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An Upstate Odyssey

New York’s Finger Lakes region is home to rolling hills, tranquil lakes, quaint towns—and dozens of vintners producing world-class wines. Located a five-hour drive northwest of New York City, the region offers all the charm and small, family-owned wineries that made Napa Valley special decades ago.

Although still relatively undiscovered, the area’s 100-plus wineries produce more than 100 million bottles of wine annually, placing it in the top three regions of the country in terms of production. The eleven Finger Lakes carve mesmerizing blue slashes in the slate-and-limestone-flecked hills around the cities of Ithaca, Syracuse and Rochester. Quaint towns dot the lakeshores, with picturesque main streets, ice cream shops, local farm stands and crafts stores.

Wine Connection
It doesn’t take most wine aficionados long to see the similarity between the Finger Lakes and Germany’s famed Rhine region—the steep hillside vineyards that seem to drop off into the water, loads of vine-stressing slate in the ground, harsh winters that freeze grapes right on the vine. The similarities are evident in the glass, too, with Finger Lakes Riesling offering the natural acidity and clean, focused fruit flavors that have made Rhine Rieslings the acknowledged best in the world.

Riesling is a natural for the Finger Lakes, but you’ll also find complex Merlot, Chablis-style Chardonnay, velvety Pinot Noir and much more. You’ll also run across many wines made from grapes you’ve never even heard of, like Catawba, Cayuga, Labrusca, Niagara and Vignoles.

Standout Wineries

Fox Run Vineyards
Taking the tour here offers a great introduction to the region, its grapes and wines. The VIP tour includes barrel tastes and a private tour with owner Scott Osborn or winemaker Peter Bell. In addition to the Riesling, Fox Run’s Chardonnay is worth a taste, as are the delicious oversize sandwiches at the winery cafe.

Atwater Estate Vineyards
Riesling is the star, with pure, clean, mouthwatering flavors. The tasting room staff is very friendly and quick to give lunch tips and directions. This is one of those winery experiences that makes you wish the family that owns it would just adopt you.

Chateau Lafayette Reneau
A deliciously sweet late-harvest Riesling is just one of the draws at this winery. Racy, mouthwatering acidity supports sticky apricot jam, honeysuckle and nectarine flavors. At less than $20 a bottle, it’s a great deal and a lovely pairing for after-dinner cheese courses. The winery’s vine-covered picnic benches are a great spot to sip a glass of wine or enjoy a relaxed picnic.

Lakewood Vineyards
Self-titled “winemaker/owner/operator/prisoner” Chris Stamp produces more than 20 different wines from more than a dozen varietals planted on 80 acres of vineyards. The dry Riesling is seriously good, and the Carpe Vinum white blend, White Catawba, Long Stem Red, Glaciovinum Ice Wine and Mystic Mead are loads of tasty fun.

Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyards
The tasty Rieslings routinely win wine competition awards, and with good reason. With a family wine-making history that dates back some 300 years in Germany’s Mosel Valley, Wiemer knows a thing or two about making European-style wines from these grapes. The winery also offers a popular Vineyard Walk through the estate that includes the six-acre nursery.

Beyond the Grape
When you need a break from wine-tasting, visit the Corning Museum of Glass in the town of Corning. Experience 35 centuries of glassmaking history in the world’s largest collection of contemporary and historical glass art and see live hot glassblowing demonstrations or shop for a wide range of pieces at the GlassMarket.

Racing fans can share their need for speed at the Watkins Glen International, where the annual NASCAR Nextel Cup weekend is always a sellout. Or drive to Canandaigua to experience the New York Wine & Culinary Center, featuring local and artisan produce and products, wine tastings, culinary classes, extensive gardens and more in the $7.5 million, 20,000-square-foot complex. Then feather your nest in Penn Yan at the Windmill Farm and Craft Market, where you’ll find an enormous range of Amish and Mennonite goods.

The Finger Lakes area, and specifically Finger Lakes National Forest, also offers some of the most beautiful hiking and biking trails in North America, with waterfalls and panoramic views. The region is perfect for fall foliage fanatics, with vineyards full of orange, yellow and purple leaves surrounding the deep blue lakes against the prism of tree-covered hills. Hike in Watkins Glen State Park for some of the best views.

Our final advice: Go now. Finger Lakes wines are best explored sooner than later, before the rest of the world discovers them and the prices start going up.

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