By Finger Lakes Correspondent Jason Feulner
The Finger Lakes are worth visiting for many reasons, but it is not always an easy vacation to plan if one is not familiar with the region. In a two-part series, I will attempt to provide some general answers to basic questions about planning a trip to the Finger Lakes. I encourage readers to ask me more questions if these topics do not provide all of the answers!
When is the best time to visit?
I'll run the answer down by seasons to flesh out the possibilities:
Winter--Darn cold, but can be downright beautiful after a heavy snowfall. Most wineries are open, but some only on weekends. The last vintage of whites might be sold out at the most celebrated wineries and unavailable for tasting, while the newest vintage is still in barrel. The crowds are usually thin, obviously.
Spring--A great time to go, especially in the April-June period before the heavy tourist season begins in earnest. The most popular wineries are bound to have their latest whites (read Riesling) available for tasting, which is why most people go to the Finger Lakes anyway.
Summer--There is nothing quite like the summer sun shimmering over the blue water of a picturesque Finger Lake, and there is also nothing quite like being shoved out of the way in a tasting room by drunken college kids! For serious tasters, avoidance of holiday weekends is a must as the crowds can be bothersome at times. If you can arrange to make a trip during the week, do so. Off-weekends are usually tolerable, and hitting the wine trail early on any given day is the best way to explore wineries without worrying about such silliness.
Fall--The Finger Lakes are not as far north as the Adirondacks, but the degree of color change in the fall foliage is impressive nonetheless. Warm fall days in September and October are a joyful time to taste some wine. The only downfall: the most popular wineries might be out of their best whites from the last vintage, especially if it was a good one.
Conclusion--Crowds aside, the shortage of some wines might dictate when you want to visit. Most of the wineries do not sell out of a single varietal within a year, but if you want to try the latest Riesling from a well-known producer like Dr. Frank's or Wiemer, go in the spring or summer. Reds, of course, are released at all different times.
Where do I stay?
Do not book a room for your entire visit in Rochester or Syracuse. These cities are not close enough to drive back-and-forth each day without fatigue setting in. In my opninion, the most strategic place to stay for just visiting wineries is Geneva or anywhere else near the north shore of Seneca Lake. From there, you can get to the many wineries on Keuka and Seneca Lake with relative ease. The wineries on Cayuga Lake are also within reach, as most of them are located near the north-western part of the lake.
Reputable bed and breakfasts are relatively inexpensive and are located all over the Finger Lakes. A good bed and breakfast provides a quiet and relaxing experience after a day visiting wineries or other attractions.
The Finger Lakes region is large, and depending on your goals almost any number of overnight combinations may work to your advantage. There are no easy answers as to where to stay. If you want to visit Ithaca for its gorges, Corning for its glass museum, or stop in Hammondsport for its charm, you might want to plan for several hotel or bed and breakfast stays in your trip. Remember, it will be impossible to see everything in the Finger Lakes if you are only going for a couple of days. If you want to see more, come back!
One you highlight you own interests, grab a map and find an accommodation location that works for you.
Are all 90 wineries worth a visit?
In one word: no! The Finger Lakes has a diversity of wines and wineries stemming from the lingering abundance of winter-hearty American grapes. While there has been a tremendous shift to vinifera in the past several years, some wineries still emphasize sweet wines that will not please the palates of serious wine drinkers.
Short of recommending a list of wineries, there is no easy way to
direct a visitor to wineries that will pass the test of worthiness. The
best selection method is to go to the Uncork NY website
and view the wine trail of each lake that you are planning to visit.
The individual winery websites will be provided. Scan the websites and
make notes. Does the winery promote primarily its European-style wines
made from vinifera? Are the descriptions of the wines detailed and
articulate? Are components of the wines mentioned, such as residual
sugar, blending percentages, or fermentation notes? Most wineries that
want to appeal to consumers of fine wine will sell themselves to that
audience. At the end of the day, you will probably only scratch 25% of
the wineries completely off your list, but in doing so you will save
yourself a lot of time and effort once your trip is underway.
Coming Soon: Part 2--What to Expect in the Wine, Other Attractions