling and delicious lunch at Macs Philly Steaks downtown, it was time to explore scenic Canandaigua.

This is a walking town, so just park the car and set out on foot. You’ll find numerous charming shops, such as Sweet Expressions for a sweet treat or Nadal Glass, a glassware manufacturer and retailer. The weather was perfect for our first afternoon and Canandaigua Lake beckoned, so took paddleboat tour of the lake on the Canandaigua Lady.

We learned that Canandaigua Lake is one of the smaller Finger Lakes, measuring 16 miles long and one mile wide, with a maximum depth of 280 feet. There are even a few shipwrecks to be seen on this relaxing 90 minute cruise.

Wilhelmus Estate Winery

Later in the afternoon, we had the chance to visit our first winery, Wilhelmus Estate Winery, just south of Canandaigua on East Lake Road.

Open since 2007, Wilhelmus Estate Winery is the pride of Buon and Karen Keunen, who named the winery after Buon’s father. We loved their Cayuga White, a light, fruity white offering. Even better in our estimation was the Free Run Traminette. “Free run” is a term used to describe the situation when the grape picking process ruptures the skin of some of the grapes. The juice from those grapes collects in the transport containers, resulting in a high concentration of sugars, fruit esters, and tannins. We particularly enjoyed the spiciness of this wine, and thought it would be a superb companion for a pork dish or a stir fry.

Just a general comment about these Finger Lakes wineries … each of them offers unbelieveable scenery. A better word is stunning. It’s like Mother Nature’s best here, with fresh clean air and valleys cascading down to the lakes. The soil is rich, the climate invigorating. You really need to experience this area to truly feel all it offers to your senses.

An Evening in Canandaigua

Time for happy hour and dinner, and a little pre-planning put two local restaurants on our radar. When in Canandaigua, make time to stop at both MacGregors Grill and Tap Room and the Lumber Yard Grille.

MacGregors Grill and Tap Room is filled with local color, the ample bar offers more than 70 beers on tap, with several New York specialty beers filling out the list. We chose a personal favorite, Yuengling Lager from Pennsylvania, a bargain at $7.50 a pitcher. Dinner consisted of a BBQ pork sandwich, Cobb salad, and wings. We stopped for a second visit while in town and enjoyed a Zweigle’s hot dog, a Rochester area tradition.

Lumber Yard Grille, also in downtown Canandaigua, is another great choice. Owned by 7th generation family members, the Lumber Yard Grille offers numerous Finger Lakes wines by the glass. Have fun, relax, and try a few! We enjoyed terrific steaks here, and were told the early bird specials are always a big hit. With two restaurants like these two in town, it’s easy to fall in love with Canandaigua! Other recommendations include: The Pickering Pub, Canandaigua’s oldest pub offers burgers, sandwiches, pizza cold beer and more; Macs Philly Steaks for real-deal cheesesteaks served on fresh Amaroso rolls and Max On The Lake, a magnificent setting for lakeside dining or drinks.

Also check out Bristol Mountain, the tallest mountain between the Catskills and the Rockies. A four-seasons resort offers 32 skiing and snowboard trails.

More Wineries on the Trail

The next morning’s agenda being ambitious, we started the day with a fresh and delicious breakfast at Patty’s Place in downtown Canandaigua before heading for the splendor of Sonnenberg Gardens and the Finger Lakes Wine Center.

The Finger Lakes Wine Center is located on the grounds of the Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion, so visiting both is a breeze. Sonnenberg Gardens offers visitors a chance to stroll among eleven different themed gardens, a spectacular sight. The Finger Lakes Wine Center is your gateway to learn about (and taste) the wine culture of this region. There’s typically a rotating selection of about a dozen wines to try, for a nominal fee. We spent about 1/2 hour enjoying the gift shop, which features all sorts of handicrafts and food products from the Finger Lakes area.

Then, it was off to the southernmost point of Canandaigua Lake, to the delightful small village of Naples. Home to nearly 3,000 residents, Naples is wonderfully scenic, with hilly terrain and access to the lake. We stopped to shop at Artizans, a great discovery that offers numerous hand crafted Finger Lakes items. Also, don’t miss Josephs Wayside Market, an open air farm market in operation for over 50 years. Learn about other shopping opportunities in our Recommendations section.

