Home to both the most populous city in the country, and also the largest protected natural area in the contiguous states, New York is filled with gems from downstate to upstate. One of those gems is the second-largest concentration of wineries in the USA, also known as Finger Lakes Wine Country. Bested only by Napa Valley in California, there are no less than 120 wineries in the Finger Lakes, all within a couple hours of each other. Inspired by our home state’s penchant for wine, Escape Brooklyn paired up with regional tourism website Finger Lakes Wine Country to create a guide for the Keuka Lake region.
The history of the Finger Lakes begins some two million years ago, when the unique region was created by continental glaciers, forming a series of long, skinny, deep lakes. (The glaciers are also responsible for the massive gorges that nearby Ithaca is famous for, or more locally, those in Watkins Glen State Park.) Its natural combination of deep water—Seneca Lake is 632 feet at its deepest point—and steep sloping hills create the ideal micro-climate for grape growing. The unique geology and topography protect the growth of hardy native grapes, premium hybrids, and even the more delicate varieties of Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir.
In 1860, the Finger Lakes’ nutrient-rich soil inspired grape cultivation, and the first Vitis vinifera vines were planted. For many years, failed attempts to grow these varieties were blamed on the cold weather. But in the 1950s, research by vinculturalist and Ukrainian immigrant Dr. Konstantin Frank, changed the course of winemaking in the Finger Lakes forever. During a stint at the Cornell University Geneva Experiment Station, Dr. Frank’s research developed a technique which mastered growing Vinifera in cold climates where others had failed, paving the way for world-class varieties of grapes to be grown in the region. These days, Dr. Konstantin Frank’s winery is one of several dozen that make up Keuka’s wine trail.
The best part? This wine-soaked getaway is less than five hours from NYC, making it a perfect weekend getaway to indulge in some of the USA’s best wine—without ever stepping foot on a plane. Ready to start planning? Read on, and be sure to check out Finger Lakes Wine Country for more recommendations and additional itineraries.
Where to Stay on Keuka Lake: The Anchor Away Airbnb
If you’re planning a trip to Keuka Lake, there’s plenty of traditional bed & breakfasts to go around. But for those who prefer privacy like we do, the Anchor Away Airbnb is the way to go. The cute bungalow is entirely nautical themed, and sleeps up to eight guests in two upstairs bedrooms. Downstairs, a beautiful farmhouse kitchen is the perfect spot to prepare meals to be enjoyed from the dining room, which overlooks the lake. Speaking of the lake, it’s just steps away from the front door, and the house comes with access to a private swim area and dock. During colder months, enjoy the lake views from the fire pit in the back yard.
Where to Eat & Drink Your Way Around the Keuka Lake Wine Trail
Before we get into all these drinking recommendations, let’s not forget the most important meal of the day: breakfast. For something light, (read: coffee and pastries) start your day off at the Publick Coffee Bar in Penn Yan. The space is beautiful, with plenty of nooks to settle down with a book or the newspaper. For something a little more substantial, check out the Penn Yan Diner, a true mom and pop joint housed in a 1925 American rail car. It’s tiny, and popular amongst both locals and tourists, so get there early to avoid the line. Last, don’t miss the cider and donuts at Wager’s Cider Mill, just outside of town.
Okay, onto the fun part! There’s seemingly endless wineries and vineyards skirting Keuka Lake. (And by the way, almost all of them have incredible views.) The most notable is the aforementioned Dr. Konstantin Frank, who revolutionized the way grapes were grown in the region in the 50’s and 60’s. Visit their tasting room, or book a private tour to their 1886 Reserve Tasting Room, where visitors get a 30 minute in-depth cellar experience, followed by a seated educational wine flight paired with creative, small foods from Chef Nyssa Trepes. Wine flights often include older vintages from the winery’s esteemed private library. Just down the road, Heron Hill Winery and Bully Hill Vineyards are also very good, and notably, both have restaurants. Stop in for lunch, then do a tasting and marvel at the stunning views from each of their tasting rooms. Other nearby wineries of note include Domaine LeSuerre, McGregor Vineyard, Keuka Spring Vineyards, Point of Bluff Vineyards, Hunt Country Vineyards, and Vineyard View Winery.
Not only is Finger Lakes Wine Country a wine destination; it’s also a craft beer and spirits destination. During your boozy travels, don’t miss the brews at the aptly named Brewery of Broken Dreams, housed in a beautiful building dating back to 1889. Nearby, Abandon Brewing is the best brewery in the Keuka Lake region, according to locals (and BeerAdvocate.) Grab a pint in their beer barn, then head out to their porch to soak in the views of the lake. Just down the road, Stueben Brewing Company is probably the most popular spot, evidenced by the huge crowds on weekends. Those wishing to cross off all the breweries in the area should also check out Keuka Brewing Company and Finger Lakes Beer Company. Last, craft spirits enthusiasts will take an interest in Krooked Tusker Distillery, whose cocktails area great, and location overlooking a cornfield, is beautiful.
For dinner, head to the village of Hammondsport for a few great options. The first is The Pleasant Valley Inn, a chef owned country inn and restaurant. The restaurant lives inside a beautiful pink Victorian home and serves up gourmet dining in a warm atmosphere. The menu features fresh seafood, prime steaks, house-made pastas and desserts. After dinner, curl up with a cocktail by the fire in the small pub. Also in Hammondsport is The Union Block, a cute Italian bistro. If you’re wanting to try some of the local beers without hitting all those breweries, this is your spot, with 16 craft beers on tap. Check out the event calendar for a live music schedule.
In-Between Drinks in Finger Lakes Wine Country: Explore a Small Town or Hike Watkins Glen
So many wineries, so little time! We know. But for those of us responsible folks who wait to drink until after lunch, you’ll need to occupy your mornings. So, on day one, might we suggest antique shopping in Hammondsport? Opera House Antiques, Shethar 57, and the other little boutiques spattered about town are a surefire way to kill a couple hours. (Bonus: the “downtown” area is just minutes from the wineries when you’re ready to start drinking.) On day two, hike off your hangover at Watkins Glen State Park. The beautiful and other-worldly landscapes include 200 foot gorges created by the same glaciers that carved the Finger Lakes. A large trail system is easy to follow, with plentiful options ranging from short to long hikes. For even more ideas, check out Escape Brooklyn’s last guide to the Finger Lakes with a focus on Seneca Lake.