Where to Eat and Drink in The Finger Lakes
Photo By: (c) 2008 Kristian S. Reynolds
What to See, Eat & Drink
With more than 120 wineries, breweries and distilleries spread across the Finger Lakes region in upstate New York, you'll likely need more than a weekend to discover all that the area has to offer. If you're short on time, focus on the three largest lakes: Keuka, Seneca and Cayuga. While Riesling is the most famous varietal produced in the region, wineries here are on a mission to not only perfect their whites but also prove they can compete with bold reds reminiscent of European labels. Plus, a trip to this part of the state means you'll get to experience the bounty of produce available from the many farms that neighbor each vineyard.
For Something Modern: Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard
One of the pioneers of viticulture and winemaking in the Finger Lakes, this estate and tasting room (3962 Route 14, Dundee, NY 14837) is also an architectural dream. The original barn that Hermann Wiemer himself lived in has been completely renovated and an additional space has been added to make the overall experience a delight. Sample some of their sparkling varieties like the Frost Cuvee 2013 or stick to what they've been perfecting since 1979: Riesling. The Semi-Dry Riesling 2013 is fruit-forward while the Dry Riesling 2014 is more aromatic. The best way to compare and find your favorites is through the Dry Riesling Flight ($8), which lets you really explore the striking differences in profile among the selections. Fifteen of Wiemer's wines are available only at the tasting room, so you can choose your own adventure to explore these exclusives.
For Something Off the Beaten Path: Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars
Overlooking Keuka Lake and off the main wine route, you’ll stumble upon one of the oldest wineries in the region. It was founded by Dr. Konstantin Frank, who ignited the “Vinifera Revolution” in the 1960s after discovering that the cold climate wasn’t a barrier to growing European grape varieties and that the problem was actually the lack of proper rootstock. In 1962, he founded Vinifera Wine Cellars (9749 Middle Rd, Hammondsport, NY 14840) and quickly became famous for spectacular Rieslings. Today, the winery is still family-run, by Konstantin's great-grandson Frederick Frank and his daughter, Meaghan Frank. Riesling isn’t the only wine you’ll want to try in the complimentary tasting; Vinifera's sparkling wines are all made in the methode champenoise style and should be at the top of your list. For something totally unique, try their Rkatsiteli 2013, made from the oldest wine grape known to man, with origins in the Republic of Georgia.
For Something Familiar: Hazlitt 1852
You may have heard of Red Cat and White Cat, the core brands of this vineyard’s collection and the workhorses of their vineyard, which are the best-selling New York wines in the state. So, if you’re a fan, this is the perfect opportunity to swing by and visit The Oasis (5712 New York 414, Hector, NY 14841), an outside covered-patio bar serving Red Cat and Bramble Berry Slushies (picnic tables are packed in the summer months). Gluten-free fans will appreciate the unique palate cleanser between tastings: popcorn. But one of the best things about the popularity of this winery's core brands is that it gives current owners and sixth-generation family members Doug Hazlitt and Leigh (Hazlitt) Triner the chance to experiment and innovate with other varietals, like Riesling, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer, and even a sherry and a Port.
For Something Casual: Shaw Vineyard
You’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a barn-turned-art-gallery once you walk into the tasting room at Shaw (3901 State Route 14, Himrod, NY 14842) and are likely greeted by owner and winemaker Steve Shaw. Shaw has been a grape grower in the Finger Lakes for 30 years and founded his own label in 2002, dedicated to experimentation with vinifera wines in a dry, cool-climate style reminiscent of European producers. Shaw Vineyard harvests its grapes by hand, and all reds are made from whole berries that are crushed not by machine but by their own weight and moved by hand in a champagne-style press. Try the Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio varietals, which are mature and complex, or sample Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, many bottles of which have been aging since the vineyard’s inception.
For the Views: Bloomer Creek Vineyard
Ask chefs or vineyard managers for their recommended stop along the wine route and they will all refer to you Bloomer Creek (5301 Route 414, Hector, NY 14841). Here, owner Kim Engle and his wife, Deborah Bermingham, have a hands-on approach to winemaking, from a labor-intensive system of growing and caring for the vines to hand-harvesting. Stop in at their hand-built recreation of a French country carriage house (complete with joint beams) and sample their Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir, many of which are featured on some of the best wine lists in New York City.
For Something Unexpected: Heart & Hands
This boutique winery on the eastern shore of Cayuga Lake produces fewer than 2,000 cases of wine per year, focusing only on Riesling and Pinot Noir. The latter is unusual for the Finger Lakes, but husband-and-wife owners Tom and Susan Higgins extensively researched the geology of the area to find the optimal spot to harvest Pinot Noir grapes. Their focus on quality is just as intense, and Heart & Hands' (4162 State Route 90, Union Springs, NY 13160) small portfolio of wines is now one of the most revered in the region. Try the Polarity, a unique white wine made with Pinot Noir grapes, and the refreshing Sparkling Riesling.
