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!

Cheers!

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