A good place for lunch in Naples is The Grainery, a local’s place for breakfast or sandwiches. Their bagels are among the best we’ve tried, and the sandwiches are fresh, delicious, and easy on the wallet. We also recommend Naples Creek Soaps for organic soaps, and fresh honey produced by local honey bees and Naples Valley Mustards for gourmet mustards, spices, dip mixes, jams, and party sauces. Lastly, Naples is known as the “Grape Pie Capital of the World,” so stop in at Monica’s Pies. It’s located just a few miles south of town and they ship to your door. Also, try the grape bread, a bread with grapes, nutmeg and cinnamon.

Three Finger Lakes Wineries in Naples

You’ll find Arbor Hill Grapery and Winery located on Rt. 64. Arbor Hill is about an inviting a place as can be. The main building looks kind of like a country cottage, white clapboard with a big sign above the awning.

Once inside, it becomes even more inviting. There’s a beautiful gift shop where you can peruse all sorts of Finger Lakes specialty products, from grape pies to apparel to housewares. But the star here is the wine.

Our first taste was one of Arbor Hill’s newer wines, the Vergenne. We hadn’t heard of this style before, and it’s reminiscent of a Riesling in some ways, especially the crisp finish. We learned this wine is made with a grape that’s part Lambrusco, so essentially this is a white wine made with a red grape. A new one on us, but decidedly tasty! And at less than $11 a bottle, it’s a best buy.

Another variety we’d never tried before was Arbor Hill’s Sparkling Chardonnay. Dry like a Chardonnay but effervescent like a good sparkling wine, it’s a perfect match of two styles.

We absolutely loved Onnalinda White, a mix of Cayuga White, Traminette, and Vidal. We expected this to be sweet, but it’s only mildly so, an easy drinker that joined us for our trip home.

Inspire Moore and Widmer

With a unique name and a gorgeous setting, Inspire Moore Winery was next on our list. They are housed in a restored barn that dates back to Civil War times, with a panoramic view of Naples Valley from the wrap around deck. We even encountered a few olive trees just off the patio.

Here’s where you should come to buy a great dry Riesling. The name, Joy, fits perfectly. The mix of fruit flavors and aromas is everything a Riesling should be. Of all the wines at Inspire Moore, don’t miss this one.

Since we’re always searching for wisdom, we felt compelled to try Inspire Moore’s Cabernet Franc. Its name is really Wisdom. And it was a smart choice indeed, a tasty, complex, fruit forward wine that we felt would pair well with pasta dishes. P.S. – it does!

This was an ideal spot for a bit of afternoon relaxing. Words don’t do the setting justice. The air is fragrant and fresh, with a warm valley breeze. We immediately knew why so many things grow here, as it seems this area is blessed with all the natural resources required. Also of note, Inspire Moore partners with the for wine tasting dinners and events. We didn’t make one, but we can’t fathom how you’d go wrong.

We also visited Widmer Wine Cellars, one of the largest and most successful wineries in the United States. You may be aware of the Manischewitz brand – it’s produced here. We highly recommend a tour of this bustling, modern facility. It’s about 45 minutes in length, and you’ll see everything. Of course, you’ll end up in the tasting room and gift shop! When you’re here, try Widmer’s Lake Niagara Harvest Blush, an easy sipper you’ll want to take to your next picnic. The gift shop is equally appealing, with shelves stacked with wine gifts, jellies, juices, and gourmet treats.

Last but not least, Casa Larga Vineyards is located 15 miles southeast of Rochester in Fairport.

The Brown Hound

Finally, we can’t wrap this travelogue up without mention of a very special restaurant in the Canandaigua area. It’s the Brown Hound Bistro, where we enjoyed a wonderful Sunday brunch. There’s live mellow acoustic music, and you can hear a sample by visiting their website. The menu is created to showcase the best of the Finger Lakes, and everything is fresh and created with care. Be sure to try the German apple pancakes spiced with nutmeg, the seasonal house salad, or the tapas plate. Everything is extremely good here, and of course we’re partial to any place named after a brown hound. They’re open for dinner Tuesdays through Sundays. No matter where you are in the Finger Lakes area, the Brown Hound Bistro is well worth seeking out.

