Following the vines to upstate New York
Unlike most Finger Lakes tastings rooms, which have expansive, lakeside views, Hermann J Weimer conducts its tastings in a cathedral-like 90-year-old barn, amid the stainless steel tanks of the production facility. Be sure to try the 2010 Late Harvest dry riesling, a full-bodied white with apricot and honey flavours, and the 2010 gewürztraminer, a medium-bodied white with a wonderful bouquet of rose petals, peaches and spice.
The tasting room at Ravines, on the other hand, is much more traditional: minimalist on the inside, with just a few windows framing an uninterrupted view of Keuka Lake. On one side of the tasting room is the winery’s Ravinous Kitchen, where owner Hallgren’s wines are paired with local cheeses and artisan chocolates, such as the Rochester-based Hedonist Chocolates. This June, Hallgren plans to open an additional tasting room on Seneca Lake, where vineyard and production facility tours may also be on offer. Pick up a bottle of the vintner’s 2010 cabernet franc, a fruit-forward wine with a hint of spice, and the aromatic 2010 dry riesling. The 2009 dry riesling was recommended by the New York Times as a favourite to accompany Thanksgiving dinner.
Just minutes down the road is McGregor Vineyard, a winery founded in 1980 by Bob McGregor, a local resident that took a chance on some Russian grapes. Now his son John runs the show, and the Russian grapes -- namely a blend of saperavi and sereksiya charni -- produce one of the most well regarded wines in the region, the Black Russian Red. The tasting room at McGregor is decidedly laid-back and cosy, with clusters of picnic tables under strings of Christmas lights woven through the wooden rafters. Visitors are encouraged to sit, relax and enjoy a selection of light bites like cheese, pesto and crackers with their tasting selections. While the Black Russian Red is on the pricier side of the spectrum, more affordable red wines include the 2009 cabernet sauvignon, a vibrant wine with hints of fresh berries and oak, and the 2009 seresksiya (pronounced “sir-rex-see-uh”), of which McGregor might be the only producer in the US.
Back on the eastern side of Seneca Lake, Red Newt Wine Cellars is home to the award-winning Red Newt Bistro, a pioneer in the area’s farm-to-table culinary scene and one of the only restaurants in the region to have an all-Finger Lakes wine list, with more than 200 wines on offer. The dining room’s expansive windows look out onto Seneca Lake, with one of the best restaurant views in the area. In the warmer months, diners can bring glasses of wine onto a large deck that overlooks the valley, perfectly positioned to watch the setting sun. The menu, which changes regularly, recently featured items like pan-seared sea scallops served with asparagus butter and rosé risotto, and an egg pasta roulade made from oven-roasted vegetables, ricotta, cream cheese and homemade egg pasta. In the tasting room (or dining room), try Red Newt’s 2010 semi-dry riesling, a blend of apricot, peach, apple and pineapple flavours, and the 2010 cabernet franc, which has hints of violets and pepper spice.
Off the wine trail
For a break from the vineyard tours, stop by Finger Lakes Distilling, a craft distillery on Seneca Lake that uses locally grown fruits and grains to make vodka, gin, whiskey, brandy and liqueurs. The second-floor tasting room, which was built using reclaimed wood and features a hanging 15ft canoe, overlooks the production facility’s gleaming, copper-coloured pot still. Of note is the Seneca Drums Gin, a fresh tasting spirit with notes of citrus peel, juniper and cucumber.
A 30-minute drive away, on the western coast of Cayuga, is Bellweather Hard Cider, an unassuming building that looks out onto an orchard and also serves as a home for many of the owner’s cats and dogs. There are 10 varieties of hard ciders, ranging from dry (like the Lord Scudamor, a champagne-style cider made with tart, Northern Spy apples ), to semi-sweet (like the Liberty Spy blend, made from Liberty and Northern Spy apples).