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Touring the New York Finger Lakes Region

Scenery, history and wineries combine to form quite a draw

One of the nation's most touristic wine regions is little more than a half day's drive from New York City. It's the Finger Lakes, a string of 11 deep lakes sculpted centuries ago by glaciers. Today, green carpets of grapevines line the roadways, climb the hills, and cascade down to the lakes, supporting more than 100 wineries. New York state, primarily the lakes region, now ranks third behind California and Washington in wine production.

An estimated five million visitors toured the Finger Lakes in 2005. "Some come for the scenery and discover the wineries, while others come for the wineries and discover scenery and history and a storybook-farm region," says Paul Sprague, historian and curator of the Bully Hill wine museum high above Keuka Lake.

The following stops make a good itinerary for touring the region:

  • Hammondsport: This attractive hamlet is a good starting point. Stop first at the nation's first bonded winery, Great Western, which offers winery tours and historic exhibits in eight remarkable stone buildings dating back to 1860. Nearby is the Glenn Curtis Museum, named for the aviation pioneer, with displays of many early flying machines.

  • Traveling along Route 54A: Leaving Hammondsport, you'll pass a marina housing the Keuka Maid Dinner Boat, which offers dining on the lake. Bully Hill Vineyards, a small village unto itself, is up the hill, and nearby are two of the region's finest wineries, Heron Hill and Dr. Konstantin Frank's Vinifera Wine Cellars. Further up and a short swing away from the lake is Hunt Vineyards, manned by a sixth-generation family of winemakers.

  • Seneca is the largest and deepest of all the lakes and has the most wineries lining its shores. Route 14 from its northernmost point at Geneva heads south along the lake, passing an inviting procession of wineries. Key stops include Hermann J. Weimer winery—producer of German-style Rieslings—as well as the Fox Run and Anthony Road wineries. Farther south, as the road edges closer to the lake, is Glenora Wine Cellars, home also to a modern inn and restaurant overlooking vineyards and the lake. A little past that is Fulkerson Winery, which also offers home winemaking supplies and lessons.

  • Route 414: Climbing north along the eastern shore of Seneca, you'll pass a baker's dozen wineries. Key stops should include LaFayette Reneau, famed for sparkling wine; the rustic Hazlitt 1852 Wine Cellars at Hector, with a huge selection of native New York wines and a massive tasting bar; Red Newt Cellars, notable for its cult-wine Cabernet Sauvignon; and the stylish Grecian-pillared Lamoreaux Landing in Lodi. Nearby, as the road comes closer to the water, is Wagner Vineyards, a winery and brewery, with its Ginny Lee Restaurant offering lakeside dining. This side of the lake is rich in dining opportunities.

  • Cayuga Lake Area: Many of the wineries here make surprisingly good blends using European varietals, hybrids, and Native American grapes. That group includes Goose Watch (which has playground and picnic facilities), Swedish Hill, and Lucas Vineyards, a mother-and-two-daughter operation that's the oldest vineyard in the region. Nearby Knapp Vineyards also has an excellent restaurant. Ithaca and Cornell University along the eastern side of Cayuga are worth a day's visit themselves, as is Corning, home of the Corning Museum of Glass, with glassblowing exhibits and an enormous gift shop.

  • Finger Lakes Finds

    Information on touring, lodging and dining options is available at the following websites and toll-free phone numbers: 800-548-4386 800-813-2958 877-536-2717 800-684-5217

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