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New York Wine: Keuka Lake Wine Trail

Finger Lakes, Part Two: The Keuka Lake Wine Trail

Fresh off a few wonderful days on the Canandaigua Lake Wine Trail, we drove a few short miles east through Yates County to the town of Penn Yan, situated on the north side of Keuka Lake. With three full days and nine wineries to visit, we had just enough time to balance our wine travels with sightseeing pursuits and good old fashioned relaxation. There are four seasons of activity, a thriving arts and cultural scene, enchanting historic towns and the ample blessings of Mother Nature.

Just a few interesting facts about Keuka Lake … if you view it on a map, it has two distinct branches (fingers?). The lake looks just like a thumb and forefinger, and is nestled between Canandaigua Lake and Seneca Lake, which is one of the largest Finger Lakes. Keuka Lake is also known for another fascinating geographical rarity — it’s the only lake in the world that flows both north and south!

As for the wine and wineries in and around Keuka Lake, there are nine official wineries listed on the trail, each with a wide variety of wine styles. No matter your tastes, you’ll find world class wine to suit your palate. Incidentally, if you’re planning to visit every winery in the Finger Lakes region, be prepared to stay a while. There are well over 100 wineries in the area.

Stop in at The Olney Place to get your picnic supplies, from unique cheeses and meats to gourmet sandwiches and more. It’s a deli that all of the Keuka Lake locals recommend.

The Wineries of Keuka Lake — Day One

We set off to explore the Keuka Lake Wine Trail, starting out south from Penn Yan. First stop was Keuka Spring Vineyards, with their hillside tasting room perched above Keuka Lake. When you’re greeted with an inspiring view, it’s a perfect time to taste inspired wines. And we were in the right place, as Keuka Spring Vineyards has won several wine awards from numerous competitions, including recent recognition by Wine Spectator for their Crooked Lake Red.

Keuka Spring Vineyards offers a fine range of wines, with the aforementioned Crooked Lake Red at the top of our personal list. Perhaps it was because we’d been so focused on white wines during this trip, but this was a wonderful change of pace. Very smooth and not too dry, this complex varietal is a winner and a great buy. We also recommend the companion Crooked Lake White, and Keuka Springs Celebrate, a blend of Riesling and Vidal Blanc.

Next up was Rooster Hill Vineyards. Once you see the old handsome red barn, you’ve arrived at Rooster Hill. The New York Wine and Food Classic loves Rooster Hill, recognizing their wines with six recent awards. We understood why after spending time in the tasting room. Our favorite was the Dry Riesling, crisp and with a fruity zestiness (we sensed lemon and orange). Don’t miss the award-winning Silver Pencil, a slightly sweet white wine. It’s absolutely bursting with fruit, almost tropical in feel, quite appropriate for a warm summer day.

An Afternoon Enjoying Keuka Lake

With hunger pangs beginning to arise, Barrington Cellars and Buzzard Crest Vineyards was our next stop. About 8 miles south of Penn Yan, this gorgeous family farm winery is just about the most perfect place ever to have a picnic. The winery sits a few hundred feet off Keuka Lake and offers a perfect view of the shoreline and beyond. We sampled several offerings here and bought a bottle of Buzzard’s Peach. Mildly sweet, Buzzard’s Peach and its sibling Buzzard’s Pear are made from fruit grown right on the farm.

After a relaxing visit to Barrington Cellars, it was time to enjoy some area sights and ultimately head back to Penn Yan for dinner. Wanting to learn more about Keuka Lake and the area in general, we took the opportunity to visit a local landmark, the Esperanza Mansion and take in a Keuka Lake cruise.

Although we didn’t stay here, we’d recommend you look into it if you’re visiting Keuka Lake. You have two options, either one of nine luxurious rooms within the Esperanza Mansion itself, or the convenient and accessible Inn at Esperanza right next door. We’d opt for the Inn, a casual setting but first-class nonetheless. Each room has either a patio or balcony with a view of the lake.

The mansion itself has a 170-year history and is a National Registered Historic Landmark. Anyone visiting the area should see the magnificent grounds and the mansion, built in the classic Greek Revival style architecture. Situated on 1,000 acres, this full-service destination resort was once a stop on the Underground Railroad. From here, you can cruise Keuka Lake on the Esperanza Rose, a 65-foot vintage wood cruising schooner, and enjoy a 90-minute sightseeing voyage.

Penn Yan

It’s a short 10-minute drive back to Penn Yan, where we carved out time to explore the Main Street shops and settle in for dinner. Tradition and history are embraced in Penn Yan, named as a compromise between early settlers from Pennsylvania (Penn) and New England “Yankees” (Yan). Stroll around the town, mix with the locals and enjoy small town hospitality!

