My first impressions of Finger Lakes, NY wine country

Eating and drinking locally at Red Newt Bistro
Eating and drinking locally at Red Newt Bistro

Last weekend I traveled to Finger Lakes wine country for the first time in my life. Below are some of my first impressions.

The people: Everyone I encountered in the Finger Lakes was friendly, gracious, hospitable, and kind. Some went well out of their way to make sure I had a wonderful food and/or wine experience. The winemaker at Anthony Road Wine Company, Johannes Reinhardt, produces a wine that matches my personality. Who knew? I can’t wait for the release in early 2013. Thank you to Anthony Road Wine Company, Bully Hill Restaurant, Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars, Fox Run Vineyards, Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard, Heron Hill Winery, Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars, Ravines Wine Cellars, Red Newt Cellars Winery and Bistro, Sheldrake Point Vineyards, and Veraisons at the Inn at Glenora Wine Cellars for an unforgettable trip.

The countryside: The region is one of the most beautiful in the country. The first time I looked across Keuka Lake from atop one of the steep banks above it, it took my breath away. Even the cool, gray November weather did not spoil the beauty. I imagined how amazing the view would be during spring, summer, autumn, and blanketed with a winter snowfall. This means I must return to experience all of the Finger Lakes seasons.

View of Keuka Lake
View of Keuka Lake

The food: During my trip, I had the opportunity to dine and taste at wineries that offered meals and samples of local food. I could not be more pleased with the locally-produced foods that the Finger Lakes region has to offer: delicious meats, fresh fruits and vegetables, luscious cheeses, rich chocolates, and tasty breads. Local is the only way to go when dining here.

Ravines Wine Cellars tasting room
Ravines Wine Cellars tasting room

The wines: I don’t think I can ever say enough about the wines. I knew that the area was primarily known for Riesling. I tasted many, many, many Rieslings: dry, semi-dry, semi-sweet, and late harvest. The Finger Lakes wineries I visited produce world-class Rieslings, while also demonstrating that not all Riesling is the same and that it is a versatile grape. The Rieslings I tasted varied greatly due to climate variations, production differences, terroir, vineyard locations, and winemaker style and expression. The region also produces other wines such as Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Grüner Veltliner, Lemberger, Merlot, Muscat, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, Rkatsiteli, Sauvignon Blanc, and vitis Amurensis. One interesting thing I noticed is that many wineries publish the RS (residual sugar) content of their wines. I think this is because the Finger Lakes region is still trying to shake the public perception of only producing sweet wines from native American grapes like Catawba and Niagara, as well as to make sure their customers know the style of wines they produce. However, do not be deceived by what may appear to be higher RS, as the RS is balanced by the mouthwatering acidity. Many wineries also emphasized that they grew vinifera (European grape varieties), not just created hybrids or native American varieties. If you are someone who still thinks that Red Cat (Red Catawba), Niagara, and hybrids are representative of the Finger Lakes, and that great, European varieties – red, white, and rosé – can’t be produced here, then please allow to me to assist you in planning your Finger Lakes wine trip.

A few of the award-winning wines at Dr. Frank's
A few of the award-winning wines at Dr. Frank’s

Final thoughts: This is such a welcoming and beautiful area for enjoying nature, dining, and wine tasting. I am surprised that there are still very few lodging and dining options. There are some lovely bed and breakfast choices and small, local restaurants, but there seems to be untapped opportunity. If you are interested in opening a local hospitality business, I suggest the Finger Lakes area.


  1. I prefer the Finger Lakes over the entire state of Virginia, in spite of the fact that Wine Enthusiast declared Virginia as one of the top 10 global destinations for wine tourism. No offense intended, but Finger Lakes surely comes out ahead of VA in my book.

    1. I am a Virginia resident, but at this point I tend to agree with you. I think the wines in the Finger Lakes are more developed, especially the Riesling and other cool-climate whites. I think in a few years, Virginia’s time will come.

    2. I went around with Bartholomew Broadbent, the importer and winemaker whose family owns Barboursville, which makes an excellent Cabernet Franc among a very fine portfolio. Bart says that the award has more to do with the infrastructure of wine tourism, such as how the hotels, restaurants, and roads are friendly to families and provide full services at top quality (which he contrasts to the scenic Douro region of Portugal where he owns another fine winery that’s hard to travel to). However, I would sooner travel, dine, lodge, visit, and sip in the Finger Lakes. BTW – I am originally from Arlington, VA.

    3. I had some wines from Barboursville and others at the 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference in Charlottesville, VA, and I agree there are a few good wines, like some of the Cab Franc and Viognier, but I would rather go to the Finger Lakes myself and taste more of those wonderful, high-acid Rieslings. I bought home seven bottles, all consistently good, yet different.

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