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Published: June 22nd 2018
Growing up in Geneva and the Finger Lakes, I did not truly appreciate the beauty and culture of the area until after I had moved away. I lived in Southern California for 10 years, and tasted throughout that area in various types of wineries. I've also tasted in Italy, Germany, Spain, and other areas in the U.S. I was convinced that I liked California Reds and Finger Lakes Whites and that was that. For the last ten years or so, the red wines in the Finger Lakes have improved dramatically, as well as the options for dry wines. I have worked at a local winery for more than two years and this has opened my eyes to the region as a whole. It helps that I get free tastings at any area winery as well as a discount; I have used this not just to stock up my own wine, but to provide feedback regarding local options to my customers.
I will say this only once: If you convince yourself that you "only like wines from" such and such place, you are only hurting yourself.
I have had people come in who like dry reds, but absolutely refuse
to try dry reds from the Finger Lakes. Why are you wine tasting then? Why limit yourself? Have you tried our reds? Now, not everywhere has great wines. Not everywhere has wines you like. That is the point of tasting, though, right? My winery had six dry reds and I loved two of them, liked three more, and did not like one. You don't have to like everything, you don't have to apologize, you do have to have fun though!
The native grapes in the Finger Lakes are more on the sweet side. We have the Diamond, Catawba, and Niagara grapes, among others. They have a strong, distinctive grape flavor to them and are amongst the most popular wines in the area. In fact, these are often the grapes in your grape juice and grape jelly.
However, the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva has been experimenting with the grapes for decades, trying to grow European grapes (Vitus vinifera
) in the relatively cold climate. In 1962, thanks to Dr. Konstantin Frank, this was a success and now you can get all kinds of grapes at over 100 wineries in the region. The European grapes are essentially grafted
onto a hardier stock, but the grapes themselves are Vitis vinifera
(a combination that is actually used in other places in the world, including Europe). Now you have many choices among well known wines such as Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Lemberger, Merlot, etc.
The Experiment Station did not stop there. They continually produce and test thousands of hybrid grapes and release the ones that will prove to delight the senses. Some of the more popular wines include Cayuga White, Melody, Traminette, Noiret, and Aromella.
Another unique aspect to the region is the microclimate that exists around the eleven Finger Lakes. Some of the lakes, particularly Seneca and Cayuga, are so deep that they do not freeze and they do not get warm, which means the hills surrounding the lakes are a bit warmer in winter and cooler in summer than the rest of the region. There is also a lot of limestone throughout the region, which enriches the soils along the lakes and makes for great farming and wining.
Anyway, as I said, I have been able to taste wines from many places due to my industry discount. There are well over
100 wineries in the area and I have been to about 60 of them. So, my top ten is by no means completed and I will detail individual wineries by location on future blogs. Keep in mind, I tend toward the dry side, especially reds, though I like to try anything. For now, here are my favorites: 10. Hermann J. Wiemer Hours: Open 10-5 all year (11-5 Sundays; varying hours due to weather Jan-Mar)
Located on the west side of Seneca Lake, I have only come here once, but it was a pleasure. There is a great history here with Hermann J. Wiemar moving here from Germany, where his family has been in the winemaking business for generations. The tasting room is quaint and nice, right up next to the barrels, and in an idyllic setting. World famous for their delicious Rieslings, I also enjoyed the other whites, particularly the Cuvée. http://wiemer.com/ 9. Boundary Breaks Hours: year-round 11-5
Located on the east side of Seneca Lake, just west of Interlaken, this winery is a bit off the beaten path. There are no major signs to get there and I only found it because
of the Savory World of Seneca Event. Lucky for me. You need to travel down a gravel road, but at least you get great views of the lake as well as driving through the lovely vineyards.
Their "first love is Rieslings" and they focus on making world class Rieslings; they are often included in the Top 100 wines due to their Rieslings. They make all different types - from the strangely more known "sweet" Rieslings to dry. I tend to go for the Dry 239. While this is the main wine variety they produce, they also have a great Gewurztraminer.
Their website below is also very educational. https://boundarybreaks.com/ 8. Goose Watch Hours: Apr-Dec: Everyday 10-6; Jan-Mar: closed Tues-Wed Dog friendly Boat Access
Owned by the Petersen family and a sister winery of Swedish Hill and Penguin Bay, this winery has one of the best views of Cayuga Lake on the west side. What I like most about this winery, besides the incredible view, is the variety of wines offered - there is something for everyone. Of the three wineries, this one is a little more on the experimental side, trying new
Savory World of Seneca event (February)
Cornell grapes, non-traditional grapes, and unusual blends. They have a large selection of dry whites, dry reds, sweet whites, sweet reds, sparklings, and dessert wines. I have a lot of favorites here: Noiret (Cornell dry red - full of flavor and dry), Aromella (semi-dry white, very unique and one of the only wineries to currently produce it), Golden Spumante (sparkling wine with a grape flavor, best NYS sparkling), and Cabernet Franc Rosé (dry, and best in show at the San Francisco International Wine Classic). https://goosewatch.com/ 7. Lacey Magruder Hours: June-Oct: Thurs-Mon; May: Fri-Sun; Closed in winter (winery is closed starting about November, dependent on weather)
Owned and operated by a husband and wife, they purchased and restored one of the most beautiful barns in the area and is one of my favorite tasting rooms. Seriously, it's gorgeous. The winery was named after a combination of their grandmothers' names and is located on the northwest side of Seneca Lake on Armstrong Road. They are a little shy, but if it is a quiet day, they can chat you up and are happy to discuss their wines and the history. Their Bad Monkey Cabernet Sauvignon is my absolute
favorite red from anywhere in the Finger Lakes and I love all of their dry reds. They also incorporate a slightly sweeter tasting with a delicious Cuvée and Riesling.