Based on a recommendation from Christina Chely, Marketing and Public Relations Director of Finger Lakes Wine Country, we stopped in for dinner at Lloyds Limited A Pub, located in the heart of Penn Yan. Christina has been one of our subscribers for awhile now, and we sensed she knows exactly what we like, as the recommendation was spot on!

Lloyds Limited A Pub (yes, that’s the full name) is housed in a building dating back to the 1870s that has been at various times a hotel, barber shop, car dealership and speakeasy. The pub fare here is fresh, filling and inexpensive. Try the onion rings, BBQ pork sandwich, Beef on Weck and the red potato salad.

The decor here is warm and welcoming, with a pressed tin ceiling and all kinds of funky artifacts hanging from the walls. We’d recommend this place to anyone, so stop in for a relaxing lunch or dinner in a friendly local atmosphere. There are daily specials, too.

Another excellent choice for dinner in Penn Yan is the Keuka Restaurant, on Main Street. Maybe it’s not the most imaginative name for a restaurant, but it’s a great place to eat. Notably, the extensive wine list boasts many Finger Lakes wines. And in fact, we didn’t notice any wines not from the Finger Lakes. The food here is well prepared, very pleasing and as fresh as can be. Also check out, Windmill Farm and Craft Market just south of Penn Yan on Route 14A for antiques, jewelry, produce, pottery, specialty food items, and much more.

More Keuka Lake Wineries

Late the next morning, we set off for more winery visits, interspersed with a bit of shopping and sightseeing. Just another day in the Finger Lakes!

Driving south from Penn Yan, we began our day’s wine journey with our first destination, the McGregor Vineyard Winery. This winery, founded in 1980, is yet another with a stunning view of Keuka Lake. The wines are nothing short of magnificent, particularly the Black Russian Red, Pinot Noir and Gewurztraminer. We should also mention McGregor offers an appealing picnic area and a large gift shop, where you can take home a bottle or two of Black Russian Red as we did.

Just down the road from McGregor Vineyard Winery is Ravines Wine Cellars. This relatively new winery is owned by Morten Hallgren, who learned his craft at his family’s vineyard in southern France. The wines here are of particular interest as they’re made from 100% Finger Lakes grapes, grown on the 17-acre site. We were told the grapes grow extremely well here due to a few geographical advantages. First, the vineyard is adjacent to the widest point of Keuka Lake, so the temperatures are somewhat moderated. Also, the vineyard is located between two steep ravines which in essence drain out cold air in the winter. The two ravines are how Ravines Wine Cellars got its name.

The wines here are very food friendly, starting with the grapefruity Gewurtztraminer and continuing with the Keuka Village White, a slightly sweet blend developed from 80% Cayuga White grapes and 20% Vignoles. Our favorite of all was an impressive Cabernet France, with a bold spicy taste full of black cherry.

There are other wineries in the immediate area that for some reason aren’t officially on the trail, at least per the brochure and website for the trail. Crooked Lake Winery (phone: 607-243-5582) is on the east side of the lake just south of McGregor Vineyard Winery. Others on the west side of Keuka Lake that we did not have time to visit are: Bully Hill Vineyards and Restaurant,
Pleasant Valley Wine Company and Hammondsport, on the south end of Keuka Lake. Upon entering, you’ll reach the village square, a perfect place to park the car and stretch the legs.

This beautiful, small town is well known for its numerous local events. Every season is celebrated, and events range from art shows to antique boat regattas to pumpkin festivals. Be sure to stop by the Visitors Center on the square for more information.

While in Hammondsport, you can pick up some unique pottery pieces at Mud Lust Pottery, or browse the gourmet goodies at The Cinnamon Stick. If you’re looking for lunch, stop in the Village Tavern, located directly on the square. Village Tavern offers more than 130 beers, a great wine list and live music during the evening. This is Hammondsport’s true local gem. In an old clapboard house, the Village Tavern has been awarded the Wine Spectator “Award of Excellence” for several years running. If you try anything here, be sure to try the outstanding homemade salad dressings. If you’re imbibing, there are dozens of Finger Lakes area wines by the glass and 15 beers on draught. We opted for a lighter lunch, and the salads are absolutely fantastic here. Or, split a pot of steamed mussels … outstanding!

