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Jul 4, 2008 08:58 AM

Finger lakes advice needed

Hi all,

My wife wants to take a driving vacation this summer and we are thinking of going to the visit the wineries on the NY finger lakes.

Does anyone know of any wineries that are not to be missed?
Any tips or things to avoid?



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  1. It all depends upon what you're "into": reds, whites, the history, the characters . . . .

    Keeping in mind that it isn't always easy to get places -- there then to be these long, skinny lakes in the way ;^) -- the places on my "don't miss" list would include:

    For the history AND the wines . . . .

    -- Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars ( ). Dr. Frank proved you could grow Vitis vinifera in upstate New York, and the winery does a damned fine job of it today. It's now in the hands of the third generation. The Riesling is wonderful here.

    -- Bully Hill Vineyards ( ). Started by the Taylor family after they sold Taylor of New York, this is a definite must stop. Try some of the French-American hibrids, like Seyval Blanc, as well as some of their unique blends -- both reds and whites.

    New(er) wineries with great wines:

    --- Fox Run Vineyards ( ). Great Rieslings (dry and off-dry), very good Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Lemberger and some blends.

    -- Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars ( ). All vinifera, and their Pinot Noir is wonderful! Also, Riesling, Chard, Gewurztraminer, Cab Franc and more . . .

    -- Standing Stone Vineyards ( ). Great Pinot Noir (toss-up as to whether Standing Stone or Lamoreaux Landing makes the best; I think it depends upon the vintage). Great dessert wines, and really nice wines across the board . . .

    Also, let me hasten to add I am far from an expert on ANYTHING, let alone the wineries of the Finger Lakes. There are numerous wineries there that I know nothing about, and have never tasted any of their wines. OTOH, I'd avoid Hazlitt . . . .


    2 Replies
    1. re: zin1953

      We visited Bully Hill last summer. Georgeous view! They also have a large cute gift shop and a restaurant on site. We didn't have time to eat but relatives have said it is good.

      1. re: zin1953

        We visited the Finger Lakes last fall and went to all the wineries you mention except Standing Stone (have heard great things about them, but they weren't open on the days we were there). I also enjoyed these places more than a couple of others we visited. I didn't think Bully Hill's wines were all that great, but there are some interesting varietals and they put on a great show in the tasting room :-). We had lunch there on the terrace -- good food and wonderful views. My favorite reds were at Fox Run. (In fact, I just opened a bottle of their Pinot Noir the other night -- very nice.)

        I have one addition to your list -- Hermann Wiemer. It isn't much for looks, but I thought their Rieslings were great -- preferred them even to Dr. Frank's.

      2. #1 not to be missed, imo, is Dr. Konstanin Frank (and associated Sparkling wines which iirc, are just labelled Dr. Frank)

        Hermann J Weimer
        Standing Stone
        Lamoreaux Landing
        Red Newt (I never loved the wines, but they are decent and others I know like them)

        BTW, eat at Dano's on Seneca:

        I spent too many years of my life in Ithaca, so if you need any restaurant recs for the area, I hear most of the good resturants when I left (almost 5 years ago, now) are still the same. And Dave Pohl at Northside Wines and Spirits is the person who gave me my foundation in wine knowledge and probably knows more about Finger Lakes wines and what is good at any time than anyone else -- he manages the largest retail selection of Finger Lakes wines in the world.

        8 Replies
        1. re: whiner

          Zin and Whiner-

          Thanks for the local info. We booked a room at The Black Sheep Inn on Canadaigua Lake.


          1. re: AManHastoEat

            If you are staying in Canandaigua anyway, you should visit the NY Wine and Culinary Center in Canandaigua. You'll get a great sampling of not only Finger Lakes wines, but also Hudson Valley and Long Island. Not to mention a number of NY microbreweries, cheeses, and other foods.

            1. re: AManHastoEat

              Hi all. We just got back. Let me begin by saying I was misinformed about which lake we were staying on. We were actually on Keuka. I've posted a travelogue on my blog, but here are the wine bits for anyone interested (keep in mind that I'm much more of a food guy than a wine guy, but I drink my share and think these observations will benefit people in a similar situation):

              New York State wine has come a long way. The Finger Lakes are best known for their Rieslings, but these have certainly matured into more subtle and crafted versions of the sweet offerings I thought of before this trip. While still high on the sugar content, the better wines are drier, more complex, and use the sugar to allow the taste of the fruit to shine through rather than to make an easy drinking wine that more closely resembles grape juice. The primary red we found was Pinot Noir, but the majority of Finger Lake reds were watery and one dimensional.

              Possibly the best delight of the trip was that the tasting rooms were either free or charged a nominal two dollars to try flights of five to seven wines.

              Our favorite winery was easily Dr. Frank. They produce wines that most resemble the classic European and Californian varieties. They also produce some of the only truly palatable red wines we tasted during our stay.

              We liked Dr. Frank so much we brought home a few bottles:

              2000 Blanc de Blancs Finger Lakes Champagne- This is a very good sparkling wine done in the traditional methode champenoise. This wine is crisp and delicate and a worthwhile purchase to showcase how a New York can compete with a French.

              2006 Gewurztraminer- Sweet, spicy, and interesting. One of our friends requested a bottle so we also got one for ourselves.

              2006 Rkatsiteli- Sweet and dry at the same time. This was a well balanced wine we enjoyed during the tasting. The unfamiliar name also helped in this purchase. I will have fun telling friends that I just opened a bottle of Rkatsiteli.

              2006 Cabernet Sauvignon- While we didn't try this one, I trusted the gentleman who was pouring our tastes and talking about the wines when he said this is a great cellaring wine. We'll toss it in the cabinet and drink it in a few years and have a chance to reminisce about this vacation.

              Other wineries we enjoyed on Keuka were:

              * Heron Hill- Some impressive wines and a beautiful building. It was also here that Chrissie fell in love with OTC Wine Crackers. These are delicious and not only cleanse the palate, but sop some alcohol out of the stomach.

              * Ravines- The best winery on the west side of the lake. Along with the fine wines, they offer up interesting cheeses and snacks, which makes sense because their sprawling lawn and unobstructed view of the lake allow for perfect picnicking.

              * Keuka Lake Vineyard- This is the winery that our inn happened to be pouring while we were visiting. They have some great examples of modern New York wine, including a decent red in their Leon Millot.

              We also drove out to eastern Seneca for a few tastes. The two we enjoyed most were:

              * Fox Run- Don't be put off by the large and somewhat corporate appearance here. The tasting room offers really good wine and an excellent lunch counter to help keep you going as you proceed down the rest of the lake. Fox Run is also the host to live music and an annual garlic festival.

              * Red Tail Ridge- A serpentine road takes you through beautiful rows of grape vines before depositing you at an austere building that houses a spartan, yet elegant, tasting room. Their better than average wine, scenic drive to the top of the ridge, and proximity to Fox Run make them a must stop if you are in that section of Seneca.

              If you are on Keuka, I compel you to visit the Pleasant Valley Wine Company. This recommendation has nothing to do with fine wine and everything to do with New York State history. Pleasant Valley was the first bonded winery in the United States and the tour provides a window into the past. The tasting room, now mostly dark and desolate, resonates with the ghosts of imbibers from the years of the Civil War to the 1950s. To demonstrate how far NY wines have come you only have to taste the samplings of Pleasant Valley. These relic wines offer a baseline so genuine I can't believe they are still in production.


              1. re: AManHastoEat

                Thanks James! Now I have an arsenal of places to try when my DH drags me up there to visit his family. We drive past Keuka lake every trip so we will definately try Pleasant Valley and some of your other recs. Thanks again.

            2. re: whiner


              I'm considering a similar trip to the OP. Any recs for a good hotel/winery/venue to stay for probably 2-4 couples? I would want to keep price "moderate" ($200 or less per 2-person room per night if that is feasible, anything much less would be fine, as long as it's comfortable)... we're amenable to renting a property up there as well if that is easier.

              A couple of great restaurant ideas would be great as well!

              1. re: jonasblank

                It isn't super-close to any of the wineries that you should hit, but I really liked staying at the Benn Conger Inn. -- It may have changed ownership since I last stayed there (2002) as the menu for the restaurant doesn't look nearly as nice, but, that is where my ex and I escaped to from school for a couple of romantic weekends and we loved it.

                That said, the first place I would try would be the John Joseph Inn: -- the Rose Inn was always THE place, and I've heard this new couple has done a good job updating it. I don’t know how the food is under the new ownership. The food at the Rose Inn was the most expensive in the area – I went twice and was underwhelmed both times – I haven’t spoken to anyone about the food there under the new ownership, but the food *looks* good ;-) … I know a girl who just graduated who I’m sure has eaten there, I’ll try to get a hold of her.

                As I said, you have to go to Dano's. He used to walk around his old restaurant in Ithaca in his chef's top and pajama bottoms and ask how your food was... but he would REALLY CARE. His wife, Karen, is amazing, too, and has an unbelievable palate for wine -- one of the best I've ever met. (Note: the guy IS a James Beard award winner and he really is a great chef for more traditional Austrian "home cooked" food -- he and his wife just really didn't want the big city life, I guess.


                I left Ithaca in 2003, though I did go back for a few days in 2004 to see my friends still in school and to judge the Cornell debate tournament, so my restaurant recs may be a little dated, too. But as of 2004, the best restaurants in Ithaca were Pangea: Les Ducs (which took over the space vacated by Dano), and Madeline’s: ... Of course, the fact that Madeline’s website hasn’t been updated since I graduated is not exactly a good sign. Also, John Thomas was a genuinely good steakhouse – I thought it was significantly better than something like a Ruth’s Chris. (I know it is associated with a higher-end B&B type place that you can look into here: -- but I know absolutely nothing about that place – wrong hill :-D)

                Also, Taughannock Farms Inn is, was, and probably always will be a Cornell institution. (Perhaps an IC one as well.) Going out on dates and to big group celebrations there was such an integral part of my college experience that it is hard for me to say for sure how good it is. But I *think* it is very good, and it is certainly a great value.

                1. re: whiner

                  Thank you - those are great recommendations! I'm looking forward to the trip. Still a ways away, but I'll report back when I return.

                2. re: jonasblank

                  We stayed at a bed & breakfast -- Merritt Hill Manor -- in Penn Yan at the top of Keuka Lake. It was lovely, with great breakfasts, and within your price range. I think they have 4 or 5 guest rooms.

                  There's also an Inn right on the property at Glenora Wine Cellars. I haven't seen the rooms but it has a beautiful setting right on Seneca Lake, so it would certainly be convenient.

              2. I recently moved to NYC so this is exactly the sort of info I was looking for. Thanks for asking the questions.

                I can vouch for two of the wineries mentioned based on wines I've had recently. Both Dr. Konstantin and Hermann J Weimar wines I've tried have been fabulous.

                You're going at a good time too. I read that the 2007 harvest was one of the best in years. Great quality all around for '07 wines.

                1. I was just up there with my family for the 4th of July weekend staying at our cottage on Canadaigua Lake. Had a very good meal here (the online menu is a bit outdated):

                  Nice selection of Finger Lakes wines.

                  1. I went last year and really liked Hermann J Wiemer (bought the most wine there) and Fox Run Vineyards as far as the best wine, but Miles Wine Cellars and Belhurst were on really beautiful, historic properties and had pretty good wine so I enjoyed visiting those two as well. I pretty much stuck to Seneca Lake. I had bought the book, "Greetings From the Finger Lakes: A Food and Wine Lover's Companion" by Michael Turback on before I went. It helped quite a bit, it seems like he covers almost all the wineries on the different lakes. What I didn't like about the book is that he seemed to only mention the positives (definitely not much of a "critique" provided), but what I did like is he gave a background about each winery and the winemaker and let you know their specialties, which was good information to have when trying to narrow down where to visit. Have a great trip, it's beautiful there!