Most people around the world do not associate New York with wine (or even nature), but the Finger Lakes region has more than one hundred wineries (and some of the most beautiful scenery). While Seneca and Cayuga Lakes boast the greatest number of vineyards, the Y-shaped Keuka Lake, which is the most striking Finger Lake on the map as it’s the only unfinger-like lake, happens also to offer the most striking views, many of which can be enjoyed from the wineries.
If you thought Marissa got mad watching me drink wine in the early stages of our pregnancy, you should have seen her as I tasted the wines at Dr. Frank’s. With one of the oldest living Pinot Noir vines in the United States, as they were planted back in 1958, Dr. Frank’s winery pours New York’s most award-winning wines. Between the wooden patio outside the tasting room and Keuka Lake are two-hundred acres of vines and riveting views. My favorite pours were the Bunch Select Late Harvest Riesling, which has only had six vintages since 1962, the Blanc de Blancs, which is produced using the traditional champenoise technique, and the Rkatsiteli, the oldest known grape in the world and the one that Dr. Frank introduced to the United States.
I’m normally a red wine drinker, but because of the region’s cooler climate, white grapes thrive in the Finger Lakes. So winemakers here take pride in their Rieslings. Heron Hill‘s take on Riesling–they have multiple–is delicious. I most enjoyed the 2010 Ingle Vineyard Riesling, which has notes of lemon and apple. Despite being in white wine country, their high-end 2010 Cabernet Francs–Ingle Vineyard and the Reserve–were spot on. But if there’s one compelling reason, beyond the wine, to visit Heron Hill, it’s the hill. The view from the tasting room, which Travel and Leisure selected as one of the ten most spectacular tasting rooms in the world, is stunning. (I’ve never visited one more beautiful.) You won’t find many herons, however, though you may get lucky and spot the plastic one in the pond below. For your information: Marissa wanted to strangle me here, too.
Besides Wine around Keuka Lake
You can spend an entire day driving around Keuka lake, stopping at local farmers’ markets or searching for fields of lavender. (We did the latter, but got lost.) Make sure to stop off in Hammondsport, the artsy and quaint village at the southern tip of the lake. You can also go for a dip. Another way to cool down is just a few blocks from the village, on Route 54, at the Finger Lakes Beer Company. My favorite brew was the chocolatey Hammonds Porter, while the Watermelon Wheat was a nice summer sip. In fact, you’ll find another half dozen breweries around Keuka, and several dozen more around the lakes to the east.
Where to Stay Near Keuka Lake
The Black Sheep Inn is a wonderful bed and breakfast. Debbie and Marc, the couple that designed and run the inn, have brought charm and character to Hammondsport. As a pair of artists who coordinate the Arts in Bloom county arts trail in April, it’s obvious that they pored that sophisticated touch into designing the Black Sheep Inn. Tasteful antiques and modern comforts are well coordinated throughout the house. And they’ve crafted out beautiful spaces for quiet reading and sipping the wines you’ve brought back from the vineyards. And while the place is cozy and the beds plush, the organic breakfasts, which attempt to be locally sourced, can be a highlight of one’s day.
Of course, to make such a claim, the food itself must be delicious. I thoroughly enjoyed my chard-wrapped, egg-topped medley of chicken, mushrooms, and artichokes that was served with a dollop of red pepper puree. And the following morning’s frittata was wonderful, too. Marc is a machine around the table, never allowing a coffee mug to empty. But the best part of breakfast was the conversation among the guests and the innkeepers. Marc and Deb, who are both knowledgable in history, art, and food culture, seem to appeal to an equally urbane clientele. At our first breakfast, the patrons made up three generations–octogenarians from France and South Africa, a Midwestern couple in their fifties, and Marissa and I (a pair of thirty-somethings from New York). The talk spanned a century as we discussed the origins of flight, the stock market after the crash, wine tasting, Finger Lakes driving, Skokie protests, and the shock that acquiring a telephone (in the early 1900s) and an iPhone (in the early 2000s) had caused the eldest couple.
When our French friend, Marie Claude, saw us on the morning of our departure, we told her that we were pregnant. She was more delighted than any person we have told to date. Marie Claude touched Marissa’s belly and looked as though she were about to cry. “I thought I would never see you again,” she said, dipping her head back as if to thank the heavens. “I’m so happy for you.”
It was a bit shocking to see what kinds of bonds you could form just over breakfast. I don’t think people get this close at a motel.