The Western Shore of Keuka Lake

As you leave Hammondsport on Route 76, you’ll be on the west side of Keuka Lake and will soon see Heron Hill Winery. Heron Hill is truly a destination winery, from the large tasting room to the charming Blue Heron Cafe located on the grounds. We came back here one evening to hear some live music.

Heron Hill is particularly known for their Chardonnays and Rieslings. We sampled both, and enjoyed the citrus characteristics of the Ingle Valley Riesling. Our favorite though was the 2006 Chardonnay, with essence of tropical fruit and very refreshing. What a unique version of the style! Heron Hill has another tasting room on Seneca Lake, and also offers the very popular Blue Heron Cafe on-site, where you can enjoy lunch overlooking the lake.

Just a few miles north is the well known and highly respected Dr. Frank’s Wine Cellars. This winery, open since 1962, has a list of prestigious wine awards longer than some of the Finger Lakes! Named New York Winery of the Year in both 2001 and 2006, Dr. Frank’s Wine Cellars is well known not only in New York but all across the country. We’ll add our accolades to Dr. Frank’s Semi Dry Riesling, an exceptionally well balanced wine and not too dry or sweet. This magnificent wine was recently awarded a gold medal at the Los Angeles International Wine Competition.

To round out the late afternoon, we visited Stever Hill Vineyards, a bit farther north from Dr. Frank’s. This newer winery actually has a long family tradition dating back to the mid 1800s, and Stever Hill proudly carries on the winemaking heritage. The tasting room itself is in a restored Civil War-era barn. We were enamored by the sweeter wines here. One in particular to try is Kelly’s Concord Port. We’d never tasted a Port made from Concord grapes. There’s a little brandy added, and the result is a very satisfying drink.

As mentioned, there are nine wineries officially on the Keuka Lake Wine Trail. From Penn Yan south to Hammondsport, then circling the lake back toward Penn Yan, here are the others we did not get a chance to see: Yates Cellars Winery, Ravines Wine Cellars and Heron Hill Winery.

Drinks and Dinner at The Switz

After stopping back in Penn Yan to refresh, we headed back south on Rt. 54 to another local landmark for dinner and drinks, The Switzerland Inn. The motto here is “Eat, Drink, and Get Switzed.” Sounds good! Located on the east side of Keuka Lake in between Penn Yan and Hammondsport (near where the lake splits into branches), The Switzerland Inn has been around since 1894.

It’s kind of a social gathering spot here at The Switz, with live entertainment, upper and lower decks, an outside bar and various special events. A big thumbs up to The Switz for featuring only Keuka Lake wines! We thought it was a nice touch. We enjoyed a bottle of Ravines Keuka Lake White with an order of calamari. Dinner consisted of a fantastic beer-battered fish fry and a perfectly grilled filet mignon, while enjoying the sunset over Keuka Lake. This is a fun, vibrant place! Don’t miss it when you visit the area.

The following morning before leaving the Finger Lakes, we were able to visit Hunt Country Vineyards, just a few miles south of Penn Yan in Branchport. Another longstanding family farm winery, this expansive winery and vineyard offers classic wines that have garnered dozens of wine publication awards, both locally and nationally. Operated by members of the Hunt family for six generations, this winery offers quite a number of fun and unique wines, including sparkling wines and even vegan wines.

We took two home with us, the Chardonnay Champagne, which is very clean, and semi-dry Riesling, full of fruit, especially apricot.

We also met some of the Hunt family pets while visiting. Check out their special Pet Page to see these very special companions.

Finger Lakes Thoughts

The Keuka Wine Trail is exceptionally easy to travel, and well marked. Several events are scheduled during the year, including a summer Barbeque at the Wineries and a Keuka In Bloom in May. There’s also a Keuka Holidays event in November, so don’t be bashful about visiting during the winter. In fact, it’s likely to be just a bit quieter along the trail during the colder months, so it’s an excellent time to plan your trip.

We left the Finger Lakes area and headed back to Rochester after a thoroughly enjoyable six day visit. The allure of the Finger Lakes region is endless, and now we know why so many love it so much. If you’re considering a wine travel vacation, the Finger Lakes gets our very highest recommendation.

Finally, we’d like to offer special thanks to our subscriber, Christina Chely, Marketing and Public Relations Manager of Finger Lakes Wine Country for helping us plan this trip. Thank you, Christina!


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