Lush green hills, vines hanging heavy with fruit, and the glimmering surface of Keuka Lake visible in the distance—welcome to New York wine country. The high concentration of wineries in a small geographic area makes the area around Corning and the Southern Finger Lakes a perfect destination for wine lovers. The region’s natural beauty—and fantastic wine—make this an idyllic setting for a romantic getaway. It’s also a great place to bring a group—think bridal showers, book clubs, or a group of college friends wanting to reconnect.
Meaghan Frank is the general manager of the award-winning Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery, one of close to two dozen wineries in the region. She recommends that visitors plan ahead when it comes to organizing a trip, as those long fingers of lakes make it time-consuming to get from one side of the lake to the other. Keuka Lake takes about an hour just to circumnavigate. She recommends starting with vineyards on one side of a lake on the first day and doing the other side the next.
Frank’s second insider tip is to focus your wine tasting tour on the town closest to your top pick vineyards, like Hammondsport for example. Take in a couple of wineries first and then visit town to have lunch, check out the shops, or visit a museum before heading out for the final tastings of the day.
The Finger Lakes wine industry has been booming for decades, which can be attributed to the quality of wine produced here. But the experience of wine tasting is also a big reason why the region has become such a popular destination.
“People are always looking for how they can connect with the producer, and we are trying to build up that relationship,” Frank says. “It’s important for all of the local wineries to think about the impression that we are leaving on our guests. It's not just about what’s in the bottle, but how we’re making people feel when they visit us.”
Realistically, you can shoot to visit five or six different wineries over a weekend, which will give you a true sense of regional offerings. If you try to do more than that, it won’t leave time to enjoy each winery. “A personal tasting will give you the most opportunity to really taste, understand, and learn about what each producer is trying to showcase in its line up,” says Ashlee Weis, who owns Weis Vineyards with her husband, winemaker Peter Weis.
With more than 100 vineyards in the Finger Lake region and more than two dozen in the Keuka Lake vicinity, choosing where to go might seem a daunting task. So we’ve put together a sample itinerary to get you started.
Start Saturday off on the east side of Keuka Lake with McGregor Vineyard. Most known for a unique red wine called the Black Russian Red, it has pioneered the growth of the ancient Saperavi winemaking grape in the United States. Throughout the season, McGregor offers wine tasting events paired with food and evenings of live music.
One of the newer additions is Weis Vineyards, which brings an authentic German flair to the vintner scene, and you can sip its wines in a beautiful one-room schoolhouse. “We provide a personal touch with our quaint tasting room size and family history,” Ashlee Weis says. “We do our very best to give everyone that comes to us a great tasting experience.” She recommends tasting the dry and semi-dry Rieslings and Gewürztraminer, which have received rave reviews. The winery started winning awards only a few months after releasing its first vintage.
The final stop of the day will be Domaine LeSeurre. With six generations of grape growing and winemaking in his past, Frenchmen Sébastien LeSeurre knows a thing or two about good wine. Bringing a modern twist to his old-world expertise, LeSeurre focuses on dry wines that can be produced in the region based mainly on its unique qualities such as climate and soil, referred to as the terroir. As the winery’s slogan says, “Visit the Finger Lakes winery with a French accent.”
On Sunday we’ll keep it simple with two noteworthy wineries with a lot to offer. It’s time for the west side of Keuka and Heron Hill Winery, which was named by Travel + Leisure magazine as one of the 10 most spectacular tasting rooms in the world. With a soaring vaulted ceiling and pristine lake views, this one is not to be missed. Try its award-winning Riesling and specialty dessert wines. The winery is also home to the Blue Heron Café (open seasonally), which features a menu heavily influenced with local ingredients.
Last, but by no means least, the Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery is the final stop on our tour. Well-known for having revolutionized the wines of the Finger Lakes, it’s an excellent place to learn about the history of winemaking in the region as well as sample a wide range of varietals. It is one of the few wineries offering a sit-down, educational, tasting experience with companion small bites at their 1886 Reserve Tasting Room (reservations required, so book ahead). Those shorter on time will find wine and cheese pairings on The Terrace at 1886. There’s also the 1962 Reserve Room, where for a small fee connoisseurs can enjoy an intimate experience tasting wines with a limited release and getting an in-depth education by senior wine education staff. And, of course, the main tasting room is available for complimentary tastings as well.
It might be time to head home, but that doesn't mean leaving the Finger Lakes wine country behind. After finding that perfect bottle (or two), join one of the “wine clubs” that many of the vineyards offer. Most of these plans include having the “selection of the month” wine delivered right to your doorstep. Take that first sip and be magically transported back to that perfect weekend in the Finger Lakes.
Written by Lisa Collard for Matcha in partnership with Steuben County.