By Evan Dawson, Finger Lakes Editor
Photo by Morgan Dawson Photography
Most Finger Lakes wineries close their tasting rooms by 5 p.m., even on weekends. But a growing group has decided that later hours means better business and more intimate interactions with their customers.
"It's a great way to unwind after a long day on Keuka Lake," says John McGregor of McGregor Vineyard. He says McGregor launched the concept of "sunset hours" some time in the 1990s. During the summer the McGregor tasting room extends hours until 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.
One big factor, according to McGregor, is doing more than simply extending hours of business.
"We have live music on most - if not all - Saturday nights," he says. "We offer local artisan cheese boards with fresh fruit, as well as wine by the glass and bottle."
For any winery considering a similar plan, it's a simple matter of whether people will show up. McGreogor has spent years cultivating a following, and he says they wouldn't stay open late if people didn't come out and spend money. "We've continued to offer these hours for the simple fact that people have appreciated them so much."
Long Island is never a perfect parallel to the Finger Lakes, but Roanoke Vineyards offers a potential model. Since opening, Roanoke has offered "Wine Til 9" every Saturday, and owners say it's never been difficult to draw a crowd. "We decided from the get-go that we would try to sell our wines exclusively from the farm," says owner Rich Pisacano. "With that goal, we thought it was important to extend our hours."
Pisacano raises a vital point: Many New York wineries still limit their distribution, and if the bulk of sales are going to come from the tasting room, it pays to have a successful extended-hours program.
Some Finger Lakes industry executives have expressed a specific concern that later hours will attract a high number of intoxicated customers. Pisacano's experience might add some comfort on that front. "We've established Roanoke Vineyards as an enjoyable and peaceful destination rather than, as strange as it sounds, a fun place," he says.
The following is a brief list of Finger Lakes wineries that offer extended hours (our thanks to Finger Lakes Wine Country):
Bet the Farm Winery & Gourmet Market, Cayuga Lake: Beginning in May, open until 7pm Fridays and Saturdays, with blind wine challenges and other events on Friday evenings
Glenora Wine Cellars, Seneca Lake: Open until 8pm daily, Memorial Day through Labor Day
Hunt Country Vineyards, Keuka Lake: During summer, open until 7pm on Fridays
McGregor Vineyards, Keuka Lake: During summer, open until 8pm Fridays and Saturdays
Sheldrake Point Vineyard, Cayuga Lake: Beginning June 24, open until 7pm Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays
Six Mile Creek Vineyard, Ithaca: June through August, open until 9pm every Thursday with sunset music