For Cheese Lovers: Standing Stone
For one of the best tastings on the Finger Lakes, head to Standing Stone (9934 Route 414, Hector, NY 14841). Their award-winning Gewürztraminers and Rieslings are excellent, but even better, the tasting room offers a flight that pairs each pour with cheese. It’s the only winery on the Finger Lakes where you can try Saperavi, a unique red wine made from the Saperavi grape native to Georgia (the country, not the state). Its plum and dark cherry notes play nicely with a hunk of local goat cheese studded with cranberries. A funky blue is the perfect match for Standing Stone’s Vidal Ice, an ice wine that might convert dessert-wine naysayers.
Craft breweries now abound in the Finger Lakes region, with more than 80 spots to visit on the brewery trail. Solar-powered Two Goats Brewery (5027 State Route 414, Burdett, NY 14818) is perfectly perched above Seneca Lake, so you can enjoy your IPA or Goatmeal Stout (along with their one food offering, a local Schrader Farms roast beef sandwich) with a gorgeous view. For something stronger, head to Myer Farm Distillers (7350 State Route 89, Ovid, NY 14521) on the Cayuga Wine Trail. They use organic grain from their own Myer Farm to craft-distill a range of spirits. Be sure to sample the Cayuga Gold Barrel-Aged Gin or the ginger vodka.
Where to Stay
The southernmost base of Watkins Glen, N.Y., offers an ideal base to explore both sides of Seneca Lake’s wine trail, and the Harbor Hotel (16 North Franklin St, Watkins Glen, NY 14891) has a lovely view of the harbor, with a fire pit on the patio for cooler nights. Farther afield but sure to be an adventure is Firelight Camps (1150 Danby Rd, Ithaca, NY 14850), a glamping experience in Ithaca, N.Y., where luxury tents with private balconies are scattered throughout the woods. Your stay includes continental breakfast and a wine hour featuring Finger Lakes wines, beers and spirits.
Where to Eat — Breakfast and Brunch
For brunch, head to Stonecat Cafe (5315 State Route 414, Hector, NY 14841), which has been around for over 17 years. Sit outside on the deck overlooking their garden, if weather allows, and sample some of the fabulous farm-to-table menu items. Blue Heron Farm supplies their spinach, kale, parsnips, carrots and mixed greens. Lively Run Goat Dairy (8978 County Road 142, Interlaken, NY 14847) provides many of their cheeses and much more. If you’re up for a cocktail or glass of wine, the menu is informative and extensive, thanks to sommelier Josh Carlson, who has about one-third of the local wineries represented. If not, try the local Ithaca-based Gimme! coffee. If you’re looking to combine eating and shopping, head to The Windmill market (3900 State Route 14A, Penn Yan, NY; open only on Saturdays), and pick up a coffee from That Coffee Shop and a pastry from one of the bakeries like Stoltzfus Pastries serving delicious cinnamon buns and breads.
Where to Eat — Lunch
It’s not often you’ll see a Master Sommelier pin hanging out on a meat refrigerator (there are only 147 professionals in North America who hold the title Master Sommelier), but that's the case at FLX Wienery (5090 State Route 14, Dundee, NY 14837), where owner Christopher Bates and his wife Isabel are making gourmet hot dogs, hamburgers, sausages and french fries. The couple spent nearly a decade managing Relais & Chateaux/Grande Chef properties, and Christopher earned his Master Sommelier pin in 2013. Don’t miss the fried cheese curd, the K-town fries (topped with kimchi, chipotle mayo and more) or one of the many amazing burger options topped with fried onions. Vegetarians will appreciate the whole roasted carrot in a hot dog bun, which is just as delicious and filling as their sausage offerings. Be on the lookout for FLX Table, a new dinner concept they’ll be opening in Geneva, N.Y., about 25 minutes north of this casual joint.
Where to Eat — Dinner
Head to Glenora Wine Cellars (5435 State Route 14, Dundee, New York 14837) to dine at their onsite farm-to-table restaurant, Veraisons. Dine on the patio if weather allows, to get a great view of the vineyard and the lake beyond. You’ll feast on offerings from local farms with international flair and attention to dietary restrictions like gluten-free. Their roast chicken is from Autumn Harvest Farm (5374 McDuffietown Road, Romulus, NY 14541) and is served with local vegetables, as are the braised short ribs. Don’t leave before ordering a seasonal dessert like the pumpkin caramel pot de creme, cream cheese ice cream, buckwheat cake or chocolate caramel. Hazelnut Kitchen also features farm-to-table dinners in a casual atmosphere. Try the pumpkin and ricotta pierogi with braised cabbage, apples and brown butter, or the cavatelli with confit cherry tomatoes, zucchini and kale. Skip a sweet dessert and order the local cheese plate instead.