Tour Our Backyard Wine Country

1. Where to Stay

Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel.Photo: Courtesy of Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel

Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel (from $159) opened just last summer and offers lakeside terraces, a display on early New York wines, and a compact but well-equipped gym.

The floral suites and manicured grounds of Geneva on the Lake (from $289) bear little resemblance to their past as a former monastery, but they’re an old-world favorite for weddings and celebrities (Clintons, the late Paul Newman).

On the lake’s eastern shore sits Magnolia Place (from $140), a meticulously updated 1830 farmhouse with wraparound porches, spacious Jacuzzis, and signature two-course breakfasts, including cinnamon soufflé.

2. Where to Eat

The dining room at Dano’s Heuriger.Photo: Courtesy of Dano’s Heuriger

The Red Dove Tavern serves local craft beer and makes martinis with juice from nearby Red Jacket Orchards. Snack on fresh oysters and a local honeycomb-and-blue-cheese platter.

Reserve a table with a lake view at Ports Café, which pairs its fresh fish and locally sourced produce with wine from fifteen local purveyors.

Dano Hutnik butchers his own meat and forages for mushrooms to serve at Dano’s Heuriger, his updated version of a Viennese wine restaurant in a warm, modern glass structure overlooking the lake.

3. What to Do

Left: Hazlitt Winery. Right: The still at Finger Lakes Distilling.Photo: Left: Brad Phillips. Right: Brian McKenzie

Take advantage of the off-season by eschewing crowds at the tasting tables. Use Seneca Lake Wine Trail to plot your path, then designate a driver, or hire a biodiesel-powered SUV from Finger Lakes Winery Tours.

Chris Stamp got his food-science degree from Cornell, then added a winery to his grandfather’s grape farm and called it Lakewood Vineyards. Move beyond the excellent whites to try the mead and port.

March marks the opening of Finger Lakes Distilling by a pair of young distillers obsessed enough to grow their own grapes and malt their own barley. The tasting room overlooks a copper still straight out of a sci-fi movie.

East of the lake, there’s a microbrewery adjacent to the wine room at Wagner Vineyards. Order from the growler menu — kids can get a gingery, earthy root beer. Down the road, Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards pours its sweet, signature Red Cat (New York State’s best-selling wine) at a horseshoe-shaped bar built for mingling and lingering.

4. Insider’s Tip

Hike through the vineyard and then right into tasting room at Red Newt Cellars.Photo: Courtesy of Red Newt Cellars

In spring, the still-silent trails (16,212 acres worth) in the Finger Lakes National Forest could not seem more remote from the dense population of wineries that rim the lake. But they lead niftily downhill—past Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards, Red Newt Cellars, Tickle Hill Winery, and Leidenfrost Vineyards. Wineries welcome hikers emerging from these trails into their vineyards, and to their tasting-room doors.

5. Oddball Day

Left: Hector Falls. Right: The falls at Watkins Glen State Park.Photo: Left: Brad Phillips. Right: Courtesy Schuyler County Chamber of Commerce

The Finger Lakes are waterfall country, and in spring, they’re at their fullest. Spend a day taking a driving tour of the falls that are viewable from the roadside. After lunch, the sun lights up Hector Falls, on the northbound side of Route 414, about a mile south of Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards. Drive south on Route 14, past Watkins Glen, to the tiny town of Montour Falls to view the wide curtain of Aunt Sarah’s Falls, and the massive multitiered 156-foot wedding cake of She-Qua-Ga Falls, tucked under a rugged bridge near Main Street. Next, head to Watkins Glen State Park. From the road, you can see where the twin tendrils spill down a massive cliff face. End your day with a flight of house brews at the Wildflower Café and the Crooked Rooster Brewpub, but call ahead to see if they’re still serving Thai Pumpkin Soup.

6. Links

Edible Finger Lakes highlights the culinary abundance of the region.

The Great Finger Lakes Finds blog highlights festivals, events, and travel deals in the region.

Lenn Devours, an award-winning New York State wine blog written by a panel of wine writers, dedicates a large portion of its excellent content to the wines of the Finger Lakes.

Tour Our Backyard Wine Country