Tom had the opportunity to visit there a number of years ago, but Lora had “driven” through but never explored the area. Both of us wanted to explore this wine region and knew it would be the perfect time to not only taste wine, but to also participate in “leaf peeping”. The Finger Lakes region is a 6 hour drive from our home. Which makes it a perfect 4-day weekend trip.
Prior to our short getaway, we researched different wineries, restaurants, and hotels in the area. We also searched out fun things to see and do. One noteworthy finding is that the area is not very developed. This means small and independent hotels and restaurants. Bed and breakfasts abound the Finger Lakes. Several campsites are also dotted throughout the region.
On our drive to the Finger Lakes, we decided to take a short detour in Syracuse to have a late lunch at Dinosaur BBQ. This restaurant has been highlighted by countless travel and food shows. We shared a small sampler plate, the “tres ninos” which consisted of brisket, ribs, and pork. The portion was huge for being a “small” serving. No need for individual entrees here! The food was very good for the region and definitely satisfied our taste for BBQ.
Prior to reaching our hotel in Seneca, we took a detour to Cayuga Lake Wine Trail. After over 5 hours in the car, we needed wine tastings, stat! We did tastings at: Knapp Winery and Swedish Hill Vineyard. Both had decent wines, however, we preferred wineries that we visited (and will soon highlight) from Seneca Lake.
Two important observations to pass along: 1) The Finger Lakes region really is an agricultural area. We love that, for the most part, the wines are produced from local vineyards and not from grapes shipped in from California. And 2) The tastings are inexpensive! We’re used to the typical $10 tasting fees imposed by wineries in California, Oregon, and Washington State. Tastings in this region range from $3-6! And many times you are able to taste the winery’s entire wine collection, rather than the typical tasting of 4 wines. One great hint when traveling: be sure to “check in” on Yelp as some wineries offer specials upon “check-in”.
Days 2 and 3 were beautiful, crisp fall days. We decided to focus our tour of the Finger Lakes on Seneca Lake. Although we visited several places, we will highlight places we believe are incredible finds. Muranda cheese was a terrific discovery. For a $2 tasting fee, we got to try over 10 cheeses. The purveyor, Tom Murray, was a wonderful guide for our tastings. We were lucky to be in the shop at a slow time which allowed us to learn more about the family, their farm, and cheeses. All of the cheeses are manufactured only with milk produced from their own cows. Murray’s son, a graduate of Cornell, heads the milk production for the delicious product. The Murrays have been approached to widen their distribution, however, they are choosing to keep production small to ensure optimum quality and a superior product.
Over the two days touring Seneca Lake wineries, we had an amazing time discovering delicious wines. One of the best discoveries was Shalestone Vineyard. This winery only produces red wine and the only day they are open for tastings is Friday (which luckily was the day we were there). The wines are truly delicious and rival those from the West Coast. We particularly enjoyed the Dry Riesling at Sheldrake Point. The Pinot Noir from Silver Thread was incredible. Another find was Bagley’s Poplar ridge Vineyards. This place has the feel of a bar. We recommend visiting this winery at the end of the day. The wines are decent, but the main reason to visit is for the camaraderie to be had with the staff and other visitors.
We have noted that local, craft distilleries are opening in wine tasting regions. We both love spirits and decided to try Finger Lakes Distilling Company. This was the most unexpectedly pleasant discovery. Many distilleries are new so the spirits are still a bit young. However, every spirit we tasted here was delicious and didn’t send shivers up your back (which happens to us with less mature liquor). For those who find it difficult to taste liquor straight, there are a variety of mixers available. We love Bloody Marys, so our guide made one with corn whiskey. What a revelation! It puts a nice spin on the usual vodka based drink.
For the two nights of our tour of Seneca Lake, we decided to stay in Ithaca at the Fairfield Inn. The hotel was recently built and extremely clean. The staff was helpful and incredibly welcoming. Ithaca is about a 25 minute drive from Seneca Lake. The Ithaca location gave us an opportunity to further explore the area beyond our original plan of just touring wineries. The city has great restaurants, State Parks, and hiking trails. We also enjoyed the Ithaca Farmer’s Market and took home some beautiful, locally grown vegetables and meats.
Our trip to the Finger Lakes region was so enjoyable that we are planning a follow-up trip next summer over the 4th of July weekend. We are returning to the Fairfield Inn for a few days in between camping on Seneca Lake. We are excited to revisit some of our favorite places and to discover new adventures.