They are not part of the Seneca Wine Trail so they are not allowed to advertise as much, but trust me, it's worth a look. http://www.laceymagrudervineyardandwinery.com/index.html 6. Zugibe Hours: year round, Mon-Sat: 10-5, Sun: 11-5
Located on the Northeast side of Seneca Lake, this winery has a nice view of the lake and vineyards with a lovely, open tasting room. I have yet to try the Bistro except for events, but what I have tried is yummy - the food is based on their Lebanese heritage and has a lot of popular Mediterranean plates. The tasting room staff are quite friendly and it is an easy drive from Geneva.
I'm not sure what particular wines I love here, but I really enjoy all of them. Generally I will buy a red, usually a Cabernet Franc, which is the wine I most remember from here. I occasionally get a rosé as well. http://www.zugibevineyards.com/ 5. Shalestone Hours: Jun-Sept: Thurs-Mon; Apr-May: weekends; Oct-Nov: Fridays; Dec-Mar:
Closed Dog friendly
A small winery on the East side of Seneca Lake, their slogan is "Red is all we do!" They produce Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Lemberger, and Pinot Noir, some of which are offered individually and others are used in their blends. I like every single one
of the wines. They are also super friendly with great views of the lake and vineyard. To all the naysayers of Finger Lakes Reds - you obviously haven't tried these. https://www.shalestonevineyards.com/ 4. Red Tail Ridge Hours: open all year, Mon-Sat: 10-5, Sun: 11-5 Dog Friendly
Located on the west side of Seneca Lake, approximately 15 minutes from Geneva, this is one I often visit due to its proximity. They have delicious dry wines, though it depends on who is serving when it comes to the size of the pours. Their Gewurztraminer is my favorite in the Finger Lakes. They also have a great selection of unusual wines to grow in the Finger Lakes, such as the red wines Dornfelder and Teroldego. Dornfelder is one of my favorites here and they even do a flight of just Dornfelder so you can select your
favorite (though I suspect that will only happen while supplies last). The wind up the gravel drive through the vines is peaceful and educational, particularly during harvest season when you can see the full, lush grapes just begging to be picked. http://www.redtailridgewinery.com/ 3. Toro Run Hours: Apr-Oct: 10-5, 6 on weekends; Nov: Fri-Sun, 10-5; Mar, Sat-Sun, 10-5; closed Dec-Feb
This is actually a new one for me, but I have already been here three times. They have what was voted the best view of the Finger Lakes wineries, and it is well deserved, located on a hill on the west side of Cayuga Lake. They also have a decent selection of dry reds and whites, a tapas menu, live music, and a great deck to enjoy the view of the lake and vines. My favorites there are the Gewurztraminer and Pinot Meunier, found in only two other places in the U.S. though a popular planted grape in the Champagne region of France. They also have two Chardonnays to choose from and I love the oak aged Reserve. Their tapas include such items as stuffed olives, stuffed mushrooms, and hams and cheeses. http://tororunwinery.com/ 2. Sheldrake
Point Hours: Daily, 11-5:30 (closes at 5 Nov-Mar) Boat Access
Located on the southwestern side of Cayuga Lake, this quaint tasting room is one of my favorites every time. Because it is slightly remote, it is rarely packed, so you always get a good interaction with the tasting room staff. Not to mention views of the lake about 100 feet from the door. My favorite wine here is the somewhat unique Gamay Noir, a very old French grape. In fact, it is one of my sister's overall favorite wines and I often find myself here on my way from Ithaca to stock her up. https://sheldrakepoint.com/ 1. Ravines Hours: open year-round, 10-5
The main and original winery is located on Keuka Lake, but many of the vineyards have been located at the White Springs area for years. Recently, they placed a tasting room there, right in Geneva. No views of the lake, but gorgeous views of the vineyards which surround the Geneva tasting room. I am also a wine club member and they definitely put on a show during their release parties, with pairings for each wine included in the shipment. Additionally, they have
an executive chef who puts together weekly menus in the summer as well as special events, with members getting dibs on tickets. As well as having so many fun events to choose from, the wines aren't half bad either. There is a pretty good variety of mainly dry wines, both red and white, as well as some sparklings. I really like just about everything that they have. Last year's Sauvignon Blanc was basically my favorite wine of all time. Of All Time. Too bad it sold out so quickly! They are also routinely featured on either the Top 100 wineries or Top 100 wines.
I picked this as my top winery because it hits so many buttons: nice location, beautiful barn tasting room, fun member events, great food, friendly staff and yummy wine. Um, what more can you ask for from any winery??? http://www.ravineswine